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Shell Shocked

Laura Beil

Tri-City Tales Issue No. 4

Tri-City Animal Shelter got a call about an unusual stray in early 2021: A tortoise the size of a prize-winning watermelon had been spotted wandering on Red Bud Drive in Desoto.

Animal Services Officers scooped her up and identified her as a sulcata tortoise, native to the deserts of northern Africa. Sulcata tortoises are often sold as pets, which might seem like swell idea when they’re small and cute. But that adorable cuteness? It can grow into a 100-pound adult.

They named her Spurs. A few months after Spurs arrived at the shelter, animal control officers were notified about another wayward tortoise. He had a knobby shell and bright crimson spots on his legs. Called simply a red-footed tortoise, he was native to the South American tropics. Shelter director Tammy Miller named him Boots. Not only was Boots homeless, he suffered from a nagging respiratory infection.

As the tortoises shuffled around a kennel at the shelter, Miller and the staff worked to locate their owners. After several weeks with no leads, she decided to take them home herself. But first, she had to consult with her four adult children; odds are, long after Miller and her husband have met their eternal rest, Boots and Spurs will still be here, plodding along. Tortoises are the longest living land animals in the world—so long that scientists even study tortoises for secrets of longevity. Spurs could live for 150 years. That meant before Miller and her husband adopted the tortoises, one of her children needed to volunteer for the next generation of care. (Thanks Myranda!)

After more than a year at the Miller home, the tortoises have become beloved members of the family, easing their way out of a doggie door to reach their outside custom-made habitats, reinforced to withstand instinctive, relentless tortoise digging. As a tropical native, Boots loves nothing better than fruit. Pop the top of a banana, and he comes running. (Well, speed walking.) He’s curiously taken with a hard hat, perhaps wondering if it’s a very slow, very yellow cousin of some sort. Spurs, a desert creature, prefers aloe and cactus. She's a sucker for a good belly rub.

Miller now can’t imagine her home without them. Still, if you’re thinking about a tortoise, know that it’s not a decision to make lightly. They’re prone to infections, and are expert tunnellers. They need a lot of room. But they can also be smart and charming pets— pets that will need you for the rest of your life.

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