LAKELAND, Fla. - A Lakeland woman may be forced to part ways with her beloved pet alligator.
The two have been performing together for more than a decade, but a change in rules may now threaten their future together.
"I don't know how I'd react if I had to give him up, I wouldn't want to go on," said Mary Thorn, referring to her pet gator, Rambo. "I sat there and watched my son die of cancer, and he's the only thing that I have left."
Mary Thorn said her six-foot alligator is her best friend. The two have formed an unbreakable bond, one that allows Thorn to kiss the gator, cradle it like a child and share it with countless others in the area.
"He's a rescue, when I got him, he was totally incapable of moving," said Thorn. She said he was brought to her with four other alligators rescued from a bedroom closet. She says they had lived in terrible conditions with no natural sunlight for years.
"See that's where he's sunburned from today," said Thorn, pointing to what she described as a skin disorder Rambo has.
The lack of sunlight has lead to the development of a skin disorder that prevents him from being outside for long periods of time, Thorn said, adding that the docile reptile could die if released in the wild.
Rambo measured a foot and a half when Thorn brought the gator to her home. A recent measurement by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission showed the gator was 6 feet long.
At that size, a captured alligator is required to live on 2.5 acres of land based on an ordinance that did not exist when Thorn was originally licensed to keep him.
So despite the dozens of Thank You cards from children who have met Rambo and a Thank You letter from the FWC for her educational demonstrations, Thorn may have to give him up.
"People don't understand, I didn't take him out of the lake. I gave him a home. He's my best friend," said Thorn.
In a statement FWC officials said they are taking a closer look at Thorn's case, but did not elaborate further.
Thorn said an inspector for FWC told her there may have been a mistake with some of her licensing paperwork with regard to her address. She has been advised she may have to appear before a judge to clear up the matter.
Thorn hopes law enforcement and conservation officials will allow her to keep Rambo given the facts the alligator can't live in nature.