SF woman upset taxidermist didn't preserve pet

June 1, 2013 12:53:05 AM PDT
7 On Your Side came across one of the most unusual stories we've ever heard of. A woman was so distraught over the death of her pet, she paid a taxidermist to preserve it, but things didn't quite work out as she planned, so she turned to 7 On Your Side.

I don't get a lot of taxidermy complaints, but there's a first for everything. This woman came to me after paying a lot of money to have her pet preserved, but she never got the animal back.

This was not the type of pet many of us fall in love with, but Debora Tennerino of San Francisco sure did.

"My daughter came with me and we took her in," said Tennerino.

Tennerino is still grieving six years after her beloved pet died. It wasn't a cuddly cat or playful dog. Her grief is all about a lizard. It was not just any lizard, she told us her lizard's name was "Sweet Pea" and it was a foot-long, white bearded dragon that she says had a lot of personality.

"She reminded me of a little terrier dog. She had so much personality, she was so inquisitive," said Tennerino.

We may think of lizards as cold and scaley, but Tennerino says they can be quite affectionate.

"Not soft and cuddly, but yeah she would you know she would fall asleep on my son's stomach," said Tennerino.

She admits a penchant for reptiles, having grown up in the Mohave Desert. She keeps a stuffed cobra in her hallway, along with her freeze-dried tortoise. So when her bearded dragon got sick and had to be euthanized, Tennerino decided to preserve it too.

"Keep her around so I can still say hi every morning," said Tennerino.

She took the corpse to Wilderness Taxidermy of Fremont. The owner said he could freeze dry the animal to keep it lifelike. Tennerino paid him $750 and left her lizard there.

That was the last she saw of Sweet Pea.

"I didn't hear from him, so I called. 'We'll, she's still in the machine,'" said Tennerino.

A year went by, then two years, then three. The taxidermist kept saying Sweet Pea wasn't ready yet.

"I am assuming he knows his business, I don't," said Tennerino.

However, another three years went by and Tennerino still didn't have her pet -- or her $750.

"This guy can't just take my money and my pet and just say, 'You know, whatever,'" said Tennerino.

So, after six long years, she had enough.

"It's over. I'm calling 7 On Your Side," said Tennerino.

We contacted Wilderness Taxidermy. Owner Geoff Vassallo tells us his machinery had broken down and that he had kept the lizard in a regular freezer until he could get it fixed. However, he agreed to send the animal back to Tennerino and refund her money.

Sure enough, she received a check for $750 and a box with the frozen remains of Sweet Pea. It was a strangely happy reunion.

"It's still great to see her," said Tennerino.

Vassallo tells us: "I'm just happy that Deborah is happy. When I get my machine back, she will be the first in line to get her pet mounted."

Now Sweet Pea has a new, but temporary resting place in Tennerino's kitchen freezer.

"I feel great. I feel he can move on, I can move on and it's not totally resolved because Sweet Pea's still in the freezer," said Tennerino.

Our thanks to Wilderness Taxidermy for coming through with a refund and the lizard. Tennerino says she was a little surprised the bearded dragon stayed intact all these years. She still hopes to get it preserved, and out of her freezer.


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