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

April 7, 2009 |  4:38 pm

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

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