VAN NUYS, LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- It was an open secret in the neighborhood that an 8-foot alligator was living at a Van Nuys house, along with many wild cats, but all it took was one unhappy neighbor to get the alligator out of there.
Authorities say the investigation began in late 2014 when animal control was alerted to a possible alligator in the 13200 block of Sylvan Street. Officers searched the property but did not find anything.
On Monday, animal control officers served a search warrant at the home and located the female alligator, named Jaxson, in a covered box in the yard.
It is illegal to keep wildlife without a permit in L.A. A criminal investigation is now underway, and a case is expected to be presented to the city attorney's office for prosecution.
"I understand now it's not legal, but when it becomes a pet, it becomes your family," said Ron Gorecki, brother of the alligator owner. "When it becomes your family, you protect the pet and the people involved. That's all there is to it."
Gorecki's sister, Laura Mattson, was Jaxson's owner. She says Jaxson first joined the family through her late husband Jim.
"It's like losing part of my family and plus losing part of Jim. So now I've lost him too," Mattson said.
Animal authorities believe that the gator was being fed cats because several dead cats were found nearby. Jaxson's owners say they fed the cats, they didn't feed the cats to Jaxson, who ate nothing but chicken.
"Now we lost the alligator. And now they're making statements that shouldn't be making because nobody's feeding cats to the alligator. We got plenty of money to feed whatever we have to feed," Gorecki said.
Officials say the alligator is 37 years old.
"These type of reptiles can be dangerous," said Mark Salazar, department of animal services field commander. "If anyone is housing an animal like this ... turn the animal in, contact the local zoo."
Jaxson's owners dispute that their gator was dangerous. The owners are facing citations for maintaining a wild animal without proper care and maintenance and without proper permits. They could face further charges as well.
Anyone residents in the area who lost a small pet in the last 40 years was asked to call animal control officials at (213) 482-7455.