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Tribute to Tommy

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Please sign our online condolence card to Mrs. Barker and show her that the loss of Tommy will not be forgotten and there are people around the world thinking of her now in her sad time.

Lori, Jean, Marissa, Mike, Steven & Scott

The Story of Tommy

 On Monday 6th September 1999, the tortoise living at 10 Morrison Avenue was seen at midday going up the garden by it's owner Mrs. Eve Barker. That was the last time she saw it. The tortoise had been Mrs. Barker's pet for 40 years, and had been well cared for.
 The tortoise had on previous rare occasions escaped from its garden, and traveled north through the gardens of numbers 12,14, to 16, where a block wall makes any further travel impossible. To the south, the solid fence between numbers 6 and 8 Morrison Avenue limits the extent of any escape. Mrs. Barker was not overly worried by the absence of her tortoise, as it often hid in the garden, finding cool places to rest.
  While in her garden late Monday afternoon chatting with her neighbor at number 8, she heard a child shriek, and noted that it came from the garden number 16.
  On Tuesday, when the tortoise had still not been found after a thorough searching of her garden, Mrs. Barker asked her neighbor, Andy over, at number 12, to have a look for it in his garden. She also contacted the neighbors at number 14, who had a look in their garden. She didn't know the new arrivals at number 16. She ascertained from one of the sons who spoke English that the tortoise had been found in the garden on Monday, and had frightened the young girl living there. As a consequence, the tortoise had been removed from the back garden of the house, and put outside the front. This leads onto pavement and the street.
  The residents of number 16 Morrison Avenue said the tortoise had been picked up by the neighbors at number 1 Morrison Avenue. Ms VonAhn immediately contacted them.
  The residents of number 1 informed Ms. VonAhn that they had given the animal to the RSPCA. They had rung them, and described it as a terrapin and were advised to put it in water. It was collected on Monday at approximately 4.00 pm and the inspector who collected it, a woman, had said that it appeared healthy.
  Ms. VonAhn returned home, and made the first of many phone calls to the RSPCA. She first rang the Edmonton office, who told her to ring ********** . She rang this number, and was told that a terrapin had been collected from 1 Morrison Avenue, not a tortoise, and was not given any further help. It is not believed that any details were taken with regard to the missing tortoise.
  Ms. VonAhn tried to impress upon the staff member that the animal collected had to be the tortoise belonging to Mrs. Barker, simply because of the geography of the local houses. The coincidence of a tortoise being lost at number 10, and a large shelled creature (tortoise or terrapin) being found at number 16 was too great to be ignored. The tortoise could not have gone farther than that house, and had been known to escape to that garden previously.

The RSPCA staff was insistent that it was a terrapin that had been collected, and questioned whether Mrs. Barker would have been taking care of it correctly if she had been keeping it as a tortoise. Ms VonAhn stated that the tortoise had been Mrs. Barker's pet for 40 years, and so must have been looked after properly. Ms VonAhn ascertained that the reference number for the animal collection was 1750, for 6/9/99. With no resolution Ms VonAhn rang off.
  It was either during this phone call or a subsequent call, that Ms VonAhn gave the phone to Mrs. Barker over the garden fence to speak to the RSPCA. Again, they re-iterated that it was a terrapin that had been collected despite Mrs. Barker explaining how her tortoise came to be lost.
  A short while later, Ms VonAhn rang again, to try to get some information on where the tortoise/terrapin was being held. explaining again that the creature had to be Mrs. Barker's tortoise, and that she would be glad to drive Mrs. Barker to view it. This was refused. Ms VonAhn suggested that the RSPCA bring the creature around to Mrs. Barker then, and show her that it was indeed a terrapin and not her tortoise, and for the neighbors to confirm that the creature produced was indeed the type of creature given to the RSPCA. This too was refused. The RSPCA member became quite aggressive, insisting that their inspectors would indeed know the difference between a terrapin and a tortoise, and hung up on Ms. VonAhn.
  At approximately 11.30 Ms VonAhn rang again, to make a complaint about the behavior of the RSPCA staff member who hung up on her and asked to speak to a manager. There was no one available and was told to put her complaint in writing. Ms VonAhn was not prepared to do this as it was felt that time was of the essence in locating the whereabouts of Mrs. Barker's tortoise, so she insisted on obtaining the number of the RSPCA headquarters. The staff member she spoke to again did not wish to give her a telephone number and tried to give her the address of headquarters. Ms VonAhn insisted on obtaining a telephone number, and was given the number of 8888888888. She asked for the name of the person who gave her the telephone number and was told it was not policy to release names. The staff member gave her ID number (22#) and informed Ms VonAhn that the person she had been previously speaking to was the supervisor, but would not divulge her identity number.

Mrs. Barker, having tried several times to ring the RSPCA. went to her son, who was successful at getting through. He too, was given only the curt insistence that the animal that had been collected was a terrapin, and that the inspectors knew the difference between a tortoise and a terrapin. Ms VonAhn rang the headquarters just after noon on Wednesday, and was put in contact with Sarah in the Enquiries office. Ms. VonAhn explained the situation, the frustration of not being able to find out where the creature collected was being held or to arrange for someone to bring the animal to Mrs. Barker for an identity check. Sarah explained the RSPCA's concern about  false claims being made for animals, particularly animals shown on TV, but  Ms VonAhn said this was not the case here, and that she was confident that Mrs. Barker would have photographs of her tortoise and would check with her. Sarah suggested that she write her complaint, and ms VonAhn asked to be able to Email it, obtaining the email address of A copy of her email is attached.
  Later on Wednesday afternoon, Ms VonAhn again rang Sarah at HQ to ensure that she had received the email, and informed Sarah that Mrs. Barker had found a photograph of her tortoise. Sarah found the Email and faxed it to the regional office, and Ms VonAhn said she would try to get the photograph scanned into her computer and send it to Sarah by Email. She managed to do this later on Wednesday, see copy of the Email attached.
  Mrs. Bond (Mrs. Barker's daughter) phoned the RSPCA at Leicester at 3.00pm, and was told a note was left for the inspector to contact her and that it was on the computer as a terrapin. She rang back at 5.15, and was told that tracing the tortoise would not be a priority if other urgent matters such as an animal abuse arose, and that the inspector may take some time to return the call. She was also given the assurance that "Nothing was done to animals for seven days"

Ms. VonAhn again visited the neighbors at number 1, and showed them the photograph of the tortoise, who confirmed that it looked like the creature handed to the RSPCA. She was also told that it was the finder of the animal who reported it to the RSPCA. She was also told that it was the finder of the animal who reported it to the RSPCA as a terrapin, and who placed it in water before it was collected.
  On Wednesday evening, a man from the RSPCA (believed to be Mr. Norman Booth) rang Ms VonAhn and spoke to her briefly. He asked if she would be able to bring Mrs. Barker to identify the carcass. This confused Ms. VonAhn who couldn't understand why it would be dead. This man said that it was difficult to identify a large tortoise from a terrapin, and also asked about Mrs. Barker's age, as he was concerned about upsetting her. Ms VonAhn went and got Mrs. Barker's phone number while Mr. Booth waited on the telephone line, so that he could ring her. Mrs. Barker awaited his call, but he did not phone her that evening.
  On Thursday morning, Ms VonAhn rang Sarah again, but was unable to get any more information, except that she was given the name of Superintendent Drew. She explained her concern about the animal having been killed, due to the phone call the previous night, but was unable to get any further information. Sarah had passed the emails etc to the Regional Office, and suggested that Ms VonAhn contact them again. Ms VonAhn reluctantly rang the ******* number again to try to speak to him, but her was in a meeting. She left a message, but was not rung back. She rang again about 5.30 on Thursday, and again left a message.
  On Thursday afternoon, as Mrs. Barker had still not heard from the RSPCA, Mrs. Bond rang again and was rudely told by the staff member that the situation was too complex: and she would have to wait for the inspector. Mrs. Bond was also told that she couldn't have the London headquarters number as Leicester dealt with problems from the Tottenham area. Mrs. Bond came off the phone extremely upset at the attitude of the woman from the RSPCA and the frustration at not being able to get any information about the tortoise.

  Mrs. Bond then rang the Edmonton Branch, which passed her to Horsham. Mrs. Bond was told to keep calm, that it will all be sorted, and that an investigation would take place.

On Friday morning, after waiting since Wednesday evening, Mrs. Barker was finally rung by a male RSPCA inspector who informed her that the tortoise had been destroyed. "Bad News, I am afraid" Mrs. Barker was stunned, and could not understand how this could have happened. She was passed to the female inspector who had collected the tortoise. and she explained that she had kept it in a cat basket in her van, and then having nowhere to put it decided it was better to kill it as it kept trying to get out. Mrs. Barker did not feel she had an apology from the woman involved, rather she felt that she was being blamed by her for not immediately reporting her tortoise as missing, even though on previous occasions it had been found hiding under plants.
  When Ms VonAhn rang Mrs. Barker at about 10.00 am on Friday, she heard from Mrs. Barker that the tortoise had been killed. Ms. VonAhn then rang Sarah at headquarters to tell her the outcome, Sarah gave her the address to send this complaint to, and agreed that she would fax over the complaint if emailed to her.
  Shortly afterwards, Mr. Norman Booth (Chief Inspector for N.E. London) rang Ms VonAhn to say that the tortoise was dead. He informed her that the inspector has mistakenly identified the tortoise as a terrapin, and had injected it to kill it. As the tortoise had been injected it was not classed as toxic waste and would not be able to be returned to Mrs. Barker. Ms VonAhn suggested that a photograph of the tortoise might be in order but this has not been forthcoming. Mr. Booth said that the matter had been referred to the Superintendent Drew, but as he was away, had been given to him to deal with.

  Ms. VonAhn informed Mr. Booth of her anger at this horrible action, even if it was a mistake, and that Mrs. Barker, her family and myself intended to make a complaint.
  On Friday morning, on hearing the news, Mrs. Bond rang Judy at Horsham, who was extremely sympathetic and told Mrs. Bond she would pass the information on for the complaint to be dealt with.
  We are horrified that the RSPCA could make such a basic misidentification of an animal that is protected, and valuable, resulting in the loss of a pet of more than 40 years. We would suggest that an evening meeting be arranged at our convenience to receive an account of the RSPCA's actions, and specifically the organization's response to the following questions:

1. Why was the animal mistakenly identified as a terrapin instead of a tortoise? This is such a basic error that we find it quite incredible that a trained RSPCA inspector could not tell the difference. What training are RSPCA inspector given about less common pets?

2. If the inspector did not know the difference, why did she not refer the identification to  more experienced inspector or another interested person?

3. Why was one of the exotic inspector's not called?

4. Did the inspector have no idea of the existence of the exotic inspector or any of the UK organizations dedicated to tortoises and terrapins?

5. What attempts, if any, were made to re-house the presumed-terrapin before it was killed?

6. If she had not mistaken it for a terrapin, what attempts would have been made to re-house a tortoise?

7. Why were we told to keep calm, and assured that any animal would be looked after for 7 days? What exactly is the RSPCA;s policy with regard to healthy animals it collects?

8. Why was this animal destroyed after being held for 24 hours particularly when they are now quite rare and stories often appear about their re-homing and thefts?

9. Why did the inspector take the creature if she knew she would not be able to find a place to keep it?

10. What is the RSPCA's view of the rudeness we received from the woman at the control center?

11. We wish to have a complete timetable of the tortoise's experience in the RSPCA's care. When was it picked up? How long was it left in the cat basket? Who else, if anyone, saw the tortoise, and when did they see it? When exactly was it killed, and with whose authorization, and for what reason? We also wish to have documentation of the RSPCA's decision-making.

12. Why was it so difficult to contact the inspector involved in the tortoise's recovery? In an age of telephones, we find it quite difficult to understand why we had to wait until Friday to discover what had happened to the tortoise.

13. When did the RSPCA become aware of the appalling error-Wednesday, Thursday, Friday?

14. What changes are the RSPCA going to implement to ensure that such appalling incompetence and error is not repeated?

15. What restitution is going to be offered for such incompetence and error?

This story was brought to you by the Tortoise Trust UK as presented to them by eyewitnesses. Http// 

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