When he looked over his courtroom to see two emotional women and one very loud, squawking parrot, Palm Beach County Judge James Martz put into words what many were thinking
. "As we sit here right now, this is an unusual case to say the least," he said.
On Monday, Martz concluded a four-month custody battle between two Boca Raton, Fla., women who both claimed to own an African Grey parrot named Tequila, or Lucky depending on who's speaking, by naming one of the women, Angela Colicheski, the owner of the bird.
"I see two people who are genuinely attached to the bird," Martz said.
But in the end, Martz said that according to Florida law, "pets are chattel, they're no different than your automobile" and therefore the parrot belonged to Colicheski, who owned the bird first.
Three years ago Colicheski lived with the bird, which she called Tequila, until it flew away one day.
"We were just outside, out the door," she said. "He flew over the pool, over the fence. I went running after."
Eventually, the parrot ended up with Sarita Lytell who took the bird in and started calling him Lucky.
"The bird was out for 11 days on its own and would have died," an emotional Lytell said recently.
Life went on as usual for three years, until January when Colicheski and Lytell had a chance encounter at a Dunkin' Donuts. The women chatted and the conversation turned to their love for parrots. That's when they realized they were talking about the same parrot.
After the realization, Colicheski said she wanted the parrot back but Lytell refused to give it up. Colicheski soon took legal action and sued to get the $2,000 bird back.
At the hearing Monday, the parrot was present and squawking, but did not testify.
Lytell's attorney Marcy LaHart said she ought to keep the bird because she had cared for it for three years.
Martz quickly decided the bird was equivalent to lost property and returned the parrot to an ecstatic Colicheski. Martz also dismissed Lytell's countersuit for the cost of caring for the bird.
"I'm never going to lose him again," Colicheski said.
Lytell did not see the decision as so clean cut and was devastated.
"They treat a living, breathing animal like a car. Is that fair?" she said. "Is that justice?"
All hope is not lost for Lytell, however, because there could be grounds for appeal.
In 1997, a court decision in Vermont said a dog that was lost for a year could stay with its new owner because she made a good faith effort to find the original owner.
"They have put so much of their own time and resources to the animal, they should be recognized as the owner of the animal," said David Favre, professor at Michigan State University College of Law.