Essay by PaperNerd ContributorCollege, Undergraduate October 2001

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Not to take up too much of your time as I know how busy everyone is but I've recently been through a terrible ordeal and wanted to tell everyone about it so it doesn't happen to any of you. This thing has changed my view on humanity as a whole and I cannot express enough how angry I am about this! A few of you might know about the manatee I adopted a few years ago through an agency based in Florida. I actually came across this agency when I visited their booth at a concert. Anyway to make a long story short for a little less then $20 a month I get this manatee and I don't even have to take care of it everyday! I thought this was a great deal. I actually didn't even see it until just recently but I have gone, what I think is, above and beyond what I'm told most manatee parents do by doing special things.

I call at least once every two weeks and ask these people how Ted ( which is what I chose to name my manatee ) is and I send food down and even a Frisbee which I kindly asked the people on the phone to throw to him every once in awhile. This kind of stuff is not expected and I don't think most people do anything close to this for their manatees. After this entire ordeal I actually think most people just send their check and never even check up on their manatees if you can believe that. I was hanging around this manatee farm for three days and I never saw one other manatee parent. It's just sad.

Anyway I decided to go down and visit Ted a few weeks ago for the first time and I was really excited to see him. So far I had only seen pictures of him and had heard what I was told were his snorts over the phone but I now question if they were actually Ted's snorts. It was a good two and a half hour drive from the airport to this Podunk down on the gulf side of Florida and it was hot as hell. I was glad to get there when I did but it was already dark so I decided to postpone Ted and I's first meeting another day and get some sleep.

My first moment of concern came the next morning when noone seemed to know where the manatee farm was. I asked the people at the hotel, the people at the diner, and some local hicks and noone knew where the damn place was. Finally it was late enough to call the farm itself and I got this turd who always answers the phone, Jason, and asked " hey Jason, this is Ben Quinton, Ted's dad, and I'm here in town and want to come over and visit Ted. How do I get over there?" He said " You're where?" I said " here in town, in Galesburg." He stammered for a minute and then passed me over to some girl named Dawn who it turns out is kind of a head honcho over at the farm and she tells me that Galesburg is just where they have their main office and Ted is actually about two hundred miles south of where I was.

I was livid as I had already made all my accommodations in Galesburg and did not look forward to driving all day again. They had never told me that Ted was any other place then where I sent my damn check every month and as a manatee father it was my right to know where my manatee son is. I was pissed! After letting Dawn know this I became even more incensed when she asked me " why I was even coming down there? And " there really isn't much to see anyway." Well at this point I became madder then I have ever been before and screamed back " I'm coming down there because my son is there and you're mistaken Ma'am there is a lot to see there because Ted is MY MANATEE BOY!!!!!!!! I then went into a long rambling rage about how I doubted now that they ever threw the Frisbee to Ted that I had sent, about how I doubted they ever went and got him the Big Macs with the coupons I sent, if they ever played him the audio cassettes I had sent of me reading him some American classics like Huck Fin and one I thought he would really like, Moby Dick. For Christ's sake I had even sent them a radio to use and sent extra money for whatever handler had to do these chores, what more could I do? She then tried to explain to me how there were no other donors who treated their ownership this way and how they were not used to this kind of situation to which I responded " well then I guess I'm not just your average donor and I choose to take this more seriously. I adopted Ted and I love him like the human son I don't have so you'll have to get used to it! " I then explained how I was hoping Ted's existence at their farm was not permanent and how my goal in life was to build a good enough manatee friendly space in Arizona to eventually move out to where he belongs which is with his Dad. She then began laughing and actually asked me if I was serious! She said some stupid shit about how there was no way anyone would ever let me take a manatee to Arizona and how they would lock me up and stuff. I told her about some things I had seen on Discovery channel where they had moved whales from the Pacific all the way to places such as San Antonio and Cleveland. If they could do that I could definitely get Ted from Florida to Arizona, no problem. I just had to have some serious cash to rent the truck and build the swamp and I will have it some day.

After a few minutes of back and forth banter I got tired of her laughing and her smart mouth and said " just shutup and put Jason back on the phone!" Jason got on and I said " first of all Jason if I find out you spent those Big Macs on anybody other then Ted I'm gonna be pissed and second of all I want directions to wherever Ted is right fuckin now! " He said that he had given the Big Macs to Ted and claimed that he had been spending time throwing the Frisbee to him until Ted ate it one day which made me feel better. After explaining to him that if Ted ever ate anything other then food that I sent him he was to call me collect and I would send a replacement down immediately he gave me the directions to the farm.

I went back and packed up my hotel room and cancelled my reservations for the next couple days as I was going south. I then got in the car and started the trek to Gulfslop which is where the farm was. It took about 3 and a half hours before I finally reached this remote place and it was not at all what I had expected.

I guess every parent always wants to envision their child always being surrounded by safe comfortable accommodation when they are living away at school or at summer camp or something and that is exactly what I had always thought about Ted's living conditions but this place seemed to be a real dump. The pictures in the brochure made it look so nice and clean but this place had trash everywhere, the weeds were head high and as thick as a jungle, and it smelled horrible.

I walked up to the front fence area and knocked on the gate loudly as it was locked. This hillbilly kid comes walking out and he says "˜ well you must be Mr. Quinton, I'm Jason" as he extends his hand toward me.

I look him right in the eyes and I say " Jason you lieing little bastard, there's only one road in here for fifty miles and I didn't see one McDonalds!" He swears up and down that he always got the Big Macs when he went to visit his brother in Jacksonville on the weekends and would bring them in on Mondays which I only halfway believed but after a few minutes of this I thought it was more important to see my boy.

So I said, " Oh well it sounds like you did your best with Big Macs and as long as they're not going to that laughing bitch Dawn then I'm allright but If I ever hear of this happening I'll have Ted relocated to another manatee farm so fast it will make their heads spin!" he assured me that he would burn them before Dawn got them and walked me toward the main office.

The main office was just a double wide trailer sitting basically in the swamp. It stunk worse in the trailer then it did outside and I wondered how anyone could sit in this thing all day. I asked Jason " How the hell do you sit in here all day? I would be outside where it's a little cooler ( choosing not to comment on the stench for fear of insulting Jason.

He said " Well Ben, in here the gators can't get you." I was stunned. I said " hey Jason, you told me Ted was in a safe environment and for me never to worry and he's out there swimming around with some goddamned gators? WHAT KIND OF SHIT IS THAT?" He starts telling me that there's only so much he can do and that Ted's in his natural environment and noone can play God and change natural selection and shit like that and I said " yeah I guess that's true in most situations but most manatees don't have a father busting his ass 2000 miles away so he can send twenty bucks a month to take care of him, to know he's in a safe place where he won't have his head chewed off by some dumb asshole alligator!" I said " if I get a call that my boy's been killed by an alligator, cut in half by a propeller or even if a goddamn parachutist falls on him and kills him there's gone be some heads to roll starting with yours you no good ,no Frisbee throwin son of a bitch!" After telling me that he would do his best to get Ted into some safer surroundings I said " well you better or I'll have him moved to Sea World by next week. Now lets go see my boy." He then tells me that it will be a few minutes because he's waiting for some other local hick to come down so he could borrow his boat. I ask him " you mean you don't have your own boat with all these manatees floatin around?" How the hell do you not have your own boat?" He starts muttering about how something is wrong with the carb on his boat and it's in the shop which I didn't buy for a second but I just said " Ok well I just hope Cletus, Floyd, Dale or whatever hick is coming down with his boat gets here soon because it's getting late in the day and I don't want to go another day without seeing my boy.

We sat there next to the shithole double wide for about an hour waiting for who turned out to be this thickbearded inbred named Jerry and his boat. This guy could barely talk as he actually had less teeth then me and I could understand nothing he said and was way too irritated to waste the extra strength trying. We all climbed onboard this shack on water and made our way out into the swamp.

I could tell Jason was uneasy about the whole thing and after about thirty minutes of circling around I got the strange feeling that Jason had no idea where Ted was. I asked him " hey Jason, where are we going? Where's Ted?" He said he should be just around the corner and pointed off in the distance.

I thought what does he mean he should? Why doesn't he know? When we got around the corner we were looking at stretch of swamp just like all the rest and I saw nothing that resembled a manatee. Jason looked even more nervous and Jerry just looked really stupid and redneckish.

I said " Jason, I thought you said he was here? Jason says " Yeah he might be, we just gotta look." I told him " Well you better hope he isn't here because this place sucks and there's nothing here to keep the gators out. If Ted shows up here I'm slappin the shit out of you!" So he goes into his whole speech again about nobody being God and what more did I expect and whining crap like that when I jump his ass and say " I expect what I see on the brochure you idiot! I expect what you tell me over the phone about Ted being right next to you at all times! That's what I expect! How the hell do you get electric for the radio I sent you to play tapes to Ted out here you lieing little weasel?" That's when he broke down and told me that he wasn't exactly telling the truth and Ted was out in the swamp most of the time.

I told him it was about time he told the truth about something but I was still mad as hell. I said " well weasel boy do you at least have a clue where Ted is?" He said he might know another place where he is and Jerry fired the boat up to head that way. While we were heading to this spot it began to set in that I had not provided as safe and healthy environment for Ted as I thought I had and became very depressed. I vowed then and there that I was going to go home and work harder then ever to get Ted what he needed and move him home to Phoenix. I had a new dedication.

About this time Jerry mumbled something to Jason which Jason then translated to me was " Ted's right up ahead." I looked ahead but saw nothing until right below me a big dark figure floated slowly below us. I felt immediately that this was my son and looked to Jason for affirmation. He just did like a little half nod which I took as a yes and Jerry swung the boat back around towards where Ted had glided to.

We went over to where Ted had somewhat stopped but Ted wouldn't surface despite my calls to him. Finally Jason said " hold on I'll get him up on the surface" as he reached into a sack he had at the bottom of the boat and threw what I think were pieces of rotten melons or something out into the water.

Sure enough Ted came right to the surface, just like his father, it appears he will do anything for food. I got my first real good site of Ted as he floated right on the surface for a minute and asked Jerry to get us closer so I could touch my son.

Jason said " Mr. Quinton I don't know if that's such a great idea?" I said " What do you know Weasel? You couldn't even find him. I've come along way to see my son and I want to fuckin pet him so get us over by his large slimy head so I can pet him!" Jason motioned to the hillbilly boat jockey that it was ok and he glided us toward Ted who was still devouring the rotten fruit. As we got closer I reached my hand toward Ted and finally got close enough to where I was able to rub his large fat head. I began petting him and talking to him. " Ted, it's me your father. I'm the guy who sends you Big Macs if you get him ( glaring at a very guilty looking Jason ) I've missed you buddy" I said as I continued to pet him.

Just as I was getting comfortable with him a horrible thing happened, my son bit me! He just opened his big stupid mouth and chomped on my upper right arm nearly dragging me into the swamp. I braced with my legs and punched Ted in the face with my left three or four times until he let go and I fell back into the boat.

I was mad as hell and reacted by grabbing an oar laying in the boat, stood up and smacked Ted across his head as hard as I could twice before he made a weird high pitched squeal and dove under water like a chicken.

I was frothing mad at this point and screaming as loud as I could at Ted who was rapidly gliding away. No son of mine was going to be a biter.

Stupid-ass Jason looked at me with this stupid look on his face and said " Mr. Quinton, you just hit Ted! You shouldn't have done that." I looked at him and screamed " what have you been teaching him dummy? What the hell kind of place is this where manatees bite their own parents? No son of mine will bite his Dad." Jason says " You shouldn't have gotten near him when he's eating, they don't understand. They think you're food.' I said " Oh Jason that's such bullshit! How stupid do you think I am? I've watched Discovery for over ten years now and I've seen people swimming with these fat bastards! Why do you think they call them the gentle giants of the sea?" Jason replies " Manatees aren't the gentle giants of the sea, gray whales are." " I don't think so buddy, I've heard manatees are I'm pretty sure." I said.

"No, I know gray whales are because I just watched a show on them like a week ago and it was titled Gentle Giants of the Sea story of the Gray Whale" Jason shot back.

" Well I'm positive that manatees are gentle something. It might not be gentle giants of the sea but it's like gentle giants of Florida or the Atlantic or something like that. All I know is everyone I know thinks they're gentle and won't bite your arm off and this ungrateful bastard almost took mine off!" Jason kept saying that it wasn't right to punch Ted in the face and hit him with the oar and I just kept saying he's my son and he needs to respect me. We were obviously not going to agree on this point and it was getting dark so I told him just to take me back to shore so I could go home and clean my arm up.

Once we got to shore I told Jason that I would be back the next day to see my son and that I really hoped for his sake that my boy didn't try to remove any part of my body because I was bringing a bat tomorrow. He assured me he would be there.

When I got there the next day noone was there and everything was locked up. I sat there all day waiting for Jason and he never showed up.

The next day the same thing happened and when I finally thought to call the phone number I got some stupid message saying that noone was in the office that day so after that it was time for me to return to Arizona.

The trip home was extremely depressing as I thought how sad it was that my first meeting with my manatee son resulted in me punching him and hitting him but I realized it was for his own good. One day Ted would have his own son and he would need to instill respect in his son just as I had with him. I was most irritated that I had put my trust in this slum of a manatee farm and that they were obviously not giving the manatees the attention they needed which results in biting incidents such as the one between Ted and I. It was a cry for help from Ted I now realize.

A couple days after I returned to Phoenix I was finally able to reach that laughing pig Dawn down in Gulfslop and she informed me that I was not welcome back at the farm and that they would no longer accept donations from me.

I said " I'm a father and I just can't turn off my love for my son?" She replied " Don't call here anymore and if you send anymore checks we will return them uncashed." I said " Fine then I want my son moved to Sea World immediately!" She did her regular laughing thing and hung up on me and hasn't taken my calls since.

I called a few days later and disguised my voice saying I was Jerry the Hick and wanted to talk to Jason but when he got on the phone and realized it was me he hung up on me.

So here I sit. I've apparently lost my manatee son and I can't get a single lawyer in Phoenix to take my case to get Ted back. I was scammed into loving someone and then having that someone taken from me and there is nothing legally I can do about it.

I'm working on something with some guys I found in an add in Soldier of Fortune though that I can't really go into detail about but I view as very promising and realistically probably my only chance to get Ted back. I'll do whatever it takes to get my son back.

Anyway the moral of the story is if you decide to adopt an exotic animal of any type consider my story and really check into the care and facilities involved? Check into your legal rights and how you would deal with a similar situation to mine? I just trusted in the brochure and never in a thousand years thought I could end up in this situation but I learned a valuable lesson and when I get my manatee back I vow to devote a great amount of time to helping exotic pet parents understand the perils of parenthood. I hope none of you or any other decent person has to deal with the pain I have had to deal with these last few weeks.