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11:57 AM   April 28, 2015
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Herp Burglaries Sting

By Benjamin Weiner For
Pet Product News International

Jackie May cradles a stolen blue-tongued skink that was recovered.
Things were going well for Sean and Hazel Kelley. They had recently moved their pet store, Stinger’s Exotics, from a 700-square-foot store into a 1,400-square-foot store in Livonia, Mich. Hazel and her mother, Jackie May, ran the store, which specializes in invertebrates and herps.

But the Kelleys were about to be the target of a small theft ring implicated in the burglaries of two pet stores, a small zoo and a wildlife sanctuary. Hundreds of animals were taken in the thefts.

On July 14, 2007, at about 4 a.m., Hazel Kelley’s dream turned into a nightmare. Burglars used the landlord’s ladder to gain access to the pet store’s roof. They tried to cut holes in the roof to get in, but couldn’t get through the concrete.

The burglars weren’t deterred by this minor setback. They bashed in the back door, disabled the alarm, stole the digital video recorders that housed all the action the cameras had caught, and took what Kelley estimates to be about $12,000 in merchandise. The thieves made off with dry goods including lighting, UVB bulbs, heat pads, dry foods, calcium powders, mite remedies, forceps sets and probe sets.

But it was the loss of the animals that really bothered Kelley. “All together, well over 300 animals were taken,” Kelley said. She estimates their value at $50,000. Some of the store’s inhabitants were not for sale— they were Kelley’s pets.

Kelley said she thinks the crooks knew exactly what they wanted.
“It was like they were filling a shopping list,” she said. “The front [of the store] was not hit as hard as the back. They were staying away from the windows at the front of the store.”

On Nov. 6, Kelley received a call from a detective to go to the Flint area of Michigan to identify her animals.

“We were excited but not sure if they were our pets,” she said. “But it definitely got our hopes up.”

When Kelley arrived at the apartment to identify the reptiles, she asked a detective if there was a picture of the culprits. She pointed to a picture and the minute Kelley saw the picture, she recognized them.

“They were actually customers who had come in a few times,” she said. “There was no reason to mistrust them.”

Of the 69 animals retrieved from the apartment, Kelley only got back 10 of the 300 stolen animals.
“People wonder how you could identify your reptiles,” she said. “You know your store, and you fuss over them every day. I have a Chilean bullfrog, Jeremiah, who calls out to me every day at 4 o’clock to be fed. I started crying when I saw my bullfrog. Police thought I was crazy to get emotional over a frog.”

Store mascot Rupert, a savannah monitor, was returned with a damaged tail.
Kelley also got her savannah monitor Rupert back. Rupert had been with Stinger’s Exotics since the store started.

“He’s sort of the mascot,” she said. “He’s a very nice cat-like monitor.”

She said about 2 1/2 inches of Rupert’s tail was injured when she got him back.
But for the most part, the animals they got back were in fair condition.

Financially, the burglary has been difficult for Kelley.

“We’re still waiting for a settlement, so right now everything is coming out of our pockets,” she said. “It will probably take us over a year to recover. Hopefully Christmas and tax time will pull us back. It’s a large amount of money.”

Insurance covers most of the merchandise losses, but only about a tenth of the loss of the animals is covered, Kelley said. The rest is largely out of pocket.

Hazel gets emotional when she remembers the months between losing her animals and getting a very few of them back.

“Not knowing—it was horrible,” she said. “Our customers came in to offer support and cry with us. They offered help, offered their animals.” <HOME>

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