Smiley 'gators

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MOST places in the United States if a person says he owns a pet, one assumes it is either a dog or a cat. This does not necessarily hold true in Florida, where pets and owners seldom fit the norm. It is possible a native Floridian would recognize a dog or cat if he saw one, but in all likelihood he would be a resident of Miami or Boca Raton.

If complaints in newspapers and on TV are any guide, the typical Florida pet is either a goat or some giant bird that swears. Apparently the complaints about goats have some foundation in fact, since there are stories of goats boosting an old codger into the creek now and then. And one elderly gentleman complained that just the smell of his neighbor's goat keeps his wife awake all night.

Smells, however, are not against the law in Florida. As it turns out, goats, chickens, cows, pigs, and the like are OK to have around the yard. You get goat, pig, and chicken mixed with night-blooming jasmine or honeysuckle and you can understand why Scarlett O'Hara was so irascible.

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Among the other animals found around Florida houses are lions, small elephants, and small various snakes. Several otherwise pleasant families keep banana spiders. A banana spider is not the usual dime-sized arachnid that wobbles into view appearing to be underfed. Banana spiders are closer to the size of small baseball mits and are yellow and black like warning signs on the highway. These spiders have no special qualities of affection the way a dog has, but if not downright friendly they are at least neutral. Their chief attraction is that they eat cockroaches (known here as palmetto bugs).

Occasionally in Florida an alligator is discovered as someone's pet. On TV recently a fellow in a sports shirt held an eight-footer in his lap, stroking it affectionately on the head. An alligator's head is not ideal for petting, being something like the side of a raw pineapple, but the alligator blinked quietly and seemed to be smiling. For what reason he was smiling I could not be sure.

The man maintained that the neighborhood had not complained about Gorbachev (the alligator's name) in any way, since the population on the street has remained stable and no one has reported any missing family members.

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