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May 21, 2011

A Tortoise in a Dog and Cat World

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 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.

May 1, 2011

we r ok

hi we r ok. frankie alive n well. got house. no shutters. got roof. no shingles. big oak tree fell. fence is part bye bye. no internet or elect. no phone. got generator. frankie new house less one door. pass news to any one worried about frankie. he is fine. send carrots.
(This was the only message we were able to get out to Frankie's friends on the day of the Birmingham AL tornadoes.

There was no warning.  Unless you count the Severe Weather and Thunderstorm Watch that was given at midnight. I woke up for that.  Our weather alarm radio in our bedroom blared the warning waking me from my sleep. But I went back to sleep knowing that radio alarm would scream alerts all night if the weather started getting bad.

At five o'clock, it didn't.

At five o'clock when the house shook and trees started slapping the side of our house followed by the very distinct, unforgettable train two-feet-from-your-house-sound, I knew it was already too late. Too late to take shelter. What ever it was, was happening right then, at the moment and there was no time to head to the basement.

I lived in Oklahoma for almost 40 years so I have the "flee to the basement" instinct. When the hail starts, lightening flashes with thundering simultaneously, and the train sound begins, it's just too late.  That morning, it was too late.

Being a dumb Okie and knowing it was too late, I go to the window and to see what's knocking my house around. Greg yells at me to get away from the windows. He is right because something is slamming the windows and it's not rain or hail.

But then I get really, really, dumb. I think about Frankie. I wonder how well his new outdoor house is working. Is it close enough to the house? Is Frankie scared? I've got to go check.

While Greg is intentionally doing something (I have no idea, I am only thinking of Frankie) I head to the back door, put my Frankie shoes on (always by the back door, always ready), and open the door.

"Wow!" I am thinking, "This is really bad and I must be nuts to be out here." This moment of clear thinking has no effect on me, as I see that our back-porch gazebo is no longer on the porch but in the yard wrapped like a pretzel on a tree, the awning torn to shreds. Nope, I keep going and rush down to Frankie's house.

I open Frankie's house left door and the wind and I have a brief tug of war with the door.  The wind wins and the door rips from Frankie's house and flies to the other side of the yard.

"That was dumb, Leann," I think to myself, "Now rain is going to get inside Frankie's enclosure."

I duck into Frankie's enclosure and lift the interior lid to see how he is. Frankie is peacefully sleeping. I close his lid and back out.

Lighting and thunder cracks as if it's in my neighbor's yard. Another sane thought enters my mind. "This is really dangerous, I could be hit by lightening."

But no, I spot Frankie's door against the fence and go to fetch it. Wind is whipping around me.  The trees stir viciously as they battle to hold onto the earth. I pick up Frankie's door. The wind fights to repossess the door the whole entire way back to Frankie's house. I manage to hold onto it.

At Frankie's house I try to force the door back on. I need a crow bar or something to lever it on. Another thought beams through my mind, "I am really wet." I jam the door into place.

Just as I get the door jammed in, Greg appears at the back door. He looks absolutely calm like he is when he is watching "How It's Made" on TV. There is no panic in his face as he looks at me.  Very calmly but firmly he says, "Get. Back. In. The. House."

Good idea. What made me think I could go outside? Did I think I was going to save Frankie?

Yep. An F2 tornado swept across our neighborhood. We were lucky. No one died in our neighborhood. Lot's of people lost much more than we did. We didn't loose anything. Nothing insurance won't cover.

But Greg now knows for a fact:  when it comes to Frankie, I am plain stupid.