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“It was more or less a hobby kind of thing,” he said, adding that as long as Little G was fed he could handle her safely.

Possession of alligators and other crocodilians is illegal in Maryland — as in other states such as Virginia, California and Georgia — so police called county animal control officers to the home to take custody of Little G.

“We show up as quickly as we can to assist police. They aren’t as experienced in dealing with these exotic animals,” said Robin Catlett, an administrator with Anne Arundel Animal Control. “Once we obtain legal custody of it, we work to find a rescue that can take the animal.”

In Little G’s case, that rescue turned out to be Catoctin Wildlife Preserve and Zoo in Thurmont, Md., which is home to an “alligator bayou” display.

Mr. Golden, who said he tried to follow up on the whereabouts of the alligator, was uncertain whether Little G was still at the preserve and hasn’t seen her since the day she was seized.

As extraordinary an experience as Little G’s seizure was for police, animal control officers have to be prepared for such encounters. Since 2006, Anne Arundel County animal control officers have handled 13 “crocodilians” — either alligators or caimans — though Little G was the only one taken into custody through a police raid.

“It’s not as rare as you would think it would be,” Ms. Catlett said.

A history of intimidation

The curious phenomenon of drug dealers owning alligators could be faddish or coincidental, but it has some logic behind it, wildlife researchers say.

“The predominate way people think of alligators is as this fierce man-eating predator,” said Mark Barrow, chairman of Virginia Tech’s history department who is studying the cultural history of the American alligator. “I’m not terribly surprised that some folks may want to have these things to be cool.”

Imagery from the slavery-era South includes depictions of blacks being attacked or eaten by alligators, perhaps as part of a campaign to discourage slaves from attempting escapes through the surrounding swamplands, Mr. Barrow said.

“There is a rich history of intimidation, which is I think part of what’s going on with that,” he said.

Scott Giacoppo, vice president of the Washington Humane Society, said criminals have long kept pets for protection or intimidation.

“It is a really common thing for drug dealers to have animals for smuggling and so forth,” he said.

Mr. Giacoppo recalled that, as a special state police officer investigating animal cruelty in Boston in the early 1990s, young street dealers would hide vials of crack cocaine beneath the collars of their dogs.

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