EAST ROCKAWAY, Long Island (WABC) --Three weeks after his pet wallaby was seized by animal welfare authorities on Long Island, Larry Wallach says he is determined to reclaim the animal and insists he is a responsible keeper of exotic pets.
"I want to set it straight," Wallach said. "People think I left, that I was in hiding."
In an Eyewitness News interview conducted last night, Wallach breaks down, insisting he would never harm an animal and reveals to us that the day his wallaby, named "Jack," was seized, he was hospitalized with spinal meningitis. Yet, he could still face animal cruelty charges.
"Three weeks in a coma, and I wake up to this nightmare?" Wallach said. He says Jack was cared for by a friend while he was hospitalized, and that animal welfare authorities should close their case against him and return Jack. But agents with the Nassau SPCA have insisted the wallaby had been grossly neglected, in a filthy cage in Larry's garage with inadequate heating.
"They made me out to be like I murdered a kangaroo," Wallach said, "Everyone should know that I was in a freaking coma, that I almost died."
"I'm heartbroken," Wallach told Eyewitness News Reporter N.J. Burkett. "I've never hurt an animal, ever. I have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on veterinary care for exotic animals, I've gone to schools for free."
Wallach has been known in the area for more than 25 years as an eccentric keeper of exotic pets, who says he's never been cited for keeping them in his East Rockaway home.
Lions, tigers, lots of tigers. His daughter, who's also certified, plays with a tiger cub.
Wallach's veterinarian says Jack was in perfect health until Wallach wasn't.
"I do want to tell the public, I'm sorry if Jack was hurt. It's not what I had planned for him. Never, ever. I love my animals," Wallach said. "It breaks my heart that people think that I would hurt an animal."
The only animals he has now are his domestic cat and dog. Friday night, the Nassau County SPCA claims Jack's condition was inexcusable. They say that the wallaby will not be returned to Wallach and that animal cruelty charges have not been ruled out.
The SPCA says that the wallaby is at a rehab facility in Pennsylvania. If he's prosecuted, Wallach says he's confident he'll beat the charges, but getting his wallaby back will be a lot more difficult.