Lost 5-foot Monitor Lizard Reunited with Owner

This image provided by Riverside County Animal Services shows Animal Services officer, Kim McWhorter, holding a 5-foot long Monitor lizard that animal control officers found wandering around a condo complex in the city of Riverside, Calif., Tuesday Jan. 25, 2011. Black-throated Monitor lizards are carnivorous and native to the grasslands of Africa. (AP Photo/ Riverside County Animal Services)

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By Kelli Sutterman

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) — A 5-foot-long Monitor lizard named Elmer was reunited with his owner Wednesday after being found wandering the streets of Riverside the day before.

County Animal Services spokesman John Welsh said the lizard's owner, Tom Casarez Jr., was happy to take home his pet.

Elmer escaped through a door that Casarez's little brother left open Sunday while the lizard's tank was being cleaned.

The reptile survived chilly outdoor temperatures for two nights and was spotted wandering through a condo complex less than 20 yards from Casarez's home Tuesday afternoon. Nervous neighbors called police, and an animal services officer and a police officer wrangled the lizard into a cage.

Elmer, who is named after the Looney Tunes cartoon character, spent the night at the shelter where he made friends with the staff because of his docile and curious nature.

The department's reptile expert inspected Elmer's tank and determined it is adequate for the full-grown black-throated Monitor lizard, but could stand to be larger.

Casarez said the 2-year-old lizard is a good companion and even recognizes his owner's voice.

"I'll go up and say, 'What's up, Elmer?' and he'll look and see who's calling," said Casarez, 20. "I think they're beautiful in their own way. They're just an easy, friendly pet. They can be mean if you don't handle them so it's very important that you handle them. Imagine him this big, trying to bite your finger off. They could do damage."

Casarez's father, Tom Sr., said the lizard rests his head on him while he watches TV.

"I like to put on Animal Planet for him," he said.

Welsh noted that animal services has not received any additional reports of missing pets in the area — yet.

"Not to be too flippant here, but Elmer, after all, is a carnivore," he said.

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