Critical piece of equipment stolen from Beecher exotic animal shelter

2014-04-19T18:00:00Z 2014-04-20T00:40:11Z Critical piece of equipment stolen from Beecher exotic animal shelterLauri Harvey Keagle lauri.keagle@nwi.com, (219) 852-4311 nwitimes.com

BEECHER | The owner of an exotic animal shelter in Beecher is worried she will not be able to continue caring for the 350 animals entrusted to her after a theft of an essential piece of equipment at the facility.

"Unless people start sending donations, there's no way we're going to be able to do it," Aircolina "Pinky" Janota said.

Janota operates Settler's Pond Animal Shelter on Offner Road. Janota said sometime late Wednesday or early Thursday, someone broke into a barn, cut locks and stole a $17,000 tractor used to feed and water the animals.

"We were robbed like five years ago and it was the same piece of machinery," Janota said.

After that theft, a woman donated a new tractor.

"It was a godsend because there was no way we could have afforded a new one," Janota said.

That donor died in December.

When Janota got the new tractor, "we bought new locks that they said no one could cut through."

That proved not to be the case.

"They cut them like butter and drove it right out of the barn," Janota said.

The tractor had a dump bed which allowed Janota and her volunteers to load bales of hay, 50-pound bags of feed and 125-gallon tanks of water to distribute to the 350 animals in the 10 barns on the 16 acres of property at the shelter.

Janota cares for camels, zebras, monkeys, tortoises, kangaroos and other exotic animals as well as domestic and barnyard animals.

Some of the tortoises weigh 150 pounds.

"We used to move the tortoises on (the tractor) to get them out every day," she said. "We had a male volunteer come out yesterday and was able to lift them and get them out."

Janota said all of the exotic animals at the shelter are initially purchased online and transactions are generally made in neighboring states with the seller and purchaser meeting in parking lots.

"People get these 8-foot pythons and think they're cool until they eat a family pet," Janota said. "Then they wind up here."

Janota said she opened a reptile barn last September and by the end of October, it was pushing capacity.

Janota said the shelter "operates on the kindness of others" and needs it now more than ever.

"We're getting a lot of calls from people saying they don't have money to give, but can give their backs," Janota said. "We've only raised about $1,000 since word got out."

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