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Pet alligator may be on its way home

David Van Buren is one step closer to getting his celebrated pet alligator Gwendolyn back.

A Dade County judge on Tuesday ordered Van Buren to make a few modifications to the gator's pen outside his home in the Coconut Grove section of Miami.

Once the reinforced cage passes judicial muster, the state Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission will have 48 hours to return Gwendolyn, said Van Buren's Miami attorney, Miguel de la O.

Judge Loree Schwartz Feiler scheduled a visit to Van Buren's home Wednesday to inspect the 24-foot-by-20-foot enclosure.

"We were very surprised and happy," said Van Buren, who has been fighting to regain his pet since Sept. 17, when the gator was confiscated by state game officials after escaping into a neighbor's yard.

Van Buren, 33, still faces a criminal misdemeanor charge for allowing the escape of captive wildlife. But Van Buren believes Gwendolyn got loose when someone tried to steal his pet.

Publicity about the pet gator has reached as far away as Europe after Van Buren was interviewed by the BBC.

Van Buren has had Gwendolyn, determined to be a male while in state custody, since he was 9. Bonded for 24 years, they went to college together and shared a home on a quiet street.

"The state said we couldn't have Gwendolyn because she's a threat. The truth is they issue permits for poisonous snakes and for caimans it's common knowledge alligators are extremely docile and timid," he said.

Feiler said there was no testimony that Gwendolyn was dangerous and there was reasonable doubt that Van Buren had released the gator, said de la O.

"(The judge) did the right thing, what the state has been unreasonable in not recognizing sooner," he said.

Van Buren must still go to court to fight the criminal charge.