December 4, 1996 in Nation/World

Talk About Taking A Bite Out Of Crime Thief May Regret Stealing This Pet

By The Spokesman-Review

Where’s Ace Ventura when he’s needed?

A pair of teenagers on Monday lured a Pet World cashier into a backroom with questions about kittens while a third boy made off with an 18-inch baby alligator.

It was a caiman, to be precise - an alligator-like creature with hands like a monkey’s - that can grow to 5 feet and snap a man’s wrist in its jaws.

Phil Rayburn, owner of the Government Way store, worries the exotic cold-blooded animal won’t make it through an Idaho winter. If it does, Rayburn said, then he’ll fear for the thief.

“It’s not a pet for everybody,” Rayburn said. “It has to be in temperature of 80 degrees and kept in a moist environment with heated water. And it has the potential for some very serious bite.”

Cyndi Foti, owner of Critters N Crafts, said caiman are “very aggressive. They never, ever tame down. They’re usually bought by people real knowledgeable about reptiles.”

Why would someone lift a little lizard?

“Because he didn’t want to pay for it?” speculated a frustrated Rayburn.

Actually, animal theft from Panhandle pet stores isn’t that infrequent. And store owners say it’s on the rise.

“Oh they’ll take anything,” said Foti said. “We had a red-tailed boa constrictor ripped off. A ferret got stolen. We had a two-day old guinea pig taken - that mad me mad. You can turn your back and a puppy will be gone.”

Pet shop owners agree on the most commonly stolen animals: Reptiles.

Six months ago, Rayburn lost a chameleon to a quick-fingered fiend. Edamae Davis, owner of Tony’s Pet Center, recently had a python pilfered.

“You would think it’d be parrots,” said one snake and lizard wholesaler. “At least they’re worth more than some cold-blooded creature.”

But snakes are quiet when handled and fit neatly in a pocket, experts said. Besides, most of the thieves are young men and there’s “a boys’ fascination with reptiles,” Davis said.

, DataTimes

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