SEBRING-A $500 reward is being offered to find a Sebring woman’s beloved pet tortoise.
Kathie Heisinger said she discovered Otis, her 30-year-old California Desert tortoise, missing on May 31,2017 when she went to feed him.
"They only eat maybe once every five days so their metabolism is very slow," said Heisinger.
She believes the tortoise, who stayed in a a garage attached to her home on Indiana Avenue, slipped out a back sliding door that had been left open a few inches.
Otis was last seen about a block away hiding under a ride during the setup for a festival at the Sebring Fire Station. Kathie estimates it took him 4 days to get from the garage to the festival.
She says he was spotted by the community's fire chief, who didn't realize Otis was a pet until Kathie started putting up missing posters.
"People don't know that he is a pet and they think that this is his natural environment, but it's not," she told Fox 8.
An initial reward of $200 for his return has been increased to $500, with firefighters chipping in and Kathie adding $100 of her own. She says she is encouraged by the number of people who have been out searching for him.
"I'm hoping that someone has him; that would be the easier way if someone comes forward," she said, adding, " I think he's still out there just because I know his habits of crawling into something."
Since she began her search, Kathie says she has taken phone calls from people who believe they have seen her tortoise but what they most likely are seeing are snapping turtles.
She describes Otis as about 10 pounds and about 8 inches long. Among his distinguishing features is a tail that she says is there, but because he keeps it tucked in it is not visible.
"I'm not worried about predators because they are so tough. Their legs are like armor. I don't worry about the weather right now. He won't make it through a winter; I'm sure he won't make it through a winter here," she said.
She has put missing posters in the windows of local businesses in Sebring, contacted a local veterinarian's office in case someone calls to try and learn how to care for Otis, and has talked with a nearby exotic animal rescue in case someone brings him there.
After losing her Cocker Spaniel recently, Kathie says she gets very emotional about losing Otis, who she has had for over 25 years. She is asking any one who sees him to please contact 330-428-3844.