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Cottage Grove police retrieve 5-foot iguana from park

Cottage Grove police community service officer Matthew Dahlquist puts the lid on a cooler that was used to temporarily hold the large iguana captured Thursday at Cottage Grove Ravine Regional Park. Bulletin photo by Scott Wente1 / 6
Cottage Grove police Sgt. Jim Smith used heavy gloves to lift the iguana from a cooler to a tabletop at the police department, before the critter was transported to the Park Grove Pet Hospital. Bulletin photo by Scott Wente2 / 6
The iguana found by county workers at Cottage Grove Ravine Regional Park. Bulletin photo by Scott Wente3 / 6
Cottage Grove police Sgt. Jim Smith holds the iguana by the tail. Bulletin photo by Scott Wente4 / 6
Cottage Grove Sgt. Jim Smith, left, and community service officer Matthew Dahlquist transport the iguana in a cooler at the police department. Bulletin photo by Scott Wente5 / 6
Cottage Grove Sgt. Jim Smith (left) and community service officer Matthew Dahlquist check out the iguana that Dahlquist retrieved Thursday morning from Cottage Grove Ravine Regional Park. Bulletin photo by Scott Wente6 / 6

Cottage Grove police community service officer Matthew Dahlquist often fields animal calls, retrieving loose dogs and cats and removing critters such as raccoons from a homeowner's yard.

The work typically does not involve large, prehistoric-looking reptiles.

Washington County park workers called police Thursday morning after they found an unusual reptile along the shore of a body of water at Cottage Grove Ravine Regional Park.

It is an iguana - OK, a big iguana - but police initially were told it was a komodo dragon, a larger and far more dangerous creature.

Dahlquist said he didn't know what to expect.

"This is not something we typically have to deal with," added police Sgt. Jim Smith.

A county worker bare-handed the 5-foot-long reptile and put it in a truck until Dahlquist arrived at the park around 8 a.m. He put it in a large cooler and transported it to the police department.

Smith said iguanas are considered domesticated animals under city code because they are a "non-constrictive, non-venomous reptile."

"I can't find anything that makes it illegal" to possess, he said.

Police suspect someone cared for the reptile until it grew too large, then needed a place to release it.

"Somebody, that was their pet for a long time," Smith speculated. "Obviously, it outgrew their house."

One city employee joked that it must have "ate the family cat," so was left to fend for itself. That's unlikely; iguanas mostly eat plants, but do have sharp teeth for ripping and tearing and a strong tail.

In any case, Smith said, a public park is not the proper place to leave a large domesticated reptile.

"It's scary for the public if they're not aware of it," he said. Smith wore heavy raptor-handling gloves to move the reptile by its long tail.

The reptile was held temporarily at the police department on 80th Street - long enough to generate a buzz at City Hall and creep out city employees.

Police later took the iguana to the Park Grove Pet Hospital, which usually will house abandoned domesticated animals for the city for seven days. If they are unclaimed, they are put up for adoption.

The reptile posed a problem for Park Grove, however.

"We're just not properly set up for an iguana of that size," said Jen Nichols of the pet hospital.

The hospital set up temporary heat lamps and fed the iguana but was trying to find a better facility to house it for up to a week, such as a regional reptile zoo.

"This is the first time we've had something like this," Nichols said.

She cautioned people who may be interested in adopting the lizard.

"You're going to have to be really knowledgeable on this type of iguana at this size," she said. "He's not little and he's very strong."

It was the first time police retrieved a large iguana, but not the first unusual critter capture. Four years ago Cottage Grove homeowners trapped a kinkajou, a small rainforest mammal, that they discovered hiding in their garage. It was unclear how the exotic animal found its way into the garage.

Scott Wente

Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011.

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