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Tequila the African gray parrot reunited with owner after bizarre custody dispute

Angela Colicheski is reunited with her African gray parrot, Tequila, outside the Florida's South County Courthouse following the custody hearing.

In an end to one of the strangest custody disputes we've yet heard of, an African gray parrot -- named, depending upon whom you ask, either Tequila or Lucky -- has been reunited with his original owner, Angela Colicheski of Boca Raton, Fla.

Colicheski, the bird's original owner, called him Tequila and cared for him until his accidental escape about three years ago.  Shortly after Tequila flew away, he found himself in the care of Sarita Lytell, who took him in and began calling him Lucky.

The story would have ended there but for a chance meeting between Colicheski and Lytell at a Dunkin' Donuts in January.  The two wound up chatting, and the conversation turned to their shared love of parrots.  Before too long, they discovered that they had a more specific shared love, of a specific parrot: namely Tequila (or Lucky).

Colicheski asked Lytell to return the bird, but Lytell refused. Colicheski sued her.

On Monday, they appeared in court -- all of them, even the squawking parrot, for whom a special exception was made that allowed him to bypass the court's metal detector and X-ray machine.  "As we sit here right now, this is an unusual case to say the least," said Palm Beach County Judge James Martz.

The Sun-Sentinel reports on what happened next:

Martz said Florida laws are clear on the matter.

"If the plaintiff had lost her automobile somehow along the way would it be any less her property when she found it?" he said. "Pets are chattel, they're no different from your automobile."

[Lytell's attorney, Marcy LaHart] said Martz was wrong.

"Clearly, your mind has been made up without hearing any other evidence," she told the judge.

Martz wrapped up the case quickly after that exchange. [Colicheski's attorney, Spencer Siegel] told the judge his client wanted possession of Tequila and dismissal of Lytell's countersuit for the cost of keeping the bird.

"Done and granted," Martz said.

Lytell was devastated by the decision, but ABC News reports that she may have grounds to appeal it:

In 1997, a court decision in Vermont said a dog that was lost for a year could stay with its new owner because she made a good faith effort to find the original owner.

"They have put so much of their own time and resources to the animal, they should be recognized as the owner of the animal," said David Favre, professor at Michigan State University College of Law.

What do you think -- is an animal's original owner automatically its rightful one, or are there some cases in which a dedicated caregiver to a found animal should be allowed to keep it?  At the very least, should Lytell have received repayment for her expenses over the three years she cared for Tequila-nee-Lucky?

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: Colicheski is reunited with Tequila outside Florida's South County Courthouse. Credit: Scott Fisher / South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Comments () | Archives (8)

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Yeah, the former owner should at least reimburse the other owner for her time and expense and trouble; she should be grateful that someone cared enough about her pet to care for it and obviously loved it. How so ungrateful to just claim the parrot without any compensation whatsoever. I mean, really, does that make any sense?

IMO, the pet should be returned to the original owner and he/she should compensate the caregiver.

Ah, no. Let's take the example of the automobile that goes missing (stolen, I guess). If you bumped into the person who was using your car one day a couple of years later, and demanded (and won) your car back off them, would you be expected to compensate them for all the petrol they've used? Repairs and maintenance? Registration? Other incidentals? No. So I don't think she should have to compensate Ms Lytell. Ms Lytell knowingly and willingly kept the bird, knowing full well that she would need to spend money to keep it. She didn't have to.
Ms Colicheski should not have to pay anything, and Ms Lytell should have just returned the bird when originally asked.

I think that Mrs. Lytell should be in custody of the bird. She has loved and cared for the parrot for 3 years, and had searched well for the owner. She had even renamed the parrot! Then, when the original owner finds where her parrot has escaped to, she demands it back. Would you give it back because you met it's original owner? No. You would want to keep your beloved pet, right? The original owner sues you. Then you go to court over the case. The judge makes his decision very quickly and gives the bird back to the original owner. Now, if you cared for a bird and spent 2,400 dollars on that, and loved it, would you want to give it up for no reimbursement whatsoever? No! I think that it was wrong for the judge to make the decision so quickly, and give it back to the owner who lost it in the first place.

Rochelle said:
"No. So I don't think she should have to compensate Ms Lytell. Ms Lytell knowingly and willingly kept the bird, knowing full well that she would need to spend money to keep it. She didn't have to.
Ms Colicheski should not have to pay anything, and Ms Lytell should have just returned the bird when originally asked."

Now, Rochelle, would you have returned the bird? No! And if you were mean enough to take the bird back, you should refund Mrs. Lytell because if she hadn't taken her in then she would have died. And Mrs. Lytell took in the bird, caring for it, thinking she knew she could keep it.

Has your perspective changed?

Does anybody remember the story of King Solomon and the 2 women who claimed to be the mother of the child? After listening to both sides, he proposed to have the child sliced in half with one half going to each woman. One woman then relinquished her claim, preferring to let the child live, even if it meant the other woman claimed him/her. King Solomon then gave the (whole) child to THAT woman, concluding she must truly be the mother as she would do whatever was in the child's best interest. Judge Martz is obviously no King Solomon. If I were the original owner, I would fight to get my parrot back. Then, even if the court dismissed the other woman's claim for compensation for, I would pay her anyway, figuring it was the least I could do. AND I'd also invite her come over for occasional visits to see the bird, since she obvioulsy has an emotional attachment to him. That's how I'd handle it. (Fortunately, both of my cats are indoor only, so their chances of getting lost are pretty remote. I'd forever be grateful (and might relinquish my claim of ownership) if they were to get lost and somebody was kind enough to adopt and care for them for three years.)

If the original owner really loved that parrot she would have left him with the new owner. As long as he was being loved and given a good home why would you uproot your companion just to satisfy your loss..wouldn't you want them to be happy.

I can not give an opinion on this matter, as I think no one else can, there is not enough information in the article. One of the comments says the original owner was searched for when the bird was found. No where in this article does it state that happened. How do we know that Lytell ever looked for the original owner? Until we have all the facts, as I am sure the judge had, we can not judge. As for the judge making his decision quickly, we do not know how long the judge spent in his chambers reading the complaint. We just do not have enough information people, to draw any conclusions, based on this article alone. "Just Sayin"


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