"I'm thinking, 'Yeah, an alligator. OK,'" Deputy Michael Rust told the Los Angeles Times on Thursday. "Maybe an iguana, but an alligator?"
A 911 operator agreed. "Could it have been a lizard?" the operator tells a woman reporting "a couple girls carrying an alligator" on a recording released by the Sheriff's Department.
Rust investigated the report Tuesday morning and found not just a 4-foot alligator, but a kangaroo and monkey too, all inside the same van.
The women explained that the menagerie is part of the "Zoo to You" program in Paso Robles that introduces kids to animals.
The animals had just visited with students at Quartz Hill Elementary and had begun the nearly 200-mile journey home when they pulled over for some emergency cleanup.
"The alligator urinated inside his cage, and it's a long ways back to Paso Robles with the smell of alligator urine," Rust said. "So they decided to pull over."
Rust said he gets constant calls about wildlife, but they're usually for the kind of wildlife that live in his semi-rural area.
"We get all kinds of animal calls, from bulls to bears to mountain lions," he said. "But I've never heard of an alligator.