CHICAGO — Police are searching for a woman who carried a 2-foot-long alligator on a Blue Line train and then abandoned it at O'Hare.
Although exotic animals like alligators like the woman had wouldn't be allowed on board, the CTA does allow animals on its trains and buses, as long as they fit in a small carrier on a rider's lap and don't disturb other customers.
"Common domestic house pets like cats and small dogs are permissible," CTA spokeswoman Lambrini Lukidis said.
Small reptilian house pets, like lizards or snakes, can ride the rails, as can rabbits and other pets commonly found at pet stores.
Owners of bigger dogs are out of luck, as are those who own alligators, which are exotic and not considered "common," Lukidis said. Therefore, the woman showing off her alligator on the train would not have been allowed on board if staff had noticed.
The CTA's animal policy helps people without cars, who sometimes need public transportation to properly care for their animals — to get them to the vet, for example, said Diri Alvarado, receptionist at the Brighton Park Animal Hospital.
But animal carriers are not allowed to take up seats or block aisles.
Service animals are allowed outside of carriers and don't necessarily have to wear a cape or vest designating them as such. If CTA workers are unsure, they are allowed to ask customers about an animal and ask what services the animal performs, Lukidis said.
Still, that doesn't mean those rules are always followed.
A search of social media quickly turns up images of rabbits, lizards, cockatiels wearing sweaters, dogs and cats riding the trains and buses without carriers, and even a pet in a stroller. Wild animals — like a pigeon and what appears to be a feral cat — also have been spotted.
Ryan Griffin-Stegink, 27, of Lakeview, said he has seen animals riding the CTA before, but a dog in the middle of a Red Line train car during morning rush hour shocked him.
"This one particularly struck me as, 'What are these people thinking?' " he said. "It was just chilling in the middle of the aisle, like it belonged there."
The dog also might have violated the CTA's prohibition of pets disturbing other passengers.
"To ensure the comfort of others, animals in carriers need to behave in such a way that does not disturb others," the website says.
"Some people thought it was cute, and some people were annoyed," Griffin-Stegink said about the dog in the aisle. "People were kind of having to step around it."
The woman with the alligator also would have needed a permit to own it, which is required by the state, noted said Jim Nesci, who travels Illinois with his educational "Cold Blooded Creatures" show and owns several alligators.
American alligators are listed as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service because they look similar to the endangered American crocodile. Having an alligator without a permit carries a fine of up to $2,500 and up to a year in jail under the Illinois Endangered Species Protection Act.
The woman on the Blue Line could face a misdemeanor charge of cruelty to animals or a fine of $300 to $1,000 for abandoning it in a public place, the CTA said.
The alligator was taken to the Chicago Herpetological Society, and was found to be malnourished and to have stunted growth, reports say.