See you later, alligator

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For as many problems as owning an alligator might pose — expensive heat lamps, daily feedings and a clean pool of water — the worst is trying to get rid of it, as three Marquette juniors found out last week.

Weiss, Mead and Hunt, who live in a house in the 800 block of North 18th Street, bought an alligator through a breeder on a reptile auction Web site — www.reptibid.com — about four weeks ago, Mead said.

"We just bought the thing for $150 without thinking," he said. "It arrived overnight from a guy that breeds alligators in Pennsylvania."

The juniors spent about $600 preparing for Cuddles' arrival, Mead said. They bought heat lamps, a pool, food and vegetation for the alligator's home — a large pantry-type closet in their kitchen.

"It was a lot of fun," Mead said. "He was a great pet. There was a parade of people here every day checking him out."

After the novelty of alligator ownership died down, "we were stuck with a 4-foot alligator," Mead said.

The kitchen began to smell, costs began to accrue and the roommates began to fight over whose turn it was to clean the alligator's water twice a week, Mead said.

After about four weeks, they reluctantly decided Cuddles had to go.

Mead, Hunt and Weiss placed Cuddles' picture on the same reptile auction Web site, where a private resident in Colorado won the bid for about $50.

The juniors fed Cuddles, taped his mouth closed and placed him in the same box he arrived in. They put that box inside an additional box. The three assumed the alligator breeder they got the pet from would know how to ship alligators, and thus shipped Cuddles the same way — in Styrofoam and two cardboard boxes.

"The funniest thing about this is that this whole thing could have taken place in Philadelphia," Mead said.

When the box arrived at the postal facility at Mitchell airport, Cuddles somehow broke lose, said Jo Blackburn, a spokesperson for the Milwaukee Central Post Offfice. Postal officials placed the box on a table and the alligator's snout broke through the side.

The day after he shipped it, Mead was woken up by his roommate, who said there were three people in the living room looking for him.

"I didn't know about the legality of this whole thing," he said. Because the breeder sent it in a box, "it sounded like it was perfectly fine to send them through the mail."

The investigators were "laughing about it" and cleared him of any charges, he said.

Blackburn said the situation is still under investigation. Any resulting charges would be filed by the U.S. Attorney's office, not the U.S. Post Office.

Just when they thought their troubles had ended, Mead heard a knock on the door.

He was greeted by a WTMJ-TV Channel 4 news camera, Mead said. The story quickly spread to other news organization and eventually ended up on news stations in Milwaukee, the nationwide CNN Headline News and the Associated Press wire, which has an international audience.

"We just tried to get rid of this all in the most low-key, low-profile way possible," Mead said.

Cuddles is now on his way to a wildlife sanctuary in Florida. The person in Colorado who purchased the alligator has been informed, Mead said.

The juniors were concerned their landlord would be angry about the alligator debacle. So far, it has not been a concern, Mead said.

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