For Little Ray's Reptile Zoo in Hamilton, it was the perfect teachable moment. Just as its owner was driving to Hamilton to argue the right to keep banned animals before city council, he rescued two alligators.
The Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was called to a property in Stouffville after complaints from neighbours about the reptiles — which are about 1 1/2 metres long. The alligators were apparently being kept as family pets in a backyard shed.
Paul Goulet of Ottawa, owner of Little Ray's, was heading to Hamilton city hall when the SPCA called him. He was about to listen to council debate whether Little Ray's in Hamilton could keep animals banned under a city bylaw — namely large snakes, alligators and other reptiles.
He brought the alligators to Little Ray's on Barton Street East, where they sat while Goulet attended the council meeting.
"It was good timing, for sure," said Steve Featherstone, owner of the Hamilton Little Ray's.
The alligators were in Hamilton for about three hours but couldn't stay because the Hamilton location isn't exempt yet under the bylaw, Featherstone. It has to be accredited by the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA) first.
Goulet took the alligators with him when he drove back to Ottawa, where they remain.
It's not known how long the alligators had been kept in the shed, but officials say they looked healthy and well taken care of. The shed was locked and had a deadbolt on it.
Stouffville is located in York Region which has a bylaw banning the ownership of exotic animals like alligators, but there's no immediate word on whether the owners of the reptiles will be charged.
Little Ray's has been fighting for an amendment to a similar Hamilton bylaw. Council voted Wednesday to amend the bylaw to include Little Ray's provided they get CAZA accreditation.
In their presentations to council, Featherstone and Goulet have argued that they provide a public service in assisting the SPCA. Councillors were concerned about health public safety, particularly after seeing pictures of children handling large snakes at birthday parties and public events. Some are still worried — the city council vote was 11-5 in favour of amending the bylaw.
City staff will report back on potential restrictions on public events. Featherstone agrees with that. "We want the same thing council wants."
The alligators were small enough to pick up, Featherstone said. Goulet happened to be driving a van that could accommodate them.
There are no hard and fast rules for rescuing alligators, he said.
"Every capture is a little bit different depending on the alligator, how large it is and its disposition."