MONTGOMERY VILLAGE, Md. (ABC7) — Dave Greene's Montgomery Village home does not contain cypress trees, moss or mosquitoes, but the 48-year-old says he still managed to create a hospitable habitat for an American alligator.
“She was treated like a cat or a dog from a hatchling," Greene told ABC7 during an interview in his living room Friday.
Around 2005, Greene was looking to buy a bullfrog for his backyard pond. While doing research online, he stumbled upon a breeder in Florida that also sold alligators.
"I asked my son, who was like one or two at the time, if he wanted an alligator. He took off his shirt and ran laps around the house screaming”
Much to the chagrin of his wife, Greene made the unorthodox purchase. The live, baby alligator arrived in the mail a short while later.
“It was kind of love at first sight," Greene recalled upon seeing the female gator for the first time, her head about the size of his thumb. "What kind of creature goes thru the U.S. mail and arrives in good spirits?”
Greene understood the optics of the situation, and the challenge of domesticating an animal with violent natural instincts. And so, he established a number of ground rules:
“It was a big experiment. Could an alligator be raised as a cat or a dog? I put a lot of thought into it, a lot of effort, and it was working."
Greene later named the gator, Blackbeard, after his son Bryce's traveling baseball team, the Olney Pirates. The five-foot, 35 pound, female gator quickly became a household name, traveling to Bryce's baseball practices, Greene's office in downtown DC and posing for photos each Halloween with neighborhood trick-or-treaters.
"The kids loved her, and she really helped lift morale at my office,” said Greene, who vows Blackbeard never hurt a soul.
Although Blackbeard passed a lot of time in her warm bathtub, she had free range around Greene's three-level home. In fact, many nights the 48-year-old would cuddle with the gator on the couch while watching the evening news. Greene would rub her back and tickle her belly, no muzzle required.
“Blackbeard wasn’t a wild animal. She was born in captivity and she has never experienced anything, but love and care by people. I would rub my fingers around her teeth, plus pet her head, and I did that because I wanted her to feel like she is not something to be feared."
Greene explains his affinity for alligators dates back to his younger years. He was on a vacation in Florida and happened to see Seminole tribe members wrestling the dinosaur-like reptiles on a Native American reservation. Greene returned home from that trip, purchased an adult alligator and hid it in the basement.
"My mom was afraid of basements and was also a workaholic," Greene shared of his late mother who worked in the Clinton administration.
During the day, Greene would let that gator sunbathe in the backyard. The plan seemed foolproof until one day when his mother returned home from work early.
“She called down from upstairs to say, ‘Davie, is that a lizard you’re carrying?’ I told her it was. She asked, ‘Is that an alligator lizard?' And I said it was, and she went crazy as any mother would.”
A few days later, Greene's mother was in a meeting with President Clinton. While waiting for a few late parties to join, the president went around the room asking people to share unique stories about themselves.
“And when it came to her, she says, 'Well Mr. President, I just found out I have a big alligator that’s living in my basement.' And he goes, ‘Oh man, that’s what I’m talking about.’”
Greene's mom went on to become then First Lady Hillary Clinton's deputy chief of staff.
“Alligators have paid off until now," Greene said with a sense of sarcasm.
According to the Smithsonian's National Zoo, alligators can live up to 50 years in the wild. In fact, Greene had long joked that Blackbeard would likely outlive him, and attend his funeral with a top hat and cane. All of those funny stories now come with a sad sting.
“I’m concerned that she’s concerned," Greene stated. "She had a very specific feeding pattern that we set for her, and she did not interact with other animals."
Greene says he often returns home from work and walks straight to the basement bathroom to feed Blackbeard, only to remember she is no longer a resident of his home.
His iPad remains cluttered with images and videos of the five-foot gator. Photos of her wrapped in a towel following a bath, basking beside the family room fireplace and nestled below the Christmas tree put a smile back on Greene’s face.
"I really do miss her, but I don’t think under any circumstances it’s appropriate to break the law, and we didn’t know we were.”
Greene does not begrudge the authorities who seized Blackbeard in October, but has hired an attorney to help review the letter of taw law in effort to identify potential loopholes. For example, Maryland's exotic pet legislation was enacted in 2006, on year after he purchased Blackbeard online.
“I have slim hope that we can throw ourselves at the mercy of the court, and that we be granted a special license -or- that we could be grandfathered in.”
Greene's extended family has created a GoFundMe account to help cover mounting legal fees, and any potential fine that the court hands down. Greene notes that any excess money will be donated to the Catoctin Wildlife Preserve in Frederick County, which took Blackbeard in.
“They say a dog is a man’s best friend. Well, an alligator is this man’s best friend, Greene remarked with a somber look upon his face. “It’s a part of our life that is gone."