A PET shop owner is delighted to be reunited with her rare lizard after he was snatched from his enclosure and stuffed into the pocket of a junkie thief.
Jeremy the 14-inch collared lizard was stolen from his home at Stranton Pets, in Vicarage Gardens, Hartlepool, by Barry Foster.
The 34-year-old made his way to the back of the pet shop and found the lid to the lizard’s cage was open.
So he reached inside, grabbed Jeremy – who is worth about £80 – shoved him into his coat pocket and left the store.
Foster then sold six-month-old Jeremy, but he was found by police and then returned to his rightful owner, Mavis Austin, who owns Stranton Pets.
Mavis, who bought Jeremy in November, told the Mail: “For a lizard to be stuffed in someone’s pocket is totally unacceptable. I think it’s disgraceful what happened, to be honest, but we’re just glad to have him back where he belongs.
“He was cold when we got him back so I gave him a warm bath because he’s supposed to be kept at a temperature of about 80 degrees and under a UV light.
“When he wasn’t with us we just had this constant sick feeling and were constantly wondering where he was and what was happening to him.
“But he’s been eating his locusts and he doesn’t seem to have suffered any ill effects.”
Mavis, who has owned the pet shop for 10 years, added: “A customer named him Jeremy so it just stuck. He’s lovely, just wonderful. We’re so glad he’s safe and back in the pet shop waiting for the right owner to come along and buy him.”
Foster was brought before Hartlepool Magistrates’ Court and pleaded guilty to theft from the pet shop on February 6.
Rachel Dodsworth, prosecuting, told District Judge Martin Walker: “Around 1pm Foster went into Stranton Pets, walked to the rear of the store where there was a cage containing a rare collared lizard.
“The cage was apparently unlocked and, taking the opportunity, he reached in, picked up the lizard and after a short while placed it into his jacket pocket and left the store without making any payment.
“He was arrested at a later stage and it appeared that he had sold the lizard.
“Fortunately the lizard has been recovered and returned to the relevant people.”
She added: “In interview, he told police he’d gone to Whitby Street to get his methadone and on the way he stopped at a pet store and stole the lizard.
“He said he’s sold it to make some money.”
Foster also admitted theft of Dairy Milk chocolates worth £3.92 from a Premier store in town on the same day.
Mitigating, Neil Taylor said Foster had committed the offences because he had little money since being released from prison on January 28.
Judge Walker sentenced Foster, of South Parade, in the Belle Vue area of Hartlepool, to a six-month community order with supervision from the Probation Service.