MIAMI -- Every day Sabrina and Kyle Ozuna rushed home from school to see their neighborhood buddy.
They named him Patrick, and they fed him hotdogs and ham.
"But the ice cream was a mistake," said Kyle, 10.
That's because alligators don't eat ice cream. And Patrick was a 10-foot gator stuck for several weeks in a storm drain in their street's cul-de-sac.
North Miami Beach police and wildlife rescuers had planned to flush Patrick from the drain on Monday, trap the animal and move it to a refuge for exotic animals.
Patrick didn't wait around. He went missing Sunday. And the drain leads to a neighborhood lake.
Now police are executing a search for Patrick, who apparently lumbered out of the drain and escaped to freedom -- somewhere.
No one knows when the gator took up residence in the Pickwick Lake Estates neighborhood, next to Interstate 95.
The neighborhood is now on high gator-alert.
"We're trying to see if he pops up again," said North Miami Beach police Sgt. Nelson Reyes.
Police fear Patrick could be a problem for animals and children in the neighborhood.
The Ozuna kids thought Patrick was hungry, but authorities advise it is never a good idea to feed a gator.
"People think it's like feeding the ducks, and you're not," Reyes said. "You're dealing with an alpha predator. He might see small children on the shoreline and he might associate them with the food source. That's not good."
For almost two months, the Ozunas and their cousins visited the gator in the drain, which was securely covered by a 50-pound iron grate. Their younger brother first spotted the reptile while toddling around outside. The kids named him after the cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants' starfish sidekick. Sometimes, though, they threw rocks at him.
"I guess he got annoyed, and he growled at us," said Sabrina, 13.
Their mother, Minerva Ozuna, 43, said she alerted wildlife authorities, but was told there was nothing to do.
"The same way he came in, he was going to come out," Ozuna remembers being told.
A neighbor later alerted North Miami Beach police, who, in turn, informed the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
An officer with the commission determined there was no "imminent danger," said spokesman Jorge Pino.
That's when North Miami Beach police teamed up with the nonprofit Everglades Outpost, a wildlife rescue group, to trap the animal.
Police made automated telephone calls to neighborhood residents informing them about the missing gator.
If Patrick is found in the lake, the wildlife commission will go after him, Reyes said. If he returns to the drain, North Miami Beach police and the nonprofit agency will try to capture him, then take him to a sanctuary.
Meanwhile, the Ozuna kids miss their buddy, but mom is more concerned now that he's missing.
"I'm afraid since he responds to their voice," she said.
Other residents are worried, too.
Neighbor Tamir Ovadia, 82, is keeping Flappy, his 2-year-old Maltese, indoors.
"I hope they are going to catch him," said Ovadia, whose home backs up onto the lake.
Gator sightings are common in South Florida. In 2009, the wildlife commission received more than 14,000 complaints about alligators.
In most cases, nuisance gators that are caught are processed for their meat and their hide.