Preparation starts as far back as January as we wait to hear the dates for Birmingham's Do Dah Day.
Frankie gets to do something he really loves to do: The Big Walk. This is just not any Big Walk, this is Do Day Day Pet Parade! This is a huge "pet event" and "pet parade" raising funds to help shelter animals. Frankie goes rain or shine. Even Greg goes. This year would be Frankie's 6th year.
Frankie is ecstatic about a few things: carrots, dandelions and Big Walks. Frankie responds to a limited vocabulary: "No!," "Want a carrot?," "Want a treat?," "Frankie!" and "Wanna go for a walk?" All other phrases and words he either doesn't understand or chooses to ignore.
So when Frankie attended his first Do Dah Day 2005, it instantly became the perfect event for him. Every year. Even in 2009 when it nearly got rained out, Frankie was there. He was one of only a handful of parade walkers (about 1/5th the normal number). He loved it.
So preparations for 2011 Do Dah Day started early: walk Frankie around the block so he gets in shape, attend the Walk for Autism for practice, update Frankie's information cards, get mom a new pair of tennis shoes, post on Do Day Day's Facebook to so show how excited Frankie is, go over parking arrangements, practice using new Frankie trolley in case he has to be moved fast, and pack Frankie supplies.
At 80 pounds and 9 years old, Frankie is nimble and quick on his feet; he walks faster than ever before. But, Frankie is a bigger challenge for two middle age folk who must continuously invent cleaver ways transport and handle him. In fact, if it weren't for these events and parades, there would be little need to be innovate. Frankie could just live his entire life in the back yard. After all, he is just a typical backyard tortoise.
But Do Dah Day is such a fun event. Frankie meets lots of people and he is a Do Day Day attraction. Frankie participation has been featured in newspaper stories, videos, blogs, and TV reports. There is even an entry about Frankie in Briwiki (Birmingham Wiki).
Okay, so I am going on too much. Maybe it will help explain my reaction to this year's parade.
We were real lucky to get a parking spot two blocks from the parade start. Yeah! The walk to the parade start was less than usual. As Frankie is lifted out of the car people notice. Those who know him (they remember him) yell, "Hey, Frankie!." Everyone else looks astonished and then starts asking the 10 questions.
This is our moment for education.
"Where did you find him?" Frankie was captive bred. He was not removed from wild or his natural habitat.
Wow, what a cool pet? Sulcata tortoises are not for everyone. It takes a lot of planning. They need very specific living conditions.
Will he bite me? No, he is a vegetarian.
How long do they live? How much does her weigh?.....etc.
While answering questions and getting pictures, it takes us ten minutes to get to the sign up booth.
"Where do I sign in turtles?" I ask. From behind the table the response is: "Oh yeah! You brought Frankie again!"
While Frankie is being signed in as a Fun Walker, Fox News and the Associated Press and taking pictures and asking questions. There are sign up sheets for contests. There is no contests for Frankie. The contests are primarily for dogs: best dressed dog, ugly dog, etc. Frankie is okay just being a walker: he is here for The Big Walk.
No sooner than do I pick up the fun walker wrist band, turn around and catch up with Frankie that the Parade Official approaches me.
"Are you taking Frankie in the parade again." Yes.
"Are you using the cart?" No, he has out grown it, but we have a trolley.
"Is he going to be on that during the parade?" Um, no.
"Well unless he is on his trolley or on a float, he will have to start at the parade in the back."
So I ask her "What?"
"He will have to start in the back" she says explaining how the walkers and dogs and floats and cars have to navigate around him.
So I explain that we have been working on steering him better to the side. I have more control.
I get the nope, nada, not happening expression from her.
She tells me, "He slows down the parade."
HE IS A TORTOISE!
He walks slower than dogs. We know this. We start him early. We steer him to the side so cars and groups can get around him. They all get past him by. Frankie gets to walk almost half the parade before the police tell us to get Frankie off the street. We like to say Frankie is first to start the parade and the last to finish the parade. Even Fox News mentioned it on their show this morning.
He slows down the parade. He slows down the parade. He slows down the parade.....
If I was in a wheel chair would I have to start in the back of the parade.
So we move to the very back of the line. Behind 18 vehicles and floats, a 75 or so dogs and walkers. We wait until the last has passed us by. Can we go now?
So we start walking. We walk 20 feet and the police vehicle that brings up the rear tells us we have to get off the street. But we are in the parade! We either keep up with the parade or get off the street.
Frankie is blissfully unaware of the events unfolding around him. All he knows is he was promised a walk and he has his eye on the horizon. We divert him to the sidewalk and walk our own parade on the sidewalk. It's a short parade. Frankie does not get The Big Walk.
Is there no room for a tortoise in a "pet parade" except in the back?
Sorry, Frankie. You're a tortoise in a dog and cat world.