Court Case Story

George, a Testudo Hermanni tortoise, was collected by me from a pet shop, Digital Liquid, in September 2006 and he was packaged for travelling in a cardboard box.

At home we housed him in a 24” glass vivarium and heat was provided by a heat pad which we placed on the floor of the vivarium as advised by the pet shop.  The vivarium was bought from the same pet shop who told us that this was appropriate housing for George.  Again on advice from the shop George was not provided with water in the vivarium, but we gave him a bath on a weekly basis.  We were advised to feed George on various greens including curly kale, cabbage leaves, not too much salad and not too much apple.  We weren’t given any other advice on husbandry but followed that in a book we purchased at the same time as buying the tortoise.  I did contact the shop as I found advice in the book differed to that he provided and I was informed that the shop's advice was correct as there was a lot of conflicting information ‘out there’.

We went away for two weeks over the Christmas period, three months after purchasing George, and the pet shop agreed to take George back to look after him over this period.  He appeared to be in good condition prior to his return to the shop but within half an hour of us collecting him after our holiday we noticed bubbles coming from his nares, something which was not obvious before.  I immediately contacted the shop, who said they had not noticed any problem and suggested that I contact a vet.

The vet diagnosed George with severe left lung pneumonia and he was hospitalised.  George was very thin and dehydrated.  He was given a 50% chance of survival.  I firmly believe that the severity of George’s pneumonia was enormously contributed to by the conditions he was kept in prior to our purchase.  I also believe this was not helped by the poor advice we were following, which was given to us by the pet shop, during the time that George was in our care, and also during the time that he spent at the pet shop whilst we were away on holiday.
My vet informed me that the vivarium we had bought was far too small for George and should have been a minimum of 36” to maintain correct temperatures and that the heat mat shouldn’t have been placed inside or on the floor of the vivarium and water should always be available along with frequent baths.

I decided to make a case against the pet shop for providing me with incorrect advice and because George was so ill.  I sought advice from the Tortoise Protection Group, and with their help and that of an expert witness, my case was heard in the Central London County Court 12 months later.

The expert witness provided detailed information to the court detailing the inappropriateness of the vivarium, the heat pad, and also gave an expert opinion on the lack of a constant supply of water for George and his health condition.

Unfortunately it could not be proved conclusively that George's illness was caused by the pet shop.

However, the Judge found in my favour, on the size of the vivarium recommended and supplied. The defendant was ordered to pay me £145 plus costs of £220.

Fortunately for George, he has survived his ordeal, but has succumbed to another bout of pneumonia from which he has since recovered, probably due to weakness caused by his initial illness.

I still feel terrible about the fact that the care I gave George was totally wrong for his needs and that he would not have been ill if Digital Liquid had given me correct advice in the first place. 

This pet shop has since closed, but this of course does not mean that the owner is not still dealing with animals.


London April 2009


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