photo of a turkey
Kaley, the missing turkey.
(Courtesy of Ariana Huemer)

$15,000 reward for missing Felton turkey? A weeks-long saga explained

A Felton woman says her turkey is missing and is offering a huge sum of money for its return. Here’s the story behind that reward.

If you’ve been in Boulder Creek this month, you might have noticed some unusual fliers posted around town: “LOST pet turkey. $$Reward$$.”

Then this week, the turkey’s owner, Ariana Huemer, posted on Facebook: “If you or anyone you know has received this turkey girl (Kaley) in the last month, there is a $15,000 reward for information leading to her return. With Thanksgiving looming she is in grave danger.”

A $15,000 reward for a turkey? Is this possibly true?

It turns out it is — and it all goes back to the flames that ravaged the Santa Cruz Mountains over the summer, the ensuing evacuations and a court battle. Here’s what happened:

The protagonists

The turkey: Kaley is a striking gray and black Narragansett turkey — a breed descended from the mix of native North American turkeys and birds brought to the eastern U.S. by European invaders.

The turkey owner: Huemer runs Hen Harbor, a sanctuary and adoption center for hens, roosters, ducks, geese and turkeys in Felton. Most of her animals are either discards from the egg-laying industry or abandoned pets.

The other central figure: Wes Sparling raises show animals for fairs and other events in Boulder Creek. He has been raising poultry for decades.

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The backstory

Sparling’s property was ravaged by the CZU Lightning Complex Fire in August; he and his family had to evacuate in a hurry as their neighbor’s propane tanks exploded nearby. There was no time to evacuate all his birds, so he opened their enclosures and hoped they’d find safety on their own.

When Sparling returned home about three weeks later, he was relieved to find many of his birds had survived, including his three turkeys — all of them Narragansett turkeys, just like Kaley.

The problem? Sparling couldn’t move back yet so the birds were unprotected, and many of them were dealing with smoke inhalation symptoms. So Sparling set about finding temporary homes for most of his birds while he got ready to move back in.

That’s where Huemer comes in.

Sparling took around 30 of his birds — including his turkeys — to Hen Harbor, at the recommendation of a woman with whom he connected on social media.

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Enter Animal Control . . .

Then came another disruption.

Soon after the fires, Animal Control came to Hen Harbor and confiscated all the animals staying on Huemer’s property after neighbors had complained about the number of animals on the property and their living conditions. But Heumer rallied two dozen witnesses to defend her, and a judge ordered the animals returned. But by that time, Huemer’s animals — and Sparling’s — had been distributed to other shelters countywide.

Sparling ended up finding many of his animals, including what he thought were his three turkeys, at a shelter in Watsonville. But the same night he brought them home, a predator broke into the turkey pen. The next morning he found the male Narragansett dead, and the two females were missing without a trace.

A few days later, he said he started getting texts from Huemer. She had recovered most of her animals from Animal Control.

But she was missing one of her turkeys: Kaley.

As soon as Sparling saw the photo, he says he realized he’d made a terrible mistake. “I took every Narragansett [that] Animal Control had,” he said. “One of them must’ve been [Kaley].”

Sparling told Huemer how Kaley likely ended up with him and what had happened with the predator attacking the pen — but Huemer doesn’t believe him. She thinks Kaley is still out there somewhere, whether in Sparling’s possession, sold off or in the wild.

Time running out?

As Thanksgiving dinner approaches, she’s afraid Kaley’s time is running out. But based on interviews with Huemer, her attorney, Sparling and a review of court documents, the most likely scenario is that Kaley either perished in the attack on Sparling’s pen, or is out in the wild somewhere.

Huemer knows it’s unusual to care so deeply about a turkey. “Everyone’s just acting like, Oh, the f---ing crazy lady in the mountains is acting crazy again. She wants her f---ing turkey back. It’s just a turkey,” she says.

But, “it’s not crazy to love someone,” she adds.