Coconut Grove resident fighting to keep his pet gator

COCONUT GROVE, Fla. (WSVN) — A South Florida man is refusing to back down after fish and wildlife officials informed him the alligator he’s had as a pet for nearly five decades has grown too big to roam in his yard.

Whenever David Van Buren is away from his Coconut Grove home, his scaly friend and companion Gwendolyn hides in the yard, occasionally peeking out of his pool.

But when his owner shows up with treats, the 13-foot male reptile comes out for his fix of pizza and cookies. “Oh, look at this. Now we’re excited. You like that,” said Van Buren as 7News cameras captured the alligator feasting on the snacks, Wednesday.

Van Buren has had Gwendolyn for the past 47 years, since he was 9 years old. He even took the gator to college.

Nowadays, Gwen’s more of a homebody. “Once he was in the house, he didn’t want to leave,” said Van Buren. “I think it took us like three weeks to get him to go back outside. He was on the couch all the time or in the bathtub.”

When asked why he named a male gator Gwendolyn, Van Buren said he originally thought the reptile was a female. After about 20 years or so, however, he was proven otherwise.

If Van Buren and his pet sound familiar, it’s because they made national news in the early 1990s. In 1994, the state took Gwendolyn away from the retired firefighter.

The ensuing courtroom battle made headlines around the country. A judge ultimately decided Gwendolyn could go back home to Coconut Grove.

Fast forward 22 years later, and Gwendolyn is still enjoying his favorite snack. “You want some cookies? Chips Ahoy! Look, your favorite,” said Van Buren as he fed his gator.

The reptile’s length has brought Florida Fish and Wildlife officials back to their home. “Once we received the complaint about the alligator in the backyard, we started our investigation again,” said FWC spokesperson Lorenzo Veloz.

Officials said the gator is now too big for the Coconut Grove yard. “Unfortunately, Gwendolyn the alligator is not in the proper caging it is supposed to be,” said Veloz. “Mr. Van Buren has been advised about this right now, and at the moment, we are investigating the whole situation.”

Van Buren said his pet is healthy and is unable to escape. He said he’ll do whatever it takes to keep his beloved alligator.

Fish and wildlife officials said the best outcome for Gwendolyn is to actually stay with David, because the alligator is so used to living with him. However, first he’ll have to make changes to his property.

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