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Otis is home.
Nearly two weeks after wandering away from his house in Sebring to the Sebring Fireman's Festival a couple blocks away, the California desert tortoise was reunited with owner Kathie Heisinger Tuesday morning.
"I am so happy," said Heisinger, who paid out a $700 reward for the return of her pet of 25 years after he was found in Canton. "He's in great shape. For such a slow moving animal, he sure has traveled many miles over the last few months."
If he could talk, Otis would have quite a tale to tell.
Brought to Ohio by Heisinger in November when she moved back to her hometown after living in California several years, Otis pushed his way through an opening in a sliding glass door at Heisinger's house at 296 E. Indiana Ave. and made his way to Sebring Fire Station No. 1 where he was spotted May 31 by Sebring Fire Chief Brian Anderson.
Around the same time, he was picked up by a worker of the amusement company who had relocated the tortoise to a property along Martindale Road where he was spotted by 22-year-old Tyren O'Steen on June 1. The Canton resident thought Otis an unusual creature and took him home to be a pet for his three children.
Days passed as Heisinger and many people from Sebring searched for Otis. Through phone calls to the operators of Kissel Amusements, Heisinger discovered that it was possible her tortoise had been taken to Canton. She focused her efforts on posting fliers and talking to residents along the 4000 block of Martindale Road where Otis was believed to have been dropped off and her perseverance paid off.
"I first heard that it was someone's pet (Monday)," said O'Steen. "I had a friend tell me about the fliers and I saw a repost of something on Facebook and then somebody told me they saw a story about it in the paper. I was at work when I found out about it, so I couldn't do anything right away, but I knew that I had to get that lady back her pet."
Heisinger said she received more than 100 phone calls from people believing they may have found Otis during the two week search.
"I always asked if the animal they had found had a tail," explained Heisinger. "Most of them said yes because what they had found were turtles. When I got the call from Mr. O'Steen, he said it didn't have a tail, so I asked him to send me a picture. When I got it, I could tell it was Otis."
Heisinger met O'Steen at a shopping establishment and they exchanged Otis for the $700 reward.
O'Steen said that his 3-year-old daughter Le'naia had become attached to the tortoise that they had been calling Crush after the sea turtle character in "Finding Nemo." But after seeing the look on Heisinger's face when she was reunited with Otis, he knew he had done the right thing.
"I could tell that the tortoise meant a lot to her," said O'Steen, who said he would use the reward money to pay off some bills. "It felt good to give her back her pet."
Heisinger said she would have paid more to get Otis back and that she never gave up hope that the two would be back together again.
Heisinger even thinks Otis' two-week hiatus may have been a blessing in disguise.
"I am a Christian and I believe that things happen for a reason," professed Heisinger. "I believe that when we were searching for Otis, a sort of miracle may have occurred."
Heisinger explained that her sister, Alliance resident Lynn Dicko, was with her when they were searching for Otis along Martindale Road. Dicko stated experiencing an ache in her leg. The pain got to be so excruciating that they called 911 and she was rushed to the emergency room where they discovered a blood clot in her foot. Doctors said that had she waited a couple hours longer to get medical attention, she likely would have lost her foot or worse.
"What you have to understand is that my sister is a homebody," said Heisinger. "If she wouldn't have been with me that day, she would have likely been home alone and would have never gotten to a doctor. The Lord works in mysterious ways and I believe He had reason for Otis to go missing."