A breathing relic of prehistory is alive and well. But instead of escaping into swampy grassland, it's ready for a seatbelt. For the passenger in the front seat of Vicki Lowing's automobile is considered by some to be a living dinosaur.
It smiles with the crocodilian toothiness known from a species that has outlived the Tyrannosaurs rex by some 65 million years. Longevity through asteroid hits, disease and catastrophic temperature change allowed its ancestors to see the rise of the human race. An ancient conversation with the forces of extinction still whispers and snaps in its biology.
The reptile's head looks around inside the car and, through a window, sees the fast-moving landscape outside. This is no ordinary road trip: for a crocodile named Johnie has called shotgun, and Lowing is enjoying the open road with her reptilian best friend.
"Most people do, they think they're instinctive killers. No, they're way more intelligent than that. I believe they're as intelligent as human beings," Lowing said.
It's a relationship built as much on trust as it is from an astonishing leap of faith. For Lowing, a 53 year-old nurse in Australia, lives with three crocodiles at her home. She says the emotional bond with these creatures runs deep.
"You have to live with them to know these things. And I've stated that I believe they talk by telepathy as well. People think I'm crazy, I know, but [it's] just feelings I've received," Lowing revealed.
Full grown crocodiles have the strongest bites on the planet – more even than a great white shark - with force equal to the weight of a pick-up truck. But that frightening knowledge hasn't deterred Lowing. She took in Johnie fifteen years ago when the croc was a sick 5-week-old female hatchling left anonymously at her doorstep - a tiny orphan that could fit in the palm of her hand.
"She's mine and that's it. It's like adopting a baby," Lowing said.
Lowing quickly fell in love. She had a feeling, you might say, that crocodiles rock.
"I thought she was cute. They're all cute. Very snappy though, they do bite."
Johnie, now a healthy teenager, is 6 feet long and will likely reach the length of a long couch. She has grown up with all the creature comforts of a decidedly domestic life, including sharing Lowing's marital bed.
"She'd jump on me and she'd go between me and my husband. And I think that's all to do with the bonding. And she seemed a little bit jealous if she saw me with my son or my husband or with the other animals, she became very close," Lowing said.
So close that Lowing even allowed the crocodile to sleep on her son Andrew when he was a child.
"Johnie would jump on Andrew's bed nearly every night. They were like a brother and sister," Lowing said.
Animal experts tell 20/20 there is no way to domesticate a crocodile. They are too aggressive, powerful and unpredictable. Ultimately a relationship like this may end in real tears – and not crocodile ones.
Lowing, who is now divorced, says the crocs were not responsible for the end of her marriage. But as much as she loves them, scaly reptiles who can take off a human limb with a nip are not exactly nuptial magnets.