Trouble on Marion Lane

After 10 days in jail for driving without a license, Suzanne Martin Cooke vowed to "reevaluate my life now and make some changes," including keeping a low profile. But barely a month since her release from Fauquier County Adult Detention Center, the late Jack Kent Cooke's third wife is in a nasty dispute with a neighbor over the death of 11-year-old daughter Jacqueline's dog Savannah.

On Monday, the police were summoned--not once but twice--to the quiet Bethesda street where Cooke has been renting a house since September. Cooke blames clinical psychologist Laura Stern Hitchcock, who lives across the street, for the Cavalier King Charles spaniel's demise--telling the cops that Hitchcock let Savannah out of Cooke's back yard, resulting in death- by-automobile on nearby Wilson Lane. Hitchcock denies she opened the gate and claims Cooke has been harassing her while allowing her cat, Precious, to repeatedly chase Hitchcock's cat, Gracie, up a tree.

Cooke told the police that Hitchcock was on her property although the gates were locked and she became suspicious. "I'm very saddened by the death of my daughter's dog. She loved that dog. It's just a tragic situation," she told us yesterday. Hitchcock, who described herself as an animal lover who'd never hurt a pet, told us she is considering getting a court order to keep Cooke away from her.

"They are each people who seem to think the other person's out to get them," said the second lawman called to the scene, Montgomery County police officer Donnell Cowan, who spent about 40 minutes Monday evening shuttling between Cooke's and Hitchcock's houses in a valiant but vain effort to broker peace. "I pretty much told them not to contact each other if you can't work out the situation." Cowan said no investigation is underway. "No one saw anybody let the dog out."

Gators in the Basement

* Commerce Secretary Bill Daley, who tomorrow night welcomes five American alligators to the National Aquarium in the Commerce Department basement, knows a surprising amount about the reptilian critters. As a 10-year-old in Chicago--where his father, Richard J. Daley, was the legendary mayor--Bill kept one as a pet.

"A friend of my dad's had gone to Florida and brought him back," he told us yesterday. "It was a couple inches long. We had it in a big tub for a couple of weeks. But they grow quickly and their teeth get large quickly. It was pretty obvious these are not pets. My dad gave it to the Lincoln Park Zoo."

These five newcomers, around 2 years old and two feet long, and obtained from a gator farm in St. Augustine, Fla., are replacements for 10-year-old brothers Gitcha, Getcha and Gotcha, who outgrew their space and had to be sent back to Florida. The new arrivals--for which the aquarium is holding a naming contest (e-mail your suggestions by Friday to gsi.aquarium@erols.com) --could grow as long as 12 feet if their keepers fed them enough frogs, small mammals and insects. Which they promise not to do.

Daley, meanwhile, easily fielded our pop question on the difference between alligators and crocodiles. "They're cousins, I guess. There's the obvious difference of their size, length and nose structure. Crocodiles are much bigger" than gators. He added: "I hope the new alligators will draw a lot of kids in. It exposes school kids to a species they don't normally see but only read about in books." Very much like commerce secretaries.

THIS JUST IN . . .

* Redskins President Stephen T. Baldacci, who faces misdemeanor charges of crossing a median and fleeing the scene of an accident, yesterday broke his silence on the issue of whether his Mercedes-Benz smacked into Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt's Honda van last Thursday evening on the George Washington Memorial Parkway. "This is a very unfortunate incident," Baldacci told us. "Obviously there's confusion as to what actually did happen. I don't see this as newsworthy at all. Fender-benders happen all the time."

* Talk about "Bad Boy Entertainment"! Sean "Puffy" Combs, who heads a rap music company bearing that name, declared his innocence of felony gun charges yesterday after appearing before a Manhattan grand jury. Girlfriend Jennifer Lopez was already at the courthouse when he arrived.

* While her husband, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, tried to make peace with the Syrians yesterday, Nava Barak toured "Women," the Annie Leibovitz photo exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, with gallery President David Levy.