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Hundreds of birds, turtles, other animals found in 'abominable' conditions in Bellmore home, officials say

Alligator expert Doug Delle Cave, from D&J Reptiles

Alligator expert Doug Delle Cave, from D&J Reptiles in Amityville, holds an American alligator found in a home on Ocean Avenue in Bellmore, Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2015. Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

As many as 300 caged birds, a 200-pound snapping turtle and hundreds of other animals have been living in a Bellmore home that one animal advocate called "abominable" as he and wildlife officials took away a 4-foot alligator Wednesday night.

The alligator was found in a hot tub, where it had just enough room to swim around, said Brian Cook, an investigator with the Nassau County Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: "It was basically going around in circles."

The birds, 100 turtles, lizards, rabbits, cats and other creatures were on the second floor, the investigator said. The birds could be heard from the street, and Cook said some, including parrots, had pulled their feathers out -- a sign of stress -- and many were dirty from feces that had piled up "for a period of years" in the cages.

If the birds had sustenance, SPCA officials said, it was largely water that had turned a slimy green and food that was dirty.

SPCA officials said they, along with officials from the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, were at the Ocean Avenue house after months of talks with owner Gary Gruber, who had failed to fix problems. The SPCA first visited the house in December after getting a complaint from one neighbor about the bird noise.

Wednesday, Gruber was ordered to clean up the animals' living conditions within 24 hours or face arrest and hundreds of counts of animal neglect.

"The place is an abomination," said Bob Sowers, head of the Nassau SPCA. "It is totally toxic."

Gruber's attorney, Nathan DeCorpo of Lynbrook, said the animals are generally in good health and that the conditions were not filthy. He said the alligator had been allowed to roam around the second floor.

He said Gruber has a landscaping business, but is a "well known conservationist in the area." People bring their animals to him when they no longer want them, DeCorpo said, and Gruber and his family are "enthusiasts" who rehabilitate them.

"Maybe he's bitten off more than he can chew," DeCorpo said.

Gruber wants to keep the animals and will comply with the cleaning order by hiring a service, he said: "He's going to do anything he has to do."

If he complies, Sowers said Gruber may be allowed to keep almost all the animals except for the alligator, which requires a state permit to own, which Gruber did not have.

The alligator was taken to an Amityville pet store that specializes in reptiles Wednesday with the help of Nassau police emergency service officers, but authorities left behind the 200-pound snapping turtle with a head the size of two footballs.

Sowers said if they take the giant turtle, it will be harder than the alligator to handle and they will have to figure out how to get it out of the basement. "When they're that big," he said, "they can take your arm off. "


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