Chopper, a six-foot-long alligator, called a front-yard pen at a Rancho Cucamonga house her home for three decades, becoming a popular fixture in the neighborhood.
But Thursday night, the beloved gator was seized by state officials who discovered her owner was missing a state permit required to keep the exotic pet.
Now, Chopper’s owner is determined to bring her home.
"She was named by a 3-year old-child and he came up with the name Chopper, just like a Harley Davidson chopper," said Chris Cassaro, who talked about Chopper as the child he never had. He got the reptile when she was a baby, around a foot in length.
Chopper spent her life around humans, even appearing on the show "Fear Factor."
"This ramp you see right here is kind of her lounge chair," Cassaro said as he showed off Chopper’s pen, kept in front of his home so neighbors could come by to see her.
"The kids can see her from the bus stop because they all talk to her," he said.
Chopper was seized, a state official said, because while Cassaro had the correct local permits to keep the exotic pet, he lacked the proper state licenses.
"You do need a restricted species permit which is issued from our office in Sacramento,” said Rick Bellis, a warden for the Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Cassaro insisted he thought his paperwork was in order. He even had old newspaper clippings about the city council unanimously approving his city permit. He didn’t know he needed a second permit.
"And this is her paperwork to be here legally and legitimately," he said. “My alligator is no longer here and I miss her.”
Cassaro, a former animal control officer and zookeeper, has been getting support from friends and neighbors, who said they already miss Chopper, too.
"I'm missing having her.. Because it's neat having her there," said neighbor April Zazueta.
Zazueta and a dozen other neighbors, some of them children, staged a small protest Friday night outside of Cassaro's home, demanding Chopper be brought home.
For now, Chopper is living at Forever Wild Exotic Animal Sanctuary in Phelan, where she was given a health screening on arrival.
"Her condition is absolutely pristine... Really well taken care of," said Joel Almquist, of the sanctuary.
Cassaro said he plans to do whatever it takes to get her home.
He said he appreciates the support of his neighbors, and state wildlife officials said he can fill out paperwork and try to obtain the special permit needed to get Chopper back.
Cassaro is planning on it.
"If I have to sell my house and live in a cardboard box and my alligator can live in that cardboard box, I'm willing to give full compliance,” he said, as he teared up. “I want her home."