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Turtle Owner Shelled Can’t Afford Vet So Cruelty Charge Filed

Michaelangelo had a swollen head and needed surgery, but Yvonne Montoya couldn’t afford the $150 operation for her box turtle.

After wavering almost two weeks on what to do, animal control officials showed up at her door, seized the turtle and slapped her with an animal cruelty charge punishable with a $999 fine and up to a year in jail.

On Tuesday, the case was thrown out on a technicality by the judge, but Montoya said she was flabbergasted by the charge.

“Cruelty to animals is a serious charge, and I am the biggest animal lover, but I have four kids to think about,” she said. “What’s more important, my kids or that turtle? They’re both important, but my kids will come first.”

Montoya said she hated to see Michaelangelo suffer, but she couldn’t afford the surgery prescribed by Dr. Kris Ahlgrim.

Ahlgrim said Tuesday she was disappointed the case was thrown out, but not sorry that she filed the complaint after calling Montoya about getting the turtle treated.

“The turtle was suffering. The turtle is doing well now, and I’m happy,” said Ahlgrim, who operated on the turtle after it was seized. “If we can educate more people out there about taking care of our pets more responsibly, I can live with it.”

Montoya took Michaelangelo, one of two family turtles, to Ahlgrim on Feb. 3 after noticing his swollen head. The veterinarian said the turtle needed an operation to drain the fluid build-up, which prevented her from retracting her head into her shell.

Montoya said after she left, Ahlgrim kept calling her about Michaelangelo and finally offered three options - euthanasia, relinquish Michaelangelo for surgery and adoption by another family, or pay for the operation.

On Feb. 16, the animal control officers decided for her.

Montoya said it was a waste of tax dollars to charge her with cruelty to animals over a turtle. The veterinarian disagreed.

“They don’t have the same expression or the same behaviors as dogs and cats so we tend to ignore their pain, and their needs,” Ahlgrim said.


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