Doc Reno

Doc Reno

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What's the Tiger King Have To Do With A $1,000 Tortoise?!

A charter boat fishing captain is pursuing legal action after he was forced to pay nearly $1,000 to get his missing pet tortoise back!

Merrick Westlund came home from a charter to find his 18-year-old African sulcata tortoise “Shelby” was missing. Westlund posted signs around his neighborhood, called the SPCA and animal control, as well as checked social media and posted for info. A neighbor reached out, saying that a local wildlife preserve may have the tortoise if it was picked up close to his home.

There he found Shelby was safe with Vernon Yates, the operator of Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation,

“He said yes, I have her and the first thing out of his mouth was it's going to cost you a lot of money,” said Westlund, as Yates asked him to shell out more than $1,000 to get her back. Westlund contacted FWC and the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, but they considered it a civil matter. Westlund paid $975 to take his tortoise home,

“I still can't believe that I had to pay money for my own pet back, more money than all my pets have cost combined," he said.

You may know the name Vernon Yates, who is well-known as a preserve owner from the hit Netflix show Tiger King! Yates is known in the Tampa Bay area, helping authorities catch loose monkeys and once held big cats, baboons, and other exotics at his property.

“When somebody has to pay for something, they're not happy. So no, do I expect him to open arms and hug me? No. Is it gonna bother me? Nah,” said Yates who charges $200 to pick up and transport the tortoise, plus $25 dollars a day to board it. “If you stop and look at it, it actually runs in comparison to all animal shelters, what they're charging at boarding facilities. So we're not out of line.”

The SPCA would take in a tortoise, and after a period of 3-5 days for an owner to claim it, would get it ready for adoption. If an owner came forward after that period, they would then charge boarding of $25 per day. However, the SPCA and other agencies would put out information online, to social media and through the Pinellas County lost & found database. Yates never did that.

“There was nobody at home at night apparently and I don't even know which house is his, so no I don't have any responsibility,” Yates said. “It's not my responsibility to find you because you lost your pet. It's your job to find the pet. If he had called the next morning or that night, he could have gotten it back for a hell of a lot less, but if it’s sitting here, it's going to get paid to sit here. I look at it as I do a much bigger favor because I didn't put a time limit on it.”

This dispute may be decided in a civil court, as Westlund plans on suing to get his money back,

“Any creature around you for a number of years, let alone 18 years is a connection that money, money's not really what it's about,” Westlund added.

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