Frankie Tortoise Tales Frankie Tortoise Tails sulcata care tortoise sulcata husbandry Frankie Tortoise Tails Frankie Tortoise Tails: 2010



December 19, 2010

Explain 19º to a Sulcata

Alabama, I was told, makes an idea place to raise a sulcata tortoise. It's true, but so is Mexico or Brazil. Alabama has the hot sun, good humidity levels, short winters.....but we get winters.

What a great summer it was watching Frankie in the yard. How super to see Greg start putting up Frankie's new monster shelter so Frankie could live outside this winter. How typical Greg is not quite finished with the shelter when Alabama gets winter temperature predictions of 19ºF…much too early this winter. Frankie has to come inside.

Eight hours before the temperatures began plummeting to records lows for our area, I am in a frantic scramble to prepare the gecko room for the 75 pound Frankie the gecko room-terminator. But no way am I risking Frankie to Wisconsin like temperatures. But, I must fear the turtle.

At 50 pounds, Frankie easily took down four metal aquarium stands with several hundred pounds of tanks, soil, plants, furnishing and geckos inside. At 75 pounds, I am sure our 7 foot tall shelving units are in grave danger.

In the gecko room, there is no shelter set up for Frankie. The Dogloo is outside stuffed full of hay. There is NO cardboard box big enough or tough enough to handle Frankie.

Tick, tick, tick, the hours are dropping away like the temperature outside. If I don't get Frankie inside soon, he is going to start digging his way to Honduras.

Surrendering absolutely and in real concern that the overnight temperature risks Frankie's health, and the veterinarian visits to treat a sulcata cold and the near impossibility of giving a 75 pound sulcata antibiotic injections to cure him, I start Frankie on the long walk from the backyard to the garage and into the safety of the warm gecko room.

A seventy-five pound Sulcata who is cold doesn't walk fast. They walk about as fast as the Energizer Bunny with 1% juice left in their batteries. I can't make Frankie walk any faster. I sure can't pick him up. I can't wait till 6:00 pm for hubby Greg to get home to drag Frankie inside when its already dark and 30º outside.

I just can't explain 19º F to Frankie. Sulcata tortoise just don't get it. Bribery with carrots, pumpkin, apples or any other sweet delight will not make a difference: His olfactory functions are shut down.

Only prayer is left. And groveling.

I start encouraging Frankie, urging him forward one agonizing 1/2 inch step at a time. He will be a tort-icicle at this rate. My fingers are already flesh-cubes.

Forth two minutes, seventeen and a half seconds later Frankie has finely finished his usual 8 minute walk from backyard into the gecko room. He settles on top of his electric heat pad. Yep, I managed to take the heat pad from his outdoor shelter, scrub it down with soap and water, sanitize it, dry it, place it in the gecko room and preheat it all the while Frankie was making his dramatic journey from yard to gecko room.

Frankie has little to say as he settles onto the mat and is covered with newspapers and a beach towel.

I will be in the gecko room at 7:00 am promptly in the morning to begin constructing barriers to keep Frankie from terminating the gecko room.

Will Frankie respect the barriers? Will all 200 geckos be re-located to our living room upstairs? Will the new cat ever get over the shock of seeing a 75 moving rock that smells like a zoo?

Stay tuned. I'll be back with more adventures of Frankie vs the gecko room.

November 29, 2010

Keeper's Nose

A keeper who owns a sulcata for a long, long time will develop what is known as "Keeper's Nose." This condition has nothing to do with looking like a sulcata but it does have to do with acclimation to a sulcata and all its delights.

The problem is, of course, sulcata poop smells. I've raised Frankie from the time he was a month old to his present 9 years of age and 75 pounds. In all those years I've gradually adjusted to the smell of his poop. It just doesn't smell that poopy to me anymore. This is Keeper's Nose.

Most are unaware of the Keeper's Nose phenomena. The "getting used to poop smell" happens so slowly that it goes mostly unnoticed.

A long time sulcata keeper can take deep breath inside a sulcata's shelter complete with fresh sulcata poop and say "Ah! Smells like a beautiful summer day on the farm." This just isn't true. A bucket of fresh sulcata poop is stinky and does not smell like fresh earth.

Visitors and friends are saying, "Holy crap! This place stinks like the pachyderm house at the zoo!" The sulcata house does smell nearly identical to the zoo's elephant house. There is just a little difference: the elephant lays down more poop than the sulcata.

I happen to take great pleasure in taking friends and their children to visit Frankie. And so I recently did when friends brought over their grade school aged boy and girl to meet the famous Frankie for the first time.

The temperature was chilly so Frankie spent most of the day in his gigantic new heated shelter. Although I clean it daily by scooping da poop, Frankie and his adobe always remain the scent of sulcata de' ordure.

I walked the two young kids down to his shelter and opened Frankie's door. Just like a proud sulcata mom, I nearly pushed the two kids to see the wonder of Leann's world (that would be Frankie).

I stood behind the two kids who are now three feet into the shelter. I beamed with pride. Very quickly, the little boy squeals, "Can we go now?"

Wait a minute! This is the boy who has been begging his mom to see Frankie for three months. Can Frankie at 75 pounds be that scary in real life?

The boy made a quick dash out the door. The girl, a bit older and trained in Southern Manners, walked out at a normal pace. I closed up Frankie's enclosure and then turn to ask them what they thought of Frankie.

The boy had pinched his nose closed with one hand. Big wet tears were coming from his eyes. The girl, probably not wanting to offend me, did not pinch her nose but still those eyes were full up with moist tears.

I was lost to what was going on.

Then the boy exclaimed, "Wow, Frankie is really cool but he STINKS." The Southern trained young girl nodded although I could see her holding back her true feelings: At any moment, she was going to hurl. Still, they loved Frankie.

I try to be constantly wary of Keeper's Nose. I love my beloved sulcata so it's easy to overlook his faults. I am so used to Frankie de' odeur after nine years that I don't think about it.

Don't be like me. Put up a sign to remind yourself.

Sulcata stink.

November 19, 2010

Fall Invention

Frankie has a new house! Yep, phase one of the new Frankie outdoor shelter is completed, which of course includes the most important step: will Frankie use it.

For weeks now, Frankie is going in nightly into his shelter. His Dogloo is close by and occasionally he makes use of it but never on the real cool nights.

We were concerned that the heat pads were coming on when it got cool and turning off in the morning but while we fine tune the settings, Frankie has the opportunity to warm up every day in the sun.

Phase two of the new shelter is building the inner box. This will serve as compartment made of wood and a durable floor. The box reduced the interior so Frankie will have a tunnel-like passage to an inner area for him to sleep. The whole box will be insulated to better retain heat as we have found that Rubbermaid structures make a poor heat retainer.

During these October days, Frankie is perfectly content with sunlight and good temperatures for all day walking in the yard. Regretfully, October has not brought a lot of rain so the grass has little inspiration to grow. I've had to start watering the grazing areas lest Frankie start eating all the bushes and leaves which are not good and safe nutrition for him.

Pet Halloween costume contests are just around the corner and I have four possible events for Frankie to attend as Frankasaurus. The biggest challenge: getting Frankie into the car. His weight is getting so that even Greg and I together are stressed to lift him without hurting our backs.

Increased Frankie mass brings the need for further clever inventions.

September 22, 2010

Houston, We Have A Problem

Greg and I (mostly Greg) has worked tirelessly for the last two weeks preparing and constructing Frankie's new outdoor shelter. During the entire process, Frankie has been right there (more like "underfoot") the entire time. He is never far from the project.

So, last night we got the Rubbermaid structure up enough that Frankie could take a look and walk inside.

Well, last night Frankie chose to sleep up in the wooded area in his Dogloo. I was fine with this. I could hardly wait to see him in the morning and watch his reaction to his new digs.

So, this morning, I go out and check Frankie who is just emerging from his Dogloo. He makes it past the trees and sees the now completed Shelter. What does Frankie do? He stops dead in his traps and has now refused to go to the side of the yard where his new shelter is. Apparently, this new contraption is none other than an new evil nemesis come to eat Frankie alive.

Yep, four hours later and Frankie has not built up the nerve to get near the shelter.

September 6, 2010

Weather or Not

Frankie is not so smart when it comes to weather. But Frankie is also pretty smart about the weather. I can't decide. He has me completely bamboozled.

During the summer, Frankie is perfectly able to perceive growing temperatures due to sunlight and ambient heat. Smartly, he chooses the coolest spot in his backyard. He can even perceive changing temperatures under the patio and will move several times to stay in the coolest area of the patio.

Frankie never gets caught out in the heat and burning sun if there is somewhere cool to go. He is smart about this.

Frankie can even evaluate if it’s too cold to go outside in the winter or if the sun and ambient temperature will be enough to keep him comfortable. As soon as he has finished his beauty sleep and can tell it's morning, Frankie will head outside to test the weather.

Frankie has never been caught outside when temperatures plummet. No, it nearly always my fault if Frankie can't get to shelter. So, I am responsible to make sure his shelter is accessible and heater. This would include walking him indoors if that is the best place for sleep.

Frankie is, however, a blithering idiot when it comes to rain. Frankie loves rain. He likes to graze on wet grass much like humans like to put dressing on a salad. But Frankie has no conception, until it's too late, that the rain is overwhelming.

Frankie has been caught in the middle of the yard with rain coming down like Niagra Falls. He gets stuck in these conditions. Frankie will simply stop where ever he is, pull his head back and cover his face with his front feet.

Frankie has stopped cold in the middle of rising water without the sense to move because the water is now over his head. He has no capacity to breath under water and is too dense to figure that out. Mom has to run outside and save him.

Frankie will be grazing with sprinkles of rain and then where ever he is get stuck because the rain stops him from taking shelter.

And worse of all: Frankie has no sense when it comes to tornadoes, hurricanes, and lightening. Nope. He will sit there, graze (if its warm) and take no cover. Mom has to save him.

Frankie is perfectly happy to live his life in his wonderful backyard and take care of himself (I guess I would have to put in a pond) except he has no built in instinct what to do in rain.

Sulcata probably do fine in Africa savanna weather but they just don't get Alabama weather at all.

August 26, 2010

A Break in the Weather

Today is the first day in what seems like forever that both Frankie and I are enjoying a wonderful cool morning. The temperature is 73º F and the sun is gentle.

I can't remember last time I opened my back window and just watched the morning. Frankie has joined me by sitting half in his pool half out of his pool just basking in the morning sun. He is just under my window. He has stretched his front legs wide to his side. Every now and again he will dip his nose in the water for a small drink.

With the window open I get to hear what Frankie hears: birds, crickets, trains, wind. How lovely.

Some may argue that tortoises don't express emotion. I disagree. They may have a less complex emotional scale than humans but looking down at Frankie right now I see a sense of peace.

A break from the searing hot summer weather. Finely.

August 24, 2010

Something New

Frankie got a delivery today - a new Rubbermaid outdoor shelter. Yep, he has completely outgrown the Rubbermaid shelter we bought for him five (?) years ago.

Since Spring, when Frankie gets into his old shelter, he can't turn around inside without causing the doors to burst open. Just to help extend the time of the old enclosure, I removed some of the insulation so he could maneuver a bit inside. Still, the door would often open. Now the door never stays closed.

Since last summer, I have challenged Greg to get Frankie an updated enclosure knowing time was ticking on his current one. Greg wanted to make a foam insulated concrete structure but problems with zoning laws, materials and location was making this all near impossible.

Greg since then started to look at pre-fabricated outdoor shelters. Most were within the same dimensions of Frankie's present one which made them useless. Other shelters were so big that they would never be warm or at least economical to keep heated in the winter.

Last week the right shelter was found. The Rubbermaid Slide Lid Shed. Top lid moves back, front doors open, five foot by five foot inside. Perfect for Frankie, I think..... Some work needs to be done like insulation but at this point I am happy.

Now, where to put the thing. No, we have not decided that even yet.

July 23, 2010

Hot Birthday

It is hot outside. It is so hot outside that I break a sweat just looking outside. Alabama has a heat advisory that started at 8:00 a.m. this morning. Of course, this all makes me concerned about Frankie. He did okay yesterday for a half day heat-advisory but a full day concerned me. Since I was working in the gecko room this morning, I thought I would bring Frankie inside.

Frankie was a perfect gentleman about walking directly into the garage and into the gecko room. Quickly I put down wood in front of every terrarium stand so Frankie doesn't push them over, block the bathroom, block under the shelves and block by the side wall. Frankie occupied himself with testing the strength of all the blockades. Eventually he found a Steel Stella substitute in the form of an overturned plastic shoe box and proceeded to practice his sexual prowess as he grunted in pleasure.

I went to work feeding geckos.

Frankie got bored with his new girlfriend after about 30 minutes and started walking around the room again, watched carefully by me. At one point, as he passed in front of me, he paused long enough to urinate all over the floor, and then continued his walk around. "Oh,yeah." I say to Frankie, "I've missed that too."

Frankie's patience for remaining in the gecko room despite a heat index of 105ºF, is zero after two hours. He starts bumping all 75 pounds against the gecko room letting me know he wants outside. Now.

Hopefully cooled down sufficiently to survive the afternoon, Frankie is led outside to the back yard. I return to the house drenched in sweat. I am saving my shower for late this after noon knowing I will be outside several times to check on him and hose him off with cool water.

Peak summer routine resumes.

Big announcement: Happy Birthday to Frankie! Frankie turns 9 years old on Sunday. Check the Frankie cam for activities.

July 6, 2010

4th of July Party

Greg and I were invited to a 4th of July party out in the country with our very dear friends. For some reason, Greg asked if we could bring Frankie along. After all, the area is full of grass and grazing areas and Frankie loves Big Walks. But really, what was Greg thinking.

Taking Frankie to a party is like having a 75 pound 2 year old child with you. There is no letting the terror alone for a moment. Parents are responsible for protecting the child from harm, and keeping the child from bringing down the house. The host is not responsible to child proof their home -- um, in this case sulcata-proofing their home and entire outdoor space from Frankie.

We spend most of our time keeping Frankie from pushing over fences, eating gardens, re-arranging lawn furniture, going through sliding glass doors, getting into poison ivy and drowning in the pond.

Did we ever get time to have adult conversations, sit down under an umbrella, enjoy a meal and relax? No.

Sometimes its best to illustrate what happen with a few pictures.

Frankie arrives in the backyard

You're not supposed to eat any of the flowers in the nice flower garden.

By the volleyball court. Greg is trying to keep Frankie from the poison ivy all over the fence Frankie is determined to push over.

Twice Frankie decided he wanted to walk out on a twenty foot pier that juts out to the pond. We were so tempted to find out if sulcata sink or swim but decided neither of us wanted to go in if he did sink to the bottom.

As always, Frankie attracts the younger crowd.

June 24, 2010

Ride In The Car

Anyone who has been in a car traveling with a large sulcata is fully aware of the dangers involved. No, it's not that the sulcata will crawl out of his container and start tearing up the car (he will try) and it's not that a sulcata will never rest until he gouges a hole in what ever container he is held against his will (he will never rest) but that passengers will be forced out of the car by even greater horrors.

Sulcata owners soon learn that car drives are laxatives for sulcata. They will nearly every time relieve themselves in protest over being in a strange place and often in a small container. And the aroma is not pleasant, as you have heard.

Frankie was just as bad. The trip from Oklahoma to Alabama was filled with aroma from mile five to mile 700. And unprepared means putting up with the smell.

I learned to take lots of extra towels and newspapers and garbage bags.

Frankie did get used to car trips. In his early years (and pounds) most of his car trips were to the park to graze and hunt down dandelions. As he got older, cars to him to Do Dah Day and other "Big Walks". During the winter, cars take him to PetSmart and PetCo.

Frankie has something to look forward to when we say, "Want to go in the car." Except for one recent trip to the veterinarian which included his first ever shot, car trips mean fun.

As Frankie approaches his ninth birthday, he rarely poops in the car.....he saves it all for when he arrives.

I would suggest that everyone who does own a sulcata to get their tort used to car rides...yes, I do absolutely, and when they are small. Get your sulcata used to car rides while the poop and pee output is minimum. When they get 75 pounds, sulcata rear-end output in a compact car is early deadly.

June 16, 2010

Bad Mom

I feel like such a terrible sulcata mother. Frankie's outdoor living arrangements are just not ready for this terrible heat. But really, it's all the rain's fault: three weeks of rain and I had hardly a chance to get him set up.

Usually, during May, I set up the patio so Frankie will have plenty of shade and space underneath to stay cool. Six different drapes collected over the yeas from garage sales to people's garbage's (yes, I dumpster dive) keep the sun from baking him all day.

A old brightly colored outdoor table cloth is draped above his night shelter. This decorative table cloth keeps the morning sun from turning his shelter into an oven.

An outdoor green and white canopy picked up at a garage sell for $5 serves as a shade around the patio so the sun doesn't get underneath where Frankie spends the majority of hot sunny days.

Then there is this monster yellow umbrella from a patio table (dumpster dive prize) that I drape under the stairs as Frankie likes to sit here in the late afternoon. Since the umbrella is rainproof, he can sit under it when it rains without having to retreat into his night shelter.

And his night shelter....the completely Hubby-furbished, electrified, insulated, plastic strip door, easy-to-clean-poop-out-of, that is nearly five years old is now too small for Frankie to turn around. And he still uses it. This is where I am the "bad mom".

Frankie can get inside alright. He only scrapes the plastic only slightly when entering the cut out door area covered with plastic strips. He must come in the cut out area straight or he can't get in at all. Once his head is in he has to maneuver a 45 degree turn into the shelter to get cozy. Entry is manageable but there is no easy turn-around for exit for the ever growing beast.

In the morning, I can hear him negotiating a backward, forward, backward, forward movement as he attempts to turn around in a space that no longer allows him to turn around. His shell has gouged into the insulation a half an inch so he can accommodate that turn. Sometimes his "bump and turn" will just cause the two front opening doors to burst open. And they don't open enough for him to then get out. They are open enough just to help him complete the turn, negotiate the 45 degree turn back though the plastic covered opening.

Daily, as I sit at my computer by the window which is six feet above his enclosure, I hear the crash bang of a sulcata who may just be intentionally making louder noises than necessary to get the message across that he needs a new shelter.

Hey, Hubby, remember that neat Frankie enclosure designed three years ago that you were going to put in. Well, it's past time.

The guilt is knowing that Hubby and I are heat-haters. It has to be below 80 degrees Fº, and full cloud coverage before we wander outside for heavy duty yard work.

And as I type, a thunderstorm with flash flood warnings approaches quickly. I am never going to get done unless I finish while it is raining. Tent city is just going to have to wait like Frankie.

June 8, 2010

All Wet

Frankie has had a rough few weeks. Not the "mansion-living" rough, it's the what-happen-to-perfect-sulcata-weather rough in Alabama. Most of the time, during the spring, summer and fall, sulcata tortoises like Frankie have the best of it down here in the South. Alabama isn't co-operating. Frankie is not happy.

This morning is the first morning in nearly three weeks that the sun is shining and there is not a cloud in the sky. Frankie likes this. The temperature will get up into the high 80's and Frankie can live with that. He is out there now walking all over the yard. No need to bask…ambient temperatures have him the perfect temperature. There is plenty of grass which Frankie is sure to start grazing before it gets too hot.

What he has been annoyed about is lots and lots of sneaky, unusual rain.

Alabama is making up for the drought of two years ago. Mother Nature has a timing problem because our lakes are full. No water rationing here. The trees and grass are green and happy.

But Frankie complains. For the last two weeks, we've been getting 70%-90% chance of rain every day.

Frankie is usually un-bothered with the non-stop kind of rain: He just hangs out in his shelter and waits for mom to bring him hay and carrots. Frankie is bothered when he is lured him out of the shelter with sun, settles himself in for a bask only to have clouds move in just as he gets comfy. He sits patiently as the clouds dodge his sunlight.

After waiting endlessly for enough sun to get through moving clouds, he is warm enough to begin his walk around the yard. But then the rain will start. Frankie will stop and sit wherever he happens to be in the yard expecting the rain to stop in just a few minutes.

The rain starts begins as a light shower and then in a few minutes changes to a major down pour. To late to change his mind about shelter, Frankie has no choice but to sit out the big rain. Poor fellow has been in the middle of the yard, next to a bush, by the back fence or even half way down the hill when all he can do is stop in his tracks. He hates it when rain gets in his eyes, so he sits there and is miserable.

Many of these down pours of rain will turn into a huge storms with lightening, thunder, and high winds. Frankie sits in place through it all because at this point, Mom can…well, would like to help, but due to Frankie's ever increasing size, can do nothing to save him.

On one occasion, Frankie was in an area low in the yard which quickly began filling with water. Between Frankie's refusal to move and his stubborn "it will pass in just a moment", the water quickly rose above his head. Much as Frankie thinks he can swim, he cannot. A panicked mom (by now you know this is ME!) threw caution to the wind (thunder, lightening, buckets of rain) and ran out to somehow save Frankie.

Because of his size, the best mom could do was sit in the water with Frankie and drag/push him out of the water and to the higher side of the "river". Mom got no thanks or anything…instead Frankie acted as though he expected to then be carried inside, dried off, given a dozen carrots and a heating blanket for his near death experience.

Soaked down to socks and undergarments, Mom said, "That is the best I can do. You just got to learn to come in out of the rain, Frankie."

When the downpour finely subsided, Frankie went back to the task of mowing the yard. Of course, after three weeks of hot steamy Alabama weather, Frankie will never be ahead of the growing grass. As always, mom will have to mow despite Frankie's insistence that the backyard is his domain. River or no river.

May 27, 2010

Best Summer Ever

Guess what! This is starting out to be the BEST SUMMER EVER! I am not kidding. I just got the best news. Mom came out a little while ago and told me Tigger (you remember that dumb dog that lives down the street) is coming to stay the week with us! Is this incredible or what? I am gonna kick that dog's butt! He will not know what hits him.

Actually, um, Mom says Tigger is a girl. Well that still doesn't matter, I am gonna kick Tigger's butt. After I kick HER butt, I am going to lay down some Frankie Laws since she doesn't rule this roost!

Most important, the backyard is Frankie's Yard. It's not Tigger's temporary digs. If she wants some space she can just get my Mom to walk her home to her own backyard. But if Tigger wants to use my backyard, she has to mind Frankie's Laws.

The Dogloo and the Rubbermaid backyard storage shelter in the backyard are mine! Prepare to meet your doom should you decide to take a snooze in either of these two places filled with nice clean hay.

All cat poo in Frankie's Yard is for Frankie. I don't share any cat poo with dumb dogs. Go to your own yard and find your own cat poo. Mouth and paws off my cat poo.

The Kiddy pool in the yard is for ME. It's not for dirty dog feet and the water is not doggy drinking water. If necessary, I will keep it filled with sulcata poop to make that perfectly clear.

Apparently mom has a No Dog Poo Rule in the back yard so I don't have much to say about that except "drat."

Don't go running after or barking at the birds and the chipmunks. Since dogs are too dumb to tell the difference between a chipmunk and a squirrel then you will just have to leave the squirrels alone too. Go ahead and chase any cat that dare enter my domain during the day. Cats are only allowed after dark.

Now on to my plans for a Tigger fun week. I am gonna need some time to put together some really devious plans. I already know that some will involve ambushes and charges. Thank goodness I got the evening to think about all this. I may not be able to sleep tonight, I am SO excited!

May 23, 2010

Happy World Turtle's Day

Dear Diary:

Today is World Turtle's Day. I know because when I was on the internet last night looking at mom's Facebook account (I am really mad she hasn't set me up one yet) I noticed that her turtle friends have all started celebrating. World Turtle's Day is a big day for me and my turtle friends so I was really expecting something special. World Turtle's Day to turtles’ is like Mom's Day to Mom. A turtle can really look forward to this day if you're lucky enough to own a human. I got two humans around my house so I expect big things.

Mom did get up pretty early this morning because I heard her throwing bird seed on in my yard while I was still snoozing. Doesn't she know that those birds make lots of noise in the morning when I am trying to get my beauty sleep? Then the squirrels and chipmunks run up and down the patio steps making all kinds of noise. Really, I need to make a list of things for mom NOT to do in my backyard.

So anyway, a bit later when I out the porch getting my morning bask I heard mom talk about double carrots and The Big Walk because it was World Turtle Day. Wow! Awesome! Now that was something to look forward to. I stuck pretty close to the house most of the day waiting for my double treat and The Big Walk.

And I waited.

And I waited.

And I waited.

Sometimes I just don't know about mom and dad. They did know that today was World Turtle Day? I was starting to think that I was going to have to drag some things around the yard to get their attention.

Finely, just a bit before my final bask of the day mom comes outside and asks me "want to go on a walk?" Well, you don't have to poke me in the eye more than once! I headed right to the gate and to the side yard. Since it was World Turtle Day I thought stopping for a few minutes of clover would be okay and sure enough mom let me graze without too much fuss. I have her wrapped about my little tail.

Well you could have rubbed my shell because when I made it to the front yard dad was there with the car ready to take me to the park. Awesome! I was really starting to believe the two humans had forgotten my special day.

So off to Memorial Park we went for lots of walking, grazing and gawking by other humans (I am getting used to this). The great part is the small humans will put loads of grass, weeds, dandelions and clover right in front of my nose so I can just sit and gobble greens the entire time. It's pretty awesome.

After about an hour, mom and dad had to drag me back to the car where I threw a major fit about leaving the park (really, I don't care but they get all upset about hurting my feelings that it almost guarantees me double carrots when I get home).

When we got home I got another chance to graze the clover on the side of the house but I was ready for a carrot so I headed straight to my back yard.

After a few minutes back in the house, mom reappeared with the biggest carrot I have ever seen. I think mom was worried that it was too big for me to eat (what a nut she is) and I heard dad suggest that she shred the carrot for me (I have him so wrapped about my tail - he he). But I proved to them both that there isn't a carrot I can't put down in less than fifteen seconds.

Well, time for another ten times around the yard and a stomach full of grass before I turn in for the night. I hope all my tortoise friends had as good a World Turtle's Day as I did.

May 16, 2010

Do Dah Day 2010

Thank goodness! No rain, good temperatures, light cloud coverage....excellent for The Big Walk. Right, Frankie?

Sometimes few words all that are needed.

Whoa, there Frankie!
Speed limit at the Do Dah Day Pet Parade is 25 mph.
Slow down for those dogs!

Where is that Frankie? He was here just a minute ago?

May 11, 2010

Frankie & the Birds & the Bees

This is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about the birds and the bees and sulcata tortoises so if you are frail of heart or expect the facts of life to be private and not a topic of discussion, please stop here. Find something else to read besides this. If you grew up with horses, goats or various farm animals like me, this is mostly straight forward animal sexuality. I am sure anyone who grew up around a farm know just like me that if one hangs around with re-producing animals, sexual education happens early in life.

Turtle sexuality is just another animal. Really. Right, Frankie?

So this morning I saunter out to visit Frankie and find him in his pool standing on his tippy toes. I have owned Frankie since he was the size of an apple so I know standing on tippy toes either means he is constipated or he is exercising his manhood. By the time I am within five feet of him, it's obvious that he is exercising his manhood in a nice pool of water and is beyond simple happiness. Frankie is....well....having the time of his life.

Frankie notices me and after a moment he decides my presence is not going to interfere with his joy. He goes about his business.

Just like male horses occasionally "let it all hang out" so do male tortoises (sometimes refer to as flashing). It seems the difference is tortoises (maybe I should just say Frankie) really gets into the happiness of the "all hanging out" thing.

I decide to go about my business in the yard while Frankie continues to swish his alien penis about the pool. Then I think of how very smelly and yucky Frankie's underside and vent tends to be and how it's near impossible to wash the area now that he is near monster size (Frankie not his alien). With horses, we often had the necessary task of washing a males horse's penis. It's just something only farm kids would know needs to be done and we do it best we can without much fuss.

So I am looking at Frankie in the pool with his alien penis all pushed out and think to myself, "maybe I should clean his underside and the alien with some clean water." So I turn on the hose and start over to Frankie.

Now Frankie sees my approach and for a moment looks as if he will tuck everything back in and see if I happen to have a carrot. But I start spraying under his shell before he completes the task. To my surprise, he resumes the extension and allows me to wash him up under there.

Then things get a bit creepy. Frankie stretches as high as he can on all of this toes and to my cringe, he closes his eyes in deep rapture. Farm girl or not, the moment is just a bit much for me but in the pursuit of cleanliness, I complete the task as best I can.

Having completed my good deed, Frankie settles back down in the pool in what seems to be complete contentment.

Horses never act so pleased to be cleaned at all. Their attitude is "you better just handle that real careful or I will kick your teeth in." This is one bit of tortoise sexuality I just didn't expect! Frankie acted as if he wanted to pencil the activity in every day for the rest of the week.

Just when I think Frankie can't do anything more outrageous, he does. I am going to need to put a privacy fence around his pool!

April 30, 2010

Dear Diary

Day One: I wake up in my outside enclosure for the first time this spring! Awesome! Today's tasks are walking, grazing and contemplating nothing. Excellent plan. I will be looking forward to the daily carrot mom brings me every day.

Day Two: Looks like another fine day outside. Can't wait to repeat my doings of yesterday today. Mom forgot to bring me a carrot yesterday. She better not forget it today.

Day Three: Rain. Have to stay inside all day. I will poop and pee all over the floor in protest. Surely mom will not forget my carrot today like she did the last two days. This is not like her!

Day Four: Dad dragged me outside at 7:00 a.m. this morning. What's wrong with him? Mom doesn't take me outside until 9:00 a.m. I need my beauty sleep. Dad did give me a carrot.

Day Five: Spent the night outside so I got to sleep-in until 9:00 a.m. I better get a carrot today. The spring weather is awesome. Looks like the grass is growing fast so I better start today's grazing.

Day Six: Some strange lady brought me a carrot today. I think she is owned by that dumb dog Tigger, down the block. Lucky she didn't bring him over. I would have kicked his butt. Dad is keeping my water fresh so I get daily soakings while I sun. Spring is awesome.

Day Seven: Dad was around all day so I eagerly anticipated a carrot. He finely brought one out in the afternoon when he changed out my water. I made sure the water was really dirty with poo so he wouldn't forget.

Day Eight: Dad had coffee outside with me this morning. What is with him? He never hangs around the backyard. Somebody else usually spends time with me.

Day Nine: Another great day. Not too hot but not cold at all. The grass is growing faster than I can graze it. That lady came over again today and gave me a carrot. She had that dog Tigger with her but was smart enough to leave him on the other side of the fence. I would love to kick his butt.

Day Ten: Was colder today and even rained a bit. I stayed in my shelter most of the day until I just couldn't stand it. Went out and grazed a bit. Dad brought me a carrot really late this evening. At least he remembers that I need a carrot every day. He turned on my shelter's heater so I could sleep outside even though it was cooler

Day Eleven: Today I am going to sit up behind the trees so when that woman shows up with Tigger she will think I am inside or something and she will come into the yard with that Tigger dog. He he. He will never know what hits him. That dumb dog thinks I walk at a snail pace. Wait till he sees me charging at ramming speed. Hopefully the woman drops my carrot as she runs for the gate. This is going to be great!

Day Twelve: Dad brought my carrot yesterday instead of the woman. Oh, well. Although dad doesn't spend much time with me outside like someone used to, he rubs my shell and makes sure I have water and my daily carrot. Still, I am getting a bit lonely. I used to get shell rubs more often.

Day Thirteen: Dad was around all day again. He is not much the companion type but he is pretty cool. He is getting much better about keeping me in carrots. I had sun and clouds today so I spent lots of time walking and grazing.

Day Fourteen: Who turned up the heat? I thought this was spring? It was entirely too hot today. Luckily I have a porch with shade and a pool full of water to keep cool. My day was spent sitting under the patio and watching the silly doves who try to drink out of my pool. Sometimes they slip in. Ha ha. Squirrels aren't so smart either. They try to climb over the sides and sometimes fall in. The chipmunks have it right. They go through the trimmed area on the pool that I enter and drink. Hoping tomorrow is a cooler day.

Day Fifteen: Unbelievable! I don't know what's been going on but Mom brought my carrot this afternoon. At first I thought it was the lady with Tigger but no, it was mom. I felt like ramming her. She didn't stay long but then again, it was nearing my bed time.

Day Sixteen: Mom came out this morning to greet me with her morning "Good morning, Frankie" song. I forgot she used to do that everyday. She had a cup of coffee and sat in the yard me while I did my morning bask. She said something about her mother dying last week. Not sure I understand what that all means but it seemed important to her. I moved over next to her and we sat side by side. Together we watch the all the birds eat the seeds she put out. The squirrels showed up and grubbed around for food in the grass. Both of the chipmunks made an appearance. Mom and I just sat there and contemplated it all. I let mom put her feet up on my shell. I think Mom is going to be okay.

April 3, 2010

Poop Float, Please!

Moving on with Frankie's annual check up.

(So e-VET-full that I remember everything even weeks later!)....

Soon after Frankie, Greg and I claim an examination room (Frankie takes up about 1/6th of the room), Dr. Atlas sticks his head to see what Frankie needs today. I tell Dr. Atlas that we want an annual check including a fecal float, a reptile blood panel, and an x-rays to check for bladder stones.

According to experience sulcata owners, including a friend who is a veterinarian assistant, sulcata tortoises should get yearly fecal floats because they are out door grazers, they are famous for tasting about anything within reach including "bad for them" stuff, and they love to eat other animal scant (nice word for POOP!).

Just 45 minutes earlier, as I pulled Frankie out from his Dogloo, I scooped a nice aromatic chuck of freshly deposited Frankie poop. Sulcata like to poop first thing every morning - it's a rule. Yummy. I put the poop in a clean plastic baby food container.

I hand Dr. Atlas this nice sample of what Frankie ate and digested since yesterday. Only a veterinarian would beam as such a disgusting thing and thank you for being so courteous. Had I not brought such a nice new poop sample, Dr. Atlas would have to retrieve some directly from the source. Do image this for a moment. Yes, he will have to put a probe directly into Frankie's vent and swipe a sample. Note: sulcata do not like people messing with their vents - this is also a rule.

So what exactly do they do with this precious poop? The veterinarian technician puts a small sample of the feces into a solution, agitates it and allows the mixed solution to sit. The solution separates parasites from the heavier material. Parasites float and 'da poop sinks. A sample is taken from the top and examined under a microscope making parasitic identification possible.

The fecal float results indicate that Frankie's cat poop diet is not turning out well for him -- he has nematodes. "No more cat poo" says Dr. Atlas. Frankie is prescribed four weeks of Panacur. It could have been worst - he could have needed injections.

Frankie is weighed so they can get the right dose. Frankie weighs 68 pounds. Three more pounds over 65 pounds. Three more pounds gained. My back just hurts just thinking about it.

Next: Looking inside Frankie.

March 30, 2010

Annual Check Up, Part I

Spring is time for Frankie's annual check up. Lucky for me, I just got paid by Reptiles Magazine for the article on Gold Dust day geckos. My budget is $250. I am hoping for $150. A girl can hope can't she?

Knowing I cannot pick Frankie up anymore I had to think up some devious scheme on how to get him there. The perfect opportunity came up when Greg told me he was taking Friday off from work. Greg can lift Frankie! I have a solution.

Even before I ask Greg, I scheduled Frankie's veterinarian appointment for the Friday that Greg is taking off of work - is this bad? Already having the appointment set is all the leverage I have: "But Greg, I already have an appointment."

Greg thought Frankie's 10:00 a.m. appointment especially inconvenient since he wanted to sleep in. Gads! Isn't sleeping past 7:00 a.m. sleeping in? Far as Greg is concerned, sleeping until 10:00 a.m. is sleeping in. Anything less is waking up on time or just not enough sleep. Go figure. Greg never gives me an answer so as Friday gets closer I am just hoping Greg will be there.

On Friday morning at 7:00 a.m., I get up by myself. No sign of Greg. Just in case getting Frankie there is totally up to me, I consider how to get Frankie in the car by myself.

Frankie is 65 pounds so I figured I was good for one good Frankie lift. One only. After that my back would be totally blown. Once I got him in the car I would ask someone in the veterinarian clinic help me get him out of the car and back in the car. Getting Frankie out of the car isn't all that difficult: aiming a 65 pound falling sulcata away from toes is difficult.

At 8:50 a.m. I hear signs of life upstairs - Greg is in the shower. He is going to cut it close. And at 9:15 a.m. Greg is ready to go. It is looking good. Really, it's not the human's that I have to worry about, we can cut a minute or two to get caught up, it's Frankie. It is going to take him five minutes to walk from the gecko room into the garage - fire under his sulcata tail or not. With luck, we roll out of the garage, Frankie in car, and head out.

On the way I suggest that Greg stop by Starbucks to get a Cappuccino. I figured he deserved Starbucks for his efforts to get up and to be ready to go at the very last moment.

Frankie is asleep in the back of the car....he never fully wakes before 10:00 a.m., if he can help it. He never even notices the stop by Starbucks.

We got to Riverview Animal Clinic at 10:00 a.m. on the nose. Greg unloaded Frankie while I dashed in to assure the staff that Frankie will be there in 10 minutes. You heard me - 10 minutes for Frankie to walk from car into clinic into reception area.

Riverview Animal Clinic has an excellent Exotic Practice and one of the best turtle veterinarians in the Southern U.S.: Dr. Alvin Atlas. At the reception desk I check in with the clerk. Dr. Atlas is seeing Frankie today for his annual visit. We want to include a fecal float, x-rays and a reptile blood panel.

By the time I get paperwork sorted, Frankie has arrived at the desk. The staff ushered us into an examination room immediately because they knows Frankie will tear up the front waiting area, terrorize the cats waiting for adoption, and challenge obnoxious dogs.

Up next: look at poop and a look inside.

March 28, 2010

E-VET-ful Event


Went for his annual physical
Got x-rays
No bladder stones
Bones of steel!

Frankie had a fecal float
Frankie has nematodes
Dr. Atlas says take Frankie off the cat poop diet

Anything else? Dr. Atlas asks.
Wish we could get a micro chip but they are too expensive
Guess what?
Price went way, way down!

$50 got a Frankie super conductor
artificial intelligence
Intel Inside
Gig of Gigabytes
micro chip!

Will there be a Frankie Tortoise Tail about this?

You bet
- it may have to be a blog "mini-series"
So much happen!

March 24, 2010

20,000 Visitors

Within the week, Frankie Tortoise Tails will have its 20,000 visitor on Turtle Times. Besides here, Frankie's Tortoise Tails are read at Sulcata Station's Yahoo Group, The Arizona Sulcata Group and Turtle Rescue of Long Island Group.

I regularly get input from many of his fans but this is an brief opportunity to poll from more readers.

Take a look and participate.

Thanks for reading Frankie Tortoise Tails.

March 21, 2010

Normal but Noteworthy

Apparently there is something as ordinary in Frankie's life -- like the last week or so since the last blog entry. Frankie has been....well like the ordinary Frankie!

While inside, I get the usual Frankie messes. I did get one huge drag-it-ALL-across-the-floor-so- mom-can-follow-the-trail last week: mop up, messy poop, soaked hay, newspaper everywhere, and relocated cricket containers. Not so unusual and not unexpected. While Frankie is inside, my hope is for smaller messes. I can hope!

With volatile changing weather, Frankie did get some really nice days outside. Since none of the days travels far into the '70s temperature wise, Frankie spend a great deal of time cruising the backyard, basking at will, seeking the few new green grass spots to graze and even discovering new dandelions blooming in the yard.

Frankie did get bitterly disappointed for cold or over cast or raining days. Depending on his mood, he will accept not going outside or throw a tantrum and re-arrange the gecko room.

When the opportunity happened, Frankie obediently takes the course from gecko room to backyard without too much prompting. He even by-passed basking by the garage door forcing me to leave the backdoor open. No basking by garage - no back door open - no police visits.

When evening arrived, Frankie obedient walks the path from the back yard, through the garage and into his indoor Dogloo. He's been sleeping from 4:30 pm to 8:00 am and some days sleeping in a little later.

Don't think for one second that Frankie has not grown up to be boring in the least bit. One of the most relaxing activities I have is watching him skulk around the backyard. Someday I am going to get the perfect lounger chair so I can sit back and just enjoy him enjoying his yard. Having some stressful events in my life right now, life calls for a Frankie Watch.

And one more note: I got my payment for the article in Reptiles Magazine. After looking at it for several days debating on how to spend it (all my credit cards are paid off), I decided I will use it to take Frankie for his annual physical and pay for an x-ray to check for bladder stones or any signs of abnormal calcification. This will be his first x-rays.

Just FYI: An annual veterinarian examination for tortoises should include a standard DV x-ray, reptile panel, and fecal float (thanks, Suzi!) . Frankie gets the whole nine-yards.

March 8, 2010

Is There Such a Thing As Ordinary?

Somedays are just ordinary days for Frankie. Today looks like one of those days. For the first time this year, we are expecting a sunny day with temperatures to hit 70 degrees - perfect Frankie and sulcata tortoise weather.

Already at 9:00 am, it's 54 degrees and full sun. Idea Frankie and sulcata tortoise basking conditions.

Right now, Frankie is awake in his Dogloo downstairs in the gecko room. He is warm and toasty. He has been awake since 7:00 am but in no hurry to move at all. He is slow to wake....but once he gets a hint at the fabulous day outside....well!

At the first invitation he will dash outdoors to start a serious sulcata tan followed by hours of the sulcata waltz: step, two, three, graze, step, two, three, graze. Although there is hardly any thing green to eat except a few sprigs of hardy winter grass, there is lots of winter dried grass blades still rooted to the ground, Frankie will cover every inch of the backyard in order to fill his tortoise tummy.

Lucky for him, the few warm March days have encouraged the hardest of spring weeds to peek out and he will come across a dozen lovely dandelions. In his brown yard, they stand out like bright neon bug lights in a row of white bulbs. Frankie will not miss a single dandelion.

The time is ticking closer to the moment when I will release the beast on the waiting day. He has the routine down pat: the gecko room door opens, I pat the signal "come on, Frankie" on my leg and he will look out to a glowing light shining through the garage that hints of a good day. With great hope in his heart, he will get up from his Dogloo, amble into the garage, step outside, amble up the side yard and into the back yard.

Frankie adventures today? He will get into something. It's too good of a day to keep Frankie from finding something worthy of his investigation.

Frankie won't want any mom attention today. But I will have an eagle eye on him because when it comes to Frankie and most sulcata tortoises on a perfect day like today, they can make anything into an adventure: from simple fun to events of catastrophic proportions.

It could be a completely ordinary, uneventful day for Frankie. But since when do things turn out that way with Frankie? Don't worry, I will report back all notable events.

February 22, 2010

A Police Action

It's President's day. For many folks, it's a holiday but not for me. For me it's four hours in the gecko room feeding, cleaning and caring for the 200+ geckos, turtles, and reptiles, thousands of crickets, and one big sulcata tortoise – our very own Frankie, our backyard hero who is sleeping indoors because it's winter.

President's Day is an in-between weather day – certainty not cold, dreary and overcast but not a hot, bright sunshine, sulcata-can't-miss day. There is sun with tolerable temperatures for Frankie.

Frankie does his "let me outside, woman, or I will tear down this door." I open the door and he ambles past the stairwell, into the garage and then stops mid-garage because he can now clearly see that it's not a sunny July day outside. He considers his options.

"Come on, Frankie. It's warmer than it looks!" I urge him on.

He gets to the door. Will he or won't he? Like I have to ask.   He will.

Everything is set up for a complete walk to the backyard: the Frankie barrier is up to keep him from taking a right turn down the driveway and on to a Big Walk, and the back yard gate is tied open so he can just walk through without waiting for me.

But he stops on the cement drive that has been warmed by the sun.

"This is as far as I go."  He sits stubbornly with no indication of moving any farther.

I am thinking that after a ten minute warm up Frankie's need to graze will drive him into the backyard. However, he could decide he wants back inside. I could stand here for an hour waiting as he changes his mind several times but I have things to do. I leave the garage door open in case he calls it quits and wants to get back inside and leave the backyard gate tied open in case he goes that direction. I will check on him every ten minutes or so just to make sure he is safe.

And I do check him a couple of times. He remains in the same spot content to bask.

In the gecko room, I eventually get totally preoccupied feeding the geckos. A ten minute check on Frankie is missed, and then another. Before long I am on the last row of geckos nearly done.

Tap, tap, tap…..there is a light knocking on the gecko room door. The hair on my neck stands up. Greg has warned me over and over about leaving the back door open: burglaries, home invasions, kidnappings. I clutch the ten inch tweezers in my fist so I can use it as a weapon. I am not going down without a fight. Cautiously I move across the gecko room to the door. UPS? Postal service? A neighbor? No way. They would knock on the front door. My heart is pounding.

I get to the gecko room door to peer through the window. I am fully alert and alive…these could be my last moments on earth.

First I see a man's dark hair and in the next second I see a dark blue police uniform. I am not sure if I am more frightened or just relieved. The thousands of possibilities of why a police man would enter my house, walk through the garage and tap on the gecko room door flashes thought my mind.

I sort of wonder what my face looked like when I opened the door and he saw me. I should have asked….it could have been interesting to know what he saw – guilt, fear, joy, relief? Heaven knows.

Then I see a second police man in the garage. They both walk into the gecko room.

Just what does a person who is not expecting a "gecko room" first notice: the jungle humidity levels, temperatures like a hot summer day in Florida, basement with windows covered in foil, high-noon bright lights, tons of plants, measuring items....a dogloo.

My heart stops: the police probably think this is a meth lab or marijuana growing room.  These are police officers looking at this room.

At that moment I don't know what the most important thing to say: "Don't shoot, I am not a criminal" or "I raise geckos" or "Is my husband dead?"

The first officer (tall, dark and handsome – yes, I noticed this too) speaks first. "The back door was wide open and the gate was open and there were no cars in the drive way or in the garage, no one answered the door. It looked like a burglary"

Am I relieved or now totally embarrassed? I sputter my explanation as we walk back through the garage and out the door: "Door open for tortoise…..forgot to check….. vacation day….the neighbors know what goes on here……husband works on holidays".

Outside there is not one, not two, but three police cars outside my front house – the whole city police force (we live in a small town) has responded to a possible burglary. Another police officer steps around from the front of the house. A crimson hue of red slips across my face. What will my neighbors think? I repeat over and over to the officers, "I am so sorry, so sorry."

Then I glance over and see Frankie just sitting there. He hasn't moved. He is watching the circus come to town. Frankie looks like he is smiling, maybe even laughing.

To completely clear up everything, I introduce my huge tortoise to the police officers and explain the reason all the doors and gates are open. Yes, they saw Frankie when they approached the house. Really, they didn't know what to think about the huge thing. Then I take them on a tour of the gecko room so there is NO misunderstanding as to what is going on in the basement of my house. It's all legal, there is complete records, I am a known keeper....that WHITE STUFF isn't cocaine it's Frankie's calcium…yes, I buy calcium by the pound.

Oh, gees. What could these guys think?

After a dozen more, "I'm so sorry," the City's Police Department departs from my house.

I walk back to where Frankie is still just sitting there. He is enjoying all of this.

Frankie has managed to bring the whole city police force to my door and into my house.

First thing I do before going back inside is to take down the sign by the backdoor that says "Warning: This House Is Protected By A Killer Tortoise".

Yea, right.

February 14, 2010

Frankie Loves Rosie

Frankie came up to me Sunday and said, "I haven't got anything yet for Rosie for Valentine's day. What can I get for her to say I love You." (Note to readers: Rosie is a female tortoise owned by Marcus O. )

I said, "How about a Valentine Card?"

So Frankie and I went to the store to look at all the Valentine Cards. He looked and looked and looked.

I said, "What's wrong, Frankie? Can't you find a good card for Rosie?"

"None of the pictures on the card look like me! How will she know the card is from me if my picture isn't on it?"

"Okay, Frankie. How about going home and making your own Valentine card for Rosie?"

Off we went home. I got some pink construction paper and crayons for Frankie to use. I left him for just a moment to get some scissors and glue. When I got back he had eaten the pink construction paper and was about to start on the crayons. I took the crayons away so he couldn't make a homemade Valentine card for Rosie.

"Let's go outside and pick some dandelions for Rosie!"

Frankie was very excited about this idea. We got a basket and went outside. Frankie searched the whole backyard while I searched the front yard. There were only a few dandelions around. We found about eight. But Frankie was very happy.

When we got inside I checked inside Frankie's basket for the eight dandelions.

"Frankie, there are no dandelions in your basket. What happen to them?"

"I ate them."

"Well, that's okay. How about we cut up some carrots for Rosie?" Frankie loved this idea.

So we got some carrots and cut them up into small bite sized pieces. I fetched some pink tissue and a box to put them. When I got back I looked for the carrots.

"Frankie, where are are the carrots we cut up for Rosie."

"I ate them."

"Okay, Frankie. Now what are we going to do for Rosie?"

"Can you just sent my Rosie an e-mail telling her how hard I worked all day to say I love you?"

"Of course, Frankie. I will do that right now."

Dear, Rosie,
Happy Valentines Day.
I love you, Rosie.
This romance stuff is hard work.
Yours Forever.

February 13, 2010

Frankie vs. Tigger

Frankie has crossed paths with many dogs during trips to pet stores, visits to the park and walking in pet parades. In general, he just ignores them.

Frankie's general disinterest in dogs suits me just fine. When either takes notice of the other, something passes between the dog and Frankie that just doesn't look like friendship.

Dogs react one of several ways when meeting Frankie. Some dogs take a sniff and then move on as if they had seen a rock or cement block. What ever that was, it's not worth a thought for the rest of their doggy lives.

Some dogs take a look at Frankie, tuck their tails, whimper and move as far away as possible hoping never to encounter such as oddity of nature again.

Occasionally a dog recognizes Frankie as a super-sized chew toy. Those dogs act as if they have hit the doggy-toy-jackpot. Dogs of this nature would love to eat Frankie. They would love to eat him now. They love Frankie the way the Cookie Monster loves cookies.

When it comes to dogs and Frankie, there is just no predicting the outcome in advance. It is a watch and see situation.

The potential risk crossed my mind when a neighbor asked if I would take care of her dog for three days while they were out of town......take care of the dog at my house.

Enter Tigger. Tigger is a medium sized, Boxer/Pit bull/Dalmatian dog mix, weighing in at 65 pounds and standing three foot to the top of his shoulders. Tigger is spoiled (momma loves her Tigger) but a personable, well behaved dog.

As I expected, Tigger would not be left alone when I went to the gecko room for my daily three hour job (watering, feeding, caring, cleaning, cleaning, and cleaning). As long as he was well behaved, Tigger was invited into the gecko room.

Tigger was overwhelmed by a sheer aromatic rapture from 200+ geckos and lizards, and turtles and crickets by the thousands. Tigger wandered about the room exploring sights, sounds and smells never before experienced. Eventually, Tigger came across the most curious of creatures ever: Frankie.

Enter Frankie. Frankie is an eight year old sulcata tortoise, weighing in at 65 pounds, and nearly a foot tall. Frankie is a bit spoiled (momma loves her Frankie), friendly but capable of bulldozing large pieces of furniture.

Due to freezing weather, Frankie was sitting in his igloo, anticipating breakfast, looking forward to a boring day roaming the gecko room, getting under Leann's feet and banging on the door to go outside.

Frankie emerged from his igloo once I set down his breakfast of damp hay mixed with shredded carrots. As hoped, Frankie took one look at Tigger and immediately looked past him like he had just encountered a tree branch - Tigger was of no interest, no consequence, and no bother.

On the other hand, Tigger stared at Frankie as if he "could not believe his doggy eyes." With great fear and exhilaration, Tigger approached Frankie. Keeping his back feet anchored as if on a safety line, Tigger stretched his head and lengthen his body, inching his front feet toward the occupied Frankie.

"Tigger," I gently warned, "behave." Instantly Tigger scrambled backwards and hid behind a near shelf lest he become the monster's next meal. Yet Tigger could not resist this thing, this rock, this whatever!

Mesmerized, Tigger stood intrigued as he witnessed the huge shelled thing walk passed him. Tigger snuck behind Frankie to get a closer look at the igloo -- perhaps the igloo itself had answers. Tigger again anchored his back feet on the ground and lean in this time close enough to put his head through the igloo door to get a big sniff of what ever evidence was left behind.

Only a few times has Frankie giving serious attention to a dog. Once at a pet store there was this black Labrador with raised fur assertively sniffing Frankie. Taking offense to this show of male dog dominance, and without any warning, Frankie lunged toward the dog to show him what was what. Had the dog not has his eyes glued on Frankie, there could have been serious damage to the dog's front legs. Luckily the stunned dog managed to jump to safety. No doubt that dog learned who was boss in Pet Smart.

In the instance of Frankie verses Tigger, Frankie was not trying to show Tigger who was boss in the gecko room, but Frankie clearly wanted Tigger know that the igloo was a Frankie-only-area. With that unexpected and amazingly fast sulcata-ramming-speed, Frankie ran between the igloo and Tigger. Tigger scrambled safely away but still showed intentions to re-investigate should the opportunity arise

Having made his point, Frankie returned to finish his breakfast. Tigger was lucky. Frankie could have taken him out in the surprise from-the-back-sulcata-attack

For the next three days, Tigger was torn between obedience of a law laid down by Frankie and a never ending curiosity of a creature that scared and fascinated the daylights out of him.

It was a draw in the battle of Frankie verses Tigger. Neither had established complete dominance yet neither caved in. Frankie was willing to share space but there were places sacred to him. Tigger took any opportunity when Frankie's shell was turned away to investigate Frankie, the igloo or any Frankie artifact.

Who ever first wrote the words "dogs and turtles don't mix" probably saw the aftermath of what can happen when a dog quits seeing a turtle as a turtle and instead sees a turtle as a chew toy. For now, Tigger and Frankie exist peacefully in separate yards: exactly where they should be.

January 31, 2010

'To Do' List

I really am not into 'to do' lists but somehow they are unavoidable in today's busy world.

Most of the time my weekly 'to do's' are exactly the same as last week so I don't need to write them down. Occasionally lots of other outside events interrupt my daily routine and I can't seem to get organized without some help. List are useful on these occasions.

My husband doesn't like lists much so I keep his 'Honey Do' list to less than 5 items (secretly I keep another 10 'Honey Do' items in the wings). Without his 'Honey Do,' Greg is likely to spend entire weekends tinkering around with his computers and weather station, catching up with his sleep, and watching TV. His 'Honey Do' list keep me from reminding him over and over that things need to be done (he calls this "bossing").

Frankie's 'To Do' list, on the other hand, is redundant, unchanging, and yet completely necessary because he has the brain of a tortoise - selective memory for only the things he wants to remember. Like his name: he remembers his name when I say, "Frankie, you want a carrot?" but cannot remember his name when I say "Frankie, leave the box turtles alone!"

So Frankie's 'To Do' list is short and as far as I am concerned a reasonably easy list to follow. Frankie doesn't think so.

Frankie's Mom-Wants-Me-to-do List
1. Poop on the paper
2. Pee in the igloo
3. Eat all your hay.
4. Stay out from under feet.
5. Leave the box turtles alone
6. Don't re-arrange the gecko room

As far as Frankie is concern, this is his to do list:
Frankie's To Do List (by Frankie)
1. Pick through my hay and eat the chopped lettuce and shredded carrots.
2. Beg for carrots.
3. Make a poop deposit and drag it across the floor
4. Empty the bladder in the middle of the floor
5. Visit Ms Steel Stella (x6)
6. Re-arrange the gecko room

January 24, 2010

Stink Eye

Frankie was soooooo sick. Having a sick sulcata is a mom's worst nightmare. First and foremost, it's mom's fault -- mom is responsible for providing the correct diet, temperatures, space, safety, know what I mean. And I have to feel particularly guilty because I am supposed to know what Frankie needs and take pride in helping other sulcata owners take good care of their sulcata.

So if Frankie gets sick just what does that say about my own abilities. Well, enough of my guilty feelings....just what steps are taken to figure out what's wrong? Oh yeah....The Sulcata Mom Diagnosis Check List.

Does he move? Yes, when proded, Frankie will still give me "stink eye." Double "stink eye" because he is not feeling well. Frankie eyes open and bubbles don't come out of his nose when his sneers "death to mom."

"Gads, mom. I feel bad enough. Do you have to poke me?"

"Oops. Sorry, Frankie. Just had to check if you are alive." He is alive if he can give me attitude. Really, this is a good sign. No obvious signs of upper respiratory infection and Frankie is alive. Really, my top two concerns are eliminated.

Offer Frankie Hay Test. I prepare a handful by soaking it quickly under hot water and present the steamy hay in front of Frankie. He ignores it. Frankie not eating hay isn't really a bad sign. He hates hay anyway and only eats it if he is starving. I can eliminate starving.

The next test is a big one: The Favorite Snack Test. I offer him a carrot.

Frankie doesn't even bother to look at the carrot -- this is a really bad sign. A carrot offering should cause him to alert immediately and charge out of his igloo lest the carrot offer suddenly be revoked. He isn't interested in the carrot. I am cringing.

I double the offer by cutting the carrot up into smaller, bite sized bits and put them so close to his head that he will barely need to move more than three inches to eat them.

Frankie's pathetic look at his favorite treat offered in such a way that only a completely paralyzed tortoise would pass it up just tugs at my heart strings. Maybe I should go get a piece of banana. But I hold out a bit longer. The time that passes between such an offer and Frankie's inability to pass up a carrot says a lot.

There is a 20 second war between Frankie's need to eat the carrot and his sickness. I am sweating like a woman in menopause. Frankie caves in and starts to eat the carrot. This is a good sign. He is not on his deathbed if he finally gives into temptation and eats a carrot.

So, I've learned that he will eat but just doesn't want to get up out of the warm igloo to find a good meal. I am narrowing this illness down to a stomach ache. But the next few hours will say a whole lot more.

After the initial small carrot snack and more time in the igloo, Frankie emerges long enough to make a very slow effort to see if there is any more carrots in his feeding trough. On the way back to his igloo, he poops.

Now the real scientific examination begins. I pick up the poop like its a fallen $100 dollar bill. Ever so carefully holding the poop in a paper towel, I examine the contents of the poop with a tooth pick. Hmmm. The color is much brighter than one would expect in the middle of winter. And the smell is a bit too "green" for the middle of winter. I suspect Frankie has eaten something he shouldn't.

He spent the previous day outside as the temperature was really warm and the sun was out. He roamed all over his yard. With so little green grass Frankie could have been tempted to "sample" some evergreen bushes that he otherwise ignores during the summer. Or some evil person could have thrown something over the fence and Frankie ate it. Or some cat is making deposits in the yard which Frankie can detect at 20 feet. Or, or, or...who knows!

Sulcata will taste test anything. As far as sulcata are concerned food could be hiding anywhere. Sulcata suspect everything is potential food!

So I spend an anxious morning watching Frankie. I note his lack of interesting in walking around the gecko room. I note that there are no visits to Steel Stella. No pestering the box turtles. He is spending more time sleeping than getting under my feet while I am working in the gecko room.

At noon I call the Frankie's veterinarian clinic. I ask if Dr. Atlas will be in the office tomorrow and if there is any open appointments. The office staff assures me that Frankie can be seen tomorrow even if I don't make an appointment.

Anxiously, I anticipate giving Frankie The Favorite Snack Test first thing in the morning.

It is a long day.

It's a long night.

I suspect that if I wake Frankie up one more time he is going to throw something at me. Frankie attitude is always a good sign. At 3:00 a.m. I know Frankie isn't getting worse because he wakes up long enough to give me "stink eye" again.

At 7:00 a.m. I am downstairs again to check on Frankie.

Frankie is at the front of the igloo staring at me impatiently.

"Where is my carrot, woman!"

Big sigh of relief. Frankie is going to be okay.

Yes, Frankie is in full recovery.

January 15, 2010

Cabin Fever

Frankie survived thirty of the coldest days I've seen in Alabama....well, sort of. During the last few weeks he didn’t spend a total of ten minutes outside. But for the fist few weeks all he did was try to get outside.

Being inside is just unacceptable to Frankie, having a large yard and outdoor shelter and all. Frankie thinks he can do well outside in all weather.

During the first few weeks of the cold snap, Frankie demanded daily to go outside. The time outside was short as all Frankie could do take a few bites of grass and then head back inside. This is not enough time outside for Frankie.

It didn’t take long before he suffered from the effects of cabin fever. I would go downstairs and Frankie would be waiting at the door. “Get outta the way, woman. I’m going outside.”

"Fine," I think to myself. "It is 16 degrees out there. Let’s see how far you get."

Sometimes he would make it passed the gecko room door and into the garage but never did he make it all the way to the grass. Most days he would turn around inside the garage. Life was looking bleak.

It got to the point where Frankie would have to see sunlight coming through the door before he attempted to go outside. He figured it was worth the try since sun equals heat. But when temperatures are in the 20's, no sun is enough sun for a tortoise.

During the last week, Frankie quit asking to go outside. He knew hay, although not to his liking, would be hand served. If he looked pathetic enough he may get graded carrots and chopped lettuce in his hay. Frankie got good at looking pathetic.

Last weekend he got to go to Petsmart. He was unhappy because he had to go into the cold garage.

Frankie had given up all hope. There wasn't such a thing as warm sunlight, fresh green grass, and acres of land to walk. Nope. All he had was a small gecko room. a miniature obstacle course, a heated igloo and a silver dome girlfriend named "Stella": Frankie spend so much time with Stella that I was starting to wonder if I was contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

So today I had the opposite problem - I couldn't get Frankie outside. And for the first time in a month, outside is warmth, sunshine, and a little fresh grass. I have to drag the big-shelled-lump out. I have to drag him to the grass, and I have to lead him to the backyard.

He is out there basking. Four hours now. He looks toasty warm. It’s getting late. I don’t think he wants to come back inside. I think he has strapped himself to a tree.

It will be in the 30’s tonight.

He’ll be knocking at the door before the sun goes down.

January 5, 2010


It’s cooooool outside. Frosty cold doesn’t even describe it or even icy cold. It’s crunchy cold! Yep, that describes it. That is how your bones feel and your fingers and your nose when outside. Crunchy is how everything outside is: crunchy garbage can, crunchy car axles, crunchy grass, crunchy water crystals in Frankie’s outdoor pool. Crunchy weather is not sulcata weather.

Whether or not Frankie has adjusted to time inside is critical. A bored Frankie turns destructionator in an instant.

Supplied with some distractions like Steel Stella, a walking maze through the gecko room, regular shell rubs, daily carrots, Frankie is some-what adjusted to indoor living.

Except for food. Too cold outside for daily grazing, Frankie has to accept what I give him. This just isn’t working out that well. Frankie has one idea of his indoor cuisine and I have another.

Offered: Oxbow Orchard Hay
Frankie wants: Bag of Spring Greens and Heart of Romaine

Offered: Hibiscus flowers
Frankie wants: The whole hibiscus bush

Offered: A daily carrot for a snack.
Frankie wants: Apples, bananas, strawberries, and cantaloupe.

Offered: Small amounts of hand picked nut grass and winter weeds
Frankie wants: Dandelions, rose pedals, plaintain and other favorite summer weeds

Offered: Shredded carrots in hay soaked in warm water because Frankie refuses to eat dry hay.
Frankie wants: To go outside and graze on fresh green grass for two to four hours.

This is the big conflict between what Frankie wants and what I allow him. Consequently, while indoors, Frankie eats very little. I get somewhat concern that he may be on a hunger strike for which there is just nothing I can do. What fresh grass existed outside during November and December has turned crunchy brown in January. Frankie can’t spend two hours looking for what green grass is hiding outside without turning into a crispy critter himself.

Today, like clockwork, Frankie demands to go outside. It’s 24 degrees F. outside. I expect Frankie to make it as far as the garage door before realizing that NO sulcata needs to be out in this weather and he will turn around and go back inside. But surprise! Frankie not only proceeds outside, he heads up to hunt down the last remaining green grass. He spends fifteen minutes outside grazing as much as he possibly can.

I almost expect to find a frozen Frankie statue outside but somehow he manages to get what grass he can and heads inside to his waiting warm igloo.

Well I am amazed. Frankie would rather face the crunchy cold than eat the hay I have lovingly provided.

…..hmm. Maybe I am missing the point. If he only eats a little everyday yet remains healthy on a this more slender diet then there is less poops for me to pick up. I guess I can continue to be concerned about his diet but I can appreciate the other side of the coin. Nothing wrong with a little less poop.