RENO, Nev. (CN) – A Nevada woman has gone to court in a bid to regain custody of a pet she adopted 21 years ago: “Hardhat,” a desert tortoise.
Lisa Helget, who adopted the tortoise in 1995 through a government-approved program, lost the tortoise over the summer. Helget is suing a woman whom she says had the tortoise, refused to return it to her and then either sold or gave the reptile to another person, identified in Helget’s complaint as defendant Doe 1.
In her state court lawsuit filed Tuesday, Helget says defendant Angel Vathayanon refuses to provide the name and address of that person. She wants a judge to order that the information be disclosed so the person can be served with the complaint and return Hardhat to her.
The complaint states that the name and address of the person can be submitted to Helget’s attorney, Patrick King of Carson City, Nevada, with a protective order that the information will only be used to serve the complaint and that the address will be kept confidential.
“We would be tremendously grateful if they returned Hardhat, and we didn’t have to avail ourselves of the courts,” King said in an interview.
He said his client would pay for the time and expense it took to care for the tortoise.
“We have had lengthy discussions about the time and expense of litigation and the fact there’s no guarantee and if she’s sure she wants to invest the money to do this,” he said of his client. “Her answer was ‘I have to. I love him, and I want him back.’”
Helget says in the complaint that the tortoise went missing this past June. She noticed the tortoise’s food had gone untouched for some time, and she searched in vain for him. She continued to set out food and water thinking the tortoise may have burrowed under a shed to take shelter from the mid-summer heat.
She says she habitually checked pet lost-and-found listings.
In September, according to the complaint, she learned that defendant Vathayanon had the tortoise but refused to return it to her.
“Justice requires that Hardhat be returned to Lisa who adopted and cared for Hardhat for the past 21 years,” according to the complaint, which seeks injunctive relief and a replevin action to recover personal property.
It is illegal to collect wild desert tortoises, listed as a threatened species. The tortoises, which can live to be more than 50 years old, can be legally acquired, however, through an adoption program approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Two such programs operate in Nevada for the north and south parts of the state.
Helget and others who legally adopt tortoises are officially known as custodians and receive instruction on how to properly care for the reptiles.
Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval is among those who have adopted a tortoise. “Carson,” an 11-year-old tortoise, resides at the governor’s mansion in Carson City and wears a “Governor’s Mansion” tag in case he wanders off.