Frankie Tortoise Tales Frankie Tortoise Tails sulcata care tortoise sulcata husbandry Frankie Tortoise Tails Frankie Tortoise Tails: March 2011



March 30, 2011

Dreaded Delivery

It arrived in the mailbox. It’s as welcome as the annual reminder that my dental appointment approaches. I haven’t thought about it since last year. But there it is: the dreaded yearly wellness exam postcard from Frankie’s veterinarian.

I ignore the friendly reminder with the cute dog who says, “Can’t wait to see you again.”

Yeah, right.

Three weeks go by. A second postcard arrives from Riverview Animal Hospital. This time the picture is a Chihuahua sticking his tongue out at me, “Don’t forget.” I shutter.

There is a “list” of family needs: new tires for the Prius, a motherboard for Greg’s computer, and a laptop for me. But yes, Frankie has to get on the list. His annual check up is important.

In the past taking Frankie to the veterinarian was easy and fun. I get to show off my beautiful giant of a tortoise, so healthy, so interesting, so big….so strong, so smelly.

I must solve the bathing problem. But I am ignoring the post card reminder again.

Two more days pass. I find the post card tucked in among the monthly bills.

Just what is bothering me about this visit? What am I really afraid of?

I’ve accepted the bill can be anywhere from $125 to $300. Money is in the budget for Frankie but yes, it pushes the laptop purchase into April. I can handle that.

Okay, Greg has to be part of the transportation. I can’t pick up Frankie alone. Last year it was very helpful to have two Frankie experts during the “x-ray” event.

So what has my stomach all in knots? What is it that I am dreading? Honestly?

This year, Frankie gets his first ever “blood panel.” Frankie has never gotten a shot before.

Does this sound easy? Think it’s an accomplishable task? Aren’t veterinarians and veterinarian technicians skilled at this?

Keepers with sulcata tortoises that weigh ten pounds or more know what I am talking about. I’ve heard stories.

Three reasons to “fear the sulcata”: 1) They are strong, 2) They are really, really strong, and 3) they have a very, very hard shell. Did I forget to mention they are really, really strong?

Let me describe it this way. If you put your hand around the bend of a sulcata’s front leg and the sulcata decides to pull his leg back into his shell just as far as he can get it, it’s gonna hurt.

If the hand jams into the shell as the sulcata pulls back there will be screaming: screaming like a little girl screaming.

If the sulcata decides to keep your hand five inches into this shell, it’s gonna stay. A body building car mechanic with a crow bar may be needed.

But image Frankie lets the veterinarian extend his front arm because he has no fear of anything. Hmmm, since Frankie will never allow this, image another sulcata in his place. This sulcata even likes to have his head pet. This does not matter, that sulcata is going to strongly object to the sharp needed required to gain a blood sample.

Giving a shot is still easier than taking a blood sample. Taking a blood sample is gonna be more challenging. I’m betting the average veterinarian doesn’t have lots of experience giving large land tortoises shots.

Frankie isn’t gonna allow an unskilled person with a needle anywhere near his softer skin. It will take a highly skilled tortoise veterinarian with a voice like a lullaby and warm soft touch just to get Frankie to give permission to touch his upper leg area.

I’ve never owned a pet that has caused a veterinarian physical harm. I brought in all kinds of potentially dangerous animals to my veterinarians: feral cats, frighten dogs, wild critters and even the dreaded Tasmanian devil-pit bull of the reptile world, the much hated and guaranteed to bite the wholly crap outta anyone: the Tokay gecko.

I fear none of those animals will compare to getting a blood sample from Frankie. I have no earthy idea how Dr. Atlas is going to get blood from Frankie, and Dr. Atlas specializes in turtles.

Do veterinarians carry hazardous occupation insurance or permanent disability insurance?

I have worked myself up into a huge frenzy dreading the possible outcomes of this event. No, I have not made an appointment yet for Frankie’s annual examination.

These reminder post cards from the veterinarian clinic give me heart palpitations. I don’t even want to go to the mail box anymore.

I think I have started grinding my teeth. Going to the dentist just doesn’t seem all that traumatic anymore.

March 22, 2011

A Southern Dish

Frankie went on his first walk around the block today.


I was peacefully sitting on the couch writing another Frankie Tortoise Tail when I heard a knock at my front door. Postal Worker? UPS? FedEx? No, it's a lady dressed in a T-shirt with a frog on it. This is interesting, but I am weary of solicitors. I throw caution in the wind and answer the door.

“Your turtle is around the block!” she is a bit frantic.

At first there is no comprehension on my part. My mind sees Frankie walking out the garage door this morning and sitting on his favorite basking spot. When was that? An hour ago?

“He is moving pretty fast up the street.”

This makes sense. The little box turtles in this area don't move all that quickly.

“I saw him walk past my house. I remembered that you had a big turtle you walked. I didn't have your phone number so I came over and got you right away. He is up the street over there,” she points not to the street in front of us, not to the area at the bottom of our street but farther past and up the next street.

Wow. Frankie is walking the regular path we go when we walk around the neighborhood.

I then picture myself running a couple of blocks to catch up with Frankie. By the time I get there I will be near a heart attack and unable to get him back home. As I step out my door to pinpoint Frankie's location I notice that the neighbor drove her car here. OMG. How far is “over there?”

Opting to conserve my strength for Frankie-recovery, I ask if she can drive me to where she last saw Frankie. She says, “Sure.” I grab my outside Frankie shoes (always by the door, always ready for an emergency), grab my keys and follow her to her car.

Just as I get to her car I hear a loud voice call out from “over there,”


I don't even know exactly where I am yelling or to who but I answer, “YES!!! I AM. I AM COMING!” I can yell very loud.

We get into her car. She backs out of my drive way, down the street, and turns right.

A white City of Leeds pick up truck is partially blocking the street and a man is walking by Frankie's side attempting to “guide him.”

Thanking my neighbor (whom I have never met but she knows me...I mean she knows Frankie) I get out of the car and make the final sprint to the runaway Frankie and new friend.

“Is this your turtle?” he asks. I acknowledge him, yes this monster is mine.

“I thought it was one of those snapping turtles. I was gettin’ ready to put it in the back of my truck and cook it up for dinner.” His cell phone rings. “Yeah, it belongs to someone. Nope we can't eat it.”

The guy then explains to me that he saw Frankie at the very top of the street. He turned Frankie around and headed him back down the street when he heard me yell. “He was walking really fast.”

Frankie would make good time. This is our familiar route around the neighborhood. Two more turns and Frankie would have made it to the main street where turtles are at grave risk, from cars and more people that would eat them.

What is it about Alabama that so many people here savor the idea of cooking Frankie?

The guy’s two friends in another city pick up arrive in time to take photos and hear stories about how the first guy saw Frankie and decided he wanted to eat him. They all laugh as they decide that Frankie is big enough to feed all three of them and their families. I am rolling my eyes. I explain that land tortoises meat can be a fatal to humans due to some of the food items they eat like poison mushrooms.

I am telling a big fat white lie. Still, these three guys will think twice before taking a tortoise home for dinner.

So Frankie is back under my control again. The Good Samaritan neighbor asks if I want to put Frankie in the backseat of her car to drive home. No telling what Frankie would do to her backseat so I tell her I will walk him back home. From here to home is a normal walk distance for Frankie and me.

…..with no water, or tortoise pick-up straps, or skate board, or garden cart.

We start down the street. Frankie wants to taste test all the newly blooming flowers at each neighbor's yard. Five houses later I start picking dandelions and lining them up one after the other to keep Frankie walking a straight path home. We get to the neighbor's house that uses weed killer. There are no dandelions for the next six houses. My luck.

It turns into a battle of wits vs. brute stubborn strength. I am loosing a battle over bright yellow flowers planted by a mail box. I am going to have to pick Frankie up.

I am wondering how much Advil I have in the house.

Straighten back, tighten core stomach muscles, clasp hands around struggling 75 pound sulcata, pick up with the legs and not the back. Realize it does not matter, this is gonna hurt. Take seven steps holding 75 pound tortoise and realize there is no way I can walk up this steep hill any farther without requiring hospitalization. At least we are past the yellow flowers.

Three houses to go. Two houses to go. We are at the bottom of our drive way. Our drive way is steeper than all the other streets and driveways in the neighborhood. I am wondering if God is testing me.

Frankie and I get to the top of the drive where I can see the busted down cinder block and fence post barrier that keeps Frankie headed to the back yard. The posts look like they've been thrown about like toothpicks.

We pass over the posts and make it to the grass leading to the back yard.

Oh, crap. This is all my fault. I am to blame. Yes, I put Frankie outside this morning. He did stop to bask at his favorite morning basking spot. He would have then proceeded to his backyard paradise for grazing and walking. But no. Leann forgot to open the gate.

What was a sulcata to do? I guess Frankie waited for a few moments for me to meet him at the gate and let him in. But no, I was inside writing a Frankie Tortoise Tails (not this one, but another one). Frankie probably decided to go back to the garage door. Seeing the door closed he had but no other choice than crash through the barrier and take a walk around the neighborhood.

He really can't be doing this alone. It's too dangerous out there. He could get lost. Dumb dogs could attack him. He could get run over by a car. Worse of all, here in Alabama, too many people think he looks like dinner.

March 10, 2011

Poopology 101

Today is the fourth day Frankie is inside after romping around outside for three spring-like weeks. Compare this to a child raised in the open lands of a small Texas town and that child's reactions when suddenly moved to the cramped city of Manhattan. It's difficult.

Is there a good side to Frankie staying indoors? From his view point, no. I can think of a couple of small nice reasons to have him close at hand (singing "Good morning, Frankie") but above all, I can continue my studies into Poopology.

Of all the animals I have cared for (small list – horses, dogs, goat, cats, ducks, chickens, fish, iguana, birds, turtles, geckos, husband...etc.) none have poops as fascinating as the sulcata tortoise's. Is fascinating the right word?

With the help of Sulcata Math (use of mathematics and physics with variances unique to the species and first described by sulcata owner, Farmer) the study of poop is a unique yet highly accurate view into Frankie's physiology.

If I lost a reader for a moment, let me make this simple: what goes into the front end of Frankie comes out the back end of Frankie packed with information as to the well being and even the travels of my sulcata friend. For nearly ten years, I have observed and studied Frankie's output like a scientist.

Getting to the point of all this: I cut a small pumpkin in half to feed to the crickets yesterday. I had no intention of giving half a pumpkin to Frankie who has not grazed for four days. His total food input for these last few days equals a few hands full of hay and weeds daily. It's simple sulcata math:

Frankie + dry hay (DH) = no poop. This is because Frankie will not eat dry hay.

Frankie + hand full of moistened hay (MH) = 1 poop.

Frankie + MH + hand full of weeds (weeds) and grass (grass) = 2 poops.

Frankie + grazing grass & weed divided by available March outdoor foliage growth X 3 hours outdoors = five large poops.

Frankie + unlimited summer outdoor grazing yields 1 compost container of sulcata poops + 30 days sun = sulcata gold.

Oops, got excited and a head of myself.

If the above formulas are changed by adding any vegetable or food content that is high in sugar, moisture or fiber, the output poop is greatly effected.

So (back to yesterday), the cut pumpkin was divided among 5,000 crickets leaving half a small pumpkin. This was set aside for the next day's cricket food. Out of Leann's sight, out of Leann's mind.

Frankie watched my gecko chores for a while then set out to stroll about the room for a bit. Frankie finds ½ pumpkin. I am on the other side of the room. Frankie eats ½ pumpkin.

Poopology says that the resulting effect will be.....interesting, from a scientific view point.

Frankie + handful of MH, grass & weeds + ½ pumpkin = 4 poops moist enough for Frankie to step in and drag along the floor like an Avant-Garde artist tossing paint on a clean white canvas laid prone on the floor. Add 1 quart sulcata pee to the poop and this is Sulcata Art.

Poopology helps me to anticipate potential Frankie messes indoors: how many large beach towels to stow, should I have Monday and Tuesday's newspapers nearby or the Friday, Saturday and Sunday editions, or will I deeply regret not washing all the gecko room rags yesterday when I had the chance.

Paper towels? Ha! There are not enough paper towel coupons or store sales that could make these affordable to use on Frankie's output. This is Sulcata math we are discussing, not how many paper towels are needed in a house with a two year old toddler.

Is the masterpiece on the floor all I should expect from Frankie today? Ha! Poopology teaches me that there will be more.

Pumpkin poop + pee = little brownish droplets that tells a story like blood at a violent crime scene. I can determine Frankie's walk direction, if he has stopped for a moment to consider if a piece of paper on the floor is editable, and if he pushed a cricket container today or if the container was moved yesterday....all from the tell-tell droplets of poop mixed with pee issued from Frankie's rear end.

The masterpiece at my feet is nothing unusual to me. Each color, each texture, each form tells a story about Frankie. Frankie's poop speaks when he cannot speak. I am the scant interpreter. Frankie's official turd inspector. I know a good poop when I see it. I can read the logs. I hope for poop. I worry when Frankie doesn't give a crap.

I am a master of Poopology.

So, excuse me while I destroy a masterpiece.

(Dedicated to my friends at Sulcata Station's Yahoo Group, the Arizona Sulcata Group, and Turtle Rescue Long Island who all taught me all the crap I know.)

March 6, 2011

Peace of Frankie

I woke this morning just after 5:00 am, my mind restless from the previous day’s dealings, and dreading events developing overnight. Knowing there may be e-mails needing immediate attention, I turned on the computer and begin reading various e-mails from multiple souls deep in a power struggle over a small organization but evidently important enough to create a rash of dueling words.

Mustering wit and knowledge, I write e-mail after e-mail attempting to negotiate parties to an agreement without slashing personal feelings to bits. By 7:00 am, my mind was ruptured and overwrought. The usually fun computer looked fiendishly mean and I’m desperate to find somewhere peaceful. With cup of coffee in hand, I headed down stairs to the gecko room.

The geckos have a joyful influence on me, but I am seeking out the peaceful effect that Frankie has no matter how chaotic the world seems.

Frankie, tucked snug under his Kliban Cat Beach towel, has an immediate serene effect on my even though he is a mere bowl shape under a cat towel deep in his beauty sleep. I don't disturb Frankie but instead face my chair toward his snoozing shell and appreciate the magical spell he has on me.

I have a cat, Newt, whose job is to lower my blood pressure, but being a new addition to the family and have the antics of a two year old cat, she would rather be chased around the living room or play catch & kill with one of a dozen mouse toys that squeak at the slightest ouch, rather be a therapeutic cat who will sit on my lap and purr me into oblivion

At the moment, Frankie is a better destination than the cat.

After ten minutes of my arrival and silent vigil before Frankie, he stirs in reaction me. Although completely covered under the cat towel, he senses my presence and scoots around from head-in-wall sleeping position to head-toward-human-in-room position. I pull his cat beach towel back.

“Yep,” Frankie silently acknowledges me, “It's her.”

Yep, it's me and my intention is just to sit and watch Frankie do his important morning routine which is nothing.

Frankie does a Big Frankie Yawn and dozes on and off as I sit and sip coffee. Occasionally he closes his eyes, but his face never moves away from my direction. He contemplates me as one listen to music: there is not much to watch, but something toward which to face and pay attention.

Frankie is in no hurry. His morning post-wake-up routine is a two hours of doing nothing. Outdoors waits for Frankie but he is patient to let the day warm up before he makes demands to go outside. He has morning poops to complete before venturing outside and those too have plenty of time to make an appearance (as they always do).

In the morning, this potential destroyer of rooms, mover of furniture, digger of tunnels, walker of miles, and feaster of lawns, is a picture of peace, serenity, and nothingness demonstrating one of the greatest qualities of a sulcata tortoise: The joy of absolutely nothing.

“Are you done yet, Frankie?”

“Nope. Still have lots of nothing to do.” Frankie is extremely good at this.

Yep, in a while I will have to be back upstairs armed with words, a spell checker and endless edits. I will be negotiating the insane, calming the Norse God of wind, and soothing bruised egos ready to burst like a pimple: all good people in a crazy situation.

The laptop in my hands has no internet connection. I write about Frankie. I can just sit with him until it's time to go outside. I'll choose to escort him to his outdoor paradise where he will find the perfect basking spot. I think I'll take a chair outside and sit with him for a while.

Cats may be warm, cuddly, and full of purrs but Frankie has so much more to offer. When he isn't taking down the furniture, he has darn right a peaceful influence on my life.