STATEN ISLAND — For more than six months, Jose Rivera from Staten Island has been searching for his five missing pet turtles.
Rivera, 34, has had the handful of turtles since he was 10 years old. They each have names. Two of them, Cuff and Link, he named after the turtles in the first “Rocky” film. Rivera expected he’d have his turtles until he died, since they live a long time.
Last August, there was a fire in the building where he and his mother live. They had to vacate their apartment. They moved into a homeless shelter while they looked for a new place to live.
Their landlord, Joe Nativo, offered to let them keep the turtles in his garage. That arrangement worked well for two months. Rivera says he visited the turtles frequently to feed them and change their water.
He says without a filter in his makeshift tanks, he had to change the water by hand, a slow process. But Nativo says the water was not being changed and says he has pictures showing the green mold on the tanks. He said he’d send PIX11 the pictures, but he never did.
Nativo also said the smell from the turtles was horrible. He was afraid they were going to die, he says. Rivera denies the turtles were in any danger of dying but admits the smell was difficult to control without his normal tank setup.
Nativo says a young employee of his, who himself had turtles, offered to help. Nativo gave him permission to take the turtles out of the garage and says the employee put them into Brady Pond, a large body of water in a gated Staten Island community. It’s illegal in New York City to release turtles into the wild because they are an invasive species and can do damage to the ecology.
Rivera and his mother say they were never told Nativo wanted the turtles out of his garage. Rivera says he would have found another place for them. But Nativo insists he told Rivera’s mother, Evelyn. She says the first time she knew there was any problem was when they went to the garage one day in November and discovered the turtles were gone.
Rivera says he went to Brady Pond three times over the winter, searching for his turtles, but the pond was frozen over with no sign of them.
Recently, the landlord sent pictures of turtles in water from another section of Staten Island. He says he went there after the employee changed his story about where he dumped them.
Rivera has gone to the site two times recently and says none of the turtles there are his. He says he could pick his turtles out of a lineup.
Rivera has contacted the ASPCA and a number of turtle rescue organizations in the area. He is losing hope because, even if they survived the winter, he says, they would have difficult surviving in the wild after living their entire lives in captivity.
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