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Paul Wellman

A Turtle’s Dream Come True

Specialty Care Facility Thrives in Santa Barbara


Thursday, August 9, 2007

When the average person retires, they choose a place to relax and slow down. Jeanie Vaughan, founder of Santa Barbara’s Turtle Dreams-a rescue facility for certain four-legged shell inhabitants as well as other reptiles-seems to have done just the opposite. With more than 60 species in her care, Vaughan regularly works 12-hour days in the Santa Barbara summer sun along with daughter Christie and husband Dennis to care for the wide variety of reptiles that are the residents of her sprawling backyard. Clearly, she’s learned nothing from the rather sluggish temperament of the turtles and tortoises for which she often cares.

Her concern for a group of animals that some may overlook by virtue of being less cuddly than traditional pets drives her to long hours and whatever else it may take to improve these animals’ lives. “If I could come back in another life, I would come back as a tortoise,” Vaughan said. “But not in the wild, where someone could capture me or injure me.”

Turtle Dreams, the only turtle and tortoise rehabilitation center in Santa Barbara, has, since 1994, been helping not only animals found by Santa Barbara animal control and rescue agencies but injured or abandoned reptiles from all over the nation as well. Despite Vaughan’s prolific work, many Santa Barbara residents may have only recently become aware of Turtle Dreams through the facility’s involvement with Bob, the now-famous 42-pound African spurred tortoise, who survived the darkest whims of human nature when he was stolen from his Ventura home on July 7 and found shortly thereafter mutilated. With long lacerations on his legs and indentations in his shell, it appeared to investigators that his assailant may have attempted to remove Bob’s shell from his body. (On July 19, Ventura resident Jose “Tony” Mosqueda was arrested by police investigating the incident. He remains in jail.) After being treated by an area animal hospital, Bob was welcomed by Vaughan into Turtle Dreams for the length of his convalescence.

Though Vaughan said she has seen many ailing animals in her time at Turtle Dreams, she is still disturbed by the cruelty with which Bob was attacked. She now receives calls daily from people across the country who share her love for all animals. Bob’s owners-Dorothy and Bill Sullivan and their autistic son, William-are able to visit Bob regularly as he begins his long, but promising, healing process.

Crowded though the Turtle Dreams facility may be, Vaughan knows each animal, and can easily rattle off the names and history of every iguana, lizard, or turtle in her care.

There’s Granite, a white-throated monitor lizard who had experienced so much trauma in her life that she became unable to lay her eggs, which began to rot inside her. And then there’s Peapod, an iguana that Vaughan helped after his tail was amputated. Each turtle or tortoise has a large enclosure to roam around-with plenty of bushes to hide under-and heated homes for nights and winter. Turtle Dreams is run solely on donations and the generosity of the Vaughan family, who have extended their desire to help not only the scaly masses but also a rescued duck and her foster chicks, three rescued dogs, iguanas, monitor lizards, fish, and a recently donated cage of cockatiels, with whom Vaughan and family celebrate cocktail hour after a long day’s work.

At Turtle Dreams, nothing goes to waste. Donations of cages or shelters allow Vaughan to provide every enclosure with the shade and warmth the cold-blooded reptiles require to survive. Unused food goes to the compost pile, and almost every plant in the backyard doubles as turtle food-even the dessert-like rose petals or hibiscus flowers.

In the future, Vaughan and family hope to expand Turtle Dreams, with new equipment and a better facility for their rescued five-foot Asian monitor lizard, Marcus. Her ambitions as grand as her heart, Vaughan seems eager to work until every possible animal that needs a home-even those who already carry one on their back-has a place to rest up for a second chance at the wild world outside.

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