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Thieves mutilate autistic child's pet

July 14, 2007|Bob Pool | Times Staff Writer

Bob the Tortoise is still afraid to stick his head out of his damaged shell. And no wonder.

The 42-pound African spurred tortoise is in guarded condition at a Montecito animal rehabilitation center after thieves tried to cut his neck and slice his legs from his shell.

Ventura police and Humane Society officials on Friday offered rewards totaling $3,500 for the arrest and conviction of those responsible for stealing him from a Ventura backyard and mutilating him.

Police are searching for three people, who could face felony charges of theft and torture of an endangered species, which may carry prison sentences.

"We're working some leads," Sgt. Jack Richards said. "We have a detective on it but we don't have an actual suspect yet."

Dorothy and Bill Sullivan have had Bob for 10 years, and he has become the special friend of their 6-year-old autistic son, William, said Jeanie Vaughan, owner of the Turtle Dreams rehabilitation center.

The youngster, whose autism makes him wary of talking to people, freely chatted with the 25-year-old tortoise, whose species is known to grunt, whistle and croak in response.

"Now he's scared to death that not only has he lost his friend, but that whoever did this are going to come after him too," Vaughan said.

Bob is being treated with antibiotics and fed through a tube at the rehabilitation center. Vaughan said the tortoise is afraid to poke his head out.

"He's in guarded condition, no longer critical," Vaughan said. "We're going to do everything in our power to get him back to his owners. But it could take months."

Authorities said Bob was stolen July 7. Dorothy Sullivan immediately posted fliers in the neighborhood and a short time later received an anonymous call from someone inquiring about a reward.

Following the caller's instructions, Sullivan found the brutalized tortoise lying behind a nearby apartment house. She used a wagon to take him home and contacted Turtle Dreams when she found that no veterinarians were available over the weekend to treat Bob.

"In the 13 years I have been doing rescue work, I've never seen a case like this," Vaughan said. "Bob will be fine if he doesn't get an infection. He's a strong animal."


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