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Lost: Otis, a California desert tortoise.
Last seen: Wednesday, May 31, at the Sebring Fireman’s Festival.
Reward, if found and returned to owner Kathie Heisinger: $500.
“I love my baby,” said Heisinger as she fought back tears. “I just want him back.”
Heisinger, who rescued Otis from an inattentive owner while living in California 25 years ago, believes Otis snuck out of her home at 296 E. Indiana Ave. by pushing through a sliding glass door and then wandered a couple blocks to the festival.
When she realized he was missing, she put up fliers with his picture and a notice of a $200 reward.
That’s when Sebring Fire Chief Brian Anderson contacted Heisinger to say he had seen the tortoise sheltering under one of the rides at the festival. Thinking it to be a wild creature, he let it be to live its life in peace.
“I felt so bad when I saw those posters,” Anderson said. “I never thought the tortoise I saw was a pet.”
After learning that Otis had an owner and of her plight to find him, Anderson posted an announcement on the department’s Facebook page seeking help from the community. An anonymous member of the department also offered to double the reward to $400.
Since then, the posts have started to go viral. The Sebring Fire Department’s page has had more than 30,000 views and more than 400 shares and the search for Otis has been the subject of a piece on WFMJ-TV in Youngstown.
Meanwhile, Heisinger, who has since added another $100 to the reward to make it $500 and has taken out ads in newspapers, has been receiving numerous messages and photos from area residents, asking if various turtles and tortoises they have found could be her Otis.
“I’ve gotten a lot of pictures from people,” she said. “There are a lot of turtles out this time of year. So far none of them have been my Otis, but people are out there looking for him and that gives me hope.”
Heisinger said she has contacted Kissel Entertainment, which provided the rides and games at the festival to see if any of their employees might have found him and taken him for their pet. The amusement company owners told her none of their employees have any information.
“That’s really what I’m hoping,” said Heisinger. “That someone who thought he was a wild tortoise picked him up and has him and they will come forward after seeing there is a reward.”
Heisinger described Otis as mainly dark brown with some light brown spots and some hints of butterscotch yellow. She said the tortoise, when all tucked in, could resemble a rock. She estimates that he is 8 to 10 inches long and about 4 inches high.
She said on warm days, Otis is capable of traveling quite a distance over time. Heisinger said that he is a very docile tortoise and would not shy away from people. His favorite foods are romaine lettuce, cantaloupe and broccoli, but if he had to fend for himself he could be found eating dandelions and grass. He only eats a couple times a week.
Heisinger, who moved back to Sebring in November after being away for 41 years, is devastated about Otis, especially after losing her 14-year-old cocker spaniel, Roxy, just recently.
“I just want my baby back,” she said.
Anyone who may have seen Otis, or has any other information about the missing tortoise, is asked to call 330-428-3844.