Shell Shock

Tortoise gets tortured; watching council meetings gets expensive

Robert Moehling, the “Robert” of Robert Is Here, the landmark produce stand southwest of Homestead, considers himself an animal lover. In back of his store is a large pen, shelter to numerous lizards, goats, chickens, and tortoises. But he has no love for the pack of dogs that has been terrorizing the rural neighborhood around his store. The dogs, which killed a neighbor’s goat and emu about a month ago, recently gnawed through the fence in back of Robert Is Here and into the animal pen. They attacked the goats, which bleated helplessly until a neighbor came out with a gun, fired in the air, and scared the dogs away.

“The dogs took off, but they killed the two goats. They ripped open their throats and stomachs. Just shredded them,” Moehling says. “And they had started on Centurion.”

Centurion is a 700-pound Galápagos tortoise, estimated to be 160 years old. The dogs bit the land turtle’s left front leg and gouged a gaping hole in his neck.

Robert Moehling tends to Centurion
Jonathan Postal
Robert Moehling tends to Centurion

When Moehling discovered the centenarian’s wounds, he called the Everglades Outpost, a nearby wildlife sanctuary and rescue operation. The sanctuary’s Bob Freer tried to stanch the tortoise’s bleeding neck. When the bleeding wouldn’t stop, Freer called a veterinarian he knows who works on exotic animals. It took three men to lift Centurion into a van for the ride to the Bravo Animal Clinic in Cutler Ridge. The vet, Juan Fernandez-Bravo, cut short a vacation to rush back and tend to Centurion. It took a dozen stitches and antibiotics, but the tortoise’s prognosis is positive. “They’re pretty hardy animals, I believe he’ll pull through,” Freer says.

“He’s moving around and starting to get back to his old self,” Moehling notes. “But to lose a life that’s been going on that long would have been horrible. The vet put his date of birth down as 1841. I didn’t realize how bizarre that was until I saw it written.”

Moehling is replacing the goats, which interacted nicely with the tortoises. He’s noticed the goats hop onto the shells and ride around, and even seen the tortoises rise up to help the goats reach leaves on the trees.

The county’s animal control officers were contacted, but to date have not caught the dogs.


After tapping her paw impatiently for a week, The Bitch finally received official word on how a charcoal gray building (home to Borders Picture Framing and Gallery at 1601 SW First St.) is against the law. As reported two weeks ago, the Small Business Opportunity Center, a nonprofit organization that receives federal funds via the city for a commercial façade improvement program, sent a private painter on a mission to the frame store. According to owners Steve Meeks, Jr., and Steve Meeks, Sr., the visitor alleged the color of the building was illegal and offered to repaint it at no charge to them. But at that point they hadn’t received a notice of violation from the city and wondered what ordinance forbids charcoal gray or black.

Two Little Havana power brokers — Pablo Canton, administrator of the East Little Havana Neighborhood Enhancement Team, and SBOC director Luis Sabines, Jr. — were also unclear about which law applied, but they were certain the black façade had to go. “They’re either going to comply or get fined,” Sabines bellowed. “But trust me, that building is not going to stay black. We don’t accept black buildings in this neighborhood.”

Seeking illumination, The Bitch asked the city’s communications office for a copy of the ordinance that would be used to enforce Sabines’s decree, but received instead the current “Design Guidelines and Standards” for the Latin Quarter District. The 39-page document was authored by the City of Miami Planning Department way back in February 1988. Among its objectives: “To facilitate the development of the Hispanic character” and “encourage a tropical atmosphere” in the LQ. “White, off-white, and pastel colors for walls should be encouraged. Also earthtone colors are acceptable.”

Can one really receive a notice of violation and face hundreds of dollars in fines for not following guidelines? The city’s chief of operations for code enforcement, Irain Gonzalez, eventually called to clarify the situation. For a moment it seemed the Meekses were beyond the pale. “Guidelines are like a recommendation. A recommendation is not really enforceable. You can’t hold it against a guy who paints a color you don’t want,” he conceded. And then: “But it doesn’t apply to this case, because it’s in a special district.”

But the guidelines are for the Latin Quarter special district, also known as SD-14, The Bitch noted. What is enforceable, according to Gonzalez: an ordinance requiring the Meekses to apply for a permit to paint the building. “The Class 2 Special Permit will specifically say the colors that the building needs to be painted.” In other words, Gonzalez is ordering the Meekses to apply for a permit to paint a building they already painted.

Code enforcement inspector Marlene Castellanos issued the Meekses (who did not return calls seeking comment) a starkly un-encouraging notice of violation on March 31. “Building painted in black. Not allowed in SD-14 zone,” she wrote. But the ticket makes no mention of the need for a Class 2 Special Permit. It gives the framers a Friday, April 16, deadline, after which they will be called before the Code Enforcement Board. “Basically it means they have to come in and apply for a permit,” Gonzalez translated.

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