There's a gator down here

Kyle Ozuna, 10, right, talks with his cousin, Daniel Pichardo, almost 3, about the alligator, Patrick, which they named after SpongeBob’s friend, Monday. The boys live in North Miami Beach and have been feeding Patrick in the storm drain for two months.

Miami Herald

Kyle Ozuna, 10, right, talks with his cousin, Daniel Pichardo, almost 3, about the alligator, Patrick, which they named after SpongeBob’s friend, Monday. The boys live in North Miami Beach and have been feeding Patrick in the storm drain for two months.

MIAMI — Every day Sabrina and Kyle Ozuna rushed home from school to see their neighborhood buddy.

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They named him Patrick, and they fed him hotdogs and ham.

"But the ice cream was a mistake," said Kyle, 10.

That's because alligators don't eat ice cream. And Patrick was a 10-foot gator stuck for several weeks in a storm drain.

North Miami Beach police and wildlife rescuers had planned to flush Patrick from the drain on Monday, trap the animal and move it to a refuge for exotic animals.

Patrick didn't wait. He disappeared Sunday. And the drain leads to a neighborhood lake.

Now police are executing a search for Patrick, and the neighborhood is now on high gator alert.

"We're trying to see if he pops up again," said North Miami Beach police Sgt. Nelson Reyes.

"You're dealing with an alpha predator. He might see small children on the shoreline and he might associate them with the food source. That's not good," Reyes said.

For almost two months, the Ozunas and their cousins visited the gator in the drain, which was securely covered by a 50-pound iron grate. Their younger brother first spotted the reptile while toddling around. The kids named him after the cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants' starfish sidekick. Sometimes, though, they threw rocks at him.

"I guess he got annoyed, and he growled at us," said Sabrina, 13.

Their mother, Minerva Ozuna, 43, said she alerted wildlife authorities, but was told there was nothing to do.

"The same way he came in, he was going to come out," Ozuna remembers being told.

A neighbor later alerted North Miami Beach police, who, in turn, informed the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

That's when North Miami Beach police teamed up with the nonprofit Everglades Outpost, a wildlife rescue group, to trap the animal.

If Patrick is found in the lake, the wildlife commission will go after him, Reyes said. If he returns to the drain, North Miami Beach police and the nonprofit agency will try to capture him, then take him to a sanctuary.

Meanwhile, the Ozuna kids miss their buddy, but mom is more concerned now that he's missing.

"I'm afraid since he responds to their voice," she said.

There's a gator down here 05/11/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 11, 2010 1:17am]

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