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



August 26, 2011

Backyard invasion

Today, Frankie and I are sitting under the porch and witnessing another backyard invasion...of a better kind.  Months following the Alabama tornadoes we enter the final phase of yard clean-up.  We are not complaining.  The clean up of a yard is very low on the tornado recovery list....unless you are a tortoise who wants his yard back.

When our tree team arrived the crew leader warned all the other men to watch out for the baby turtle that is in the yard....ha ha!  Um, more like a monster!

"How big?" They all asked.
I say, "How about, you-can't-miss-him Big"


On cue walks out the 85 pound beast of the yard, master of the grass, the one whom you offend by your imagined brute-presence.  You may think you are tough.  Frankie is tougher.

But fear not, the quick moving shell is a vegetarian and not looking for a tennis shoe breakfast.

Frankie takes a quick look at the men in jeans and decides it's just too hot to show them who is master of the yard.  I don't think the guys questioned who is master of the yard, they are just shell shocked.

I love hiding under the porch with Frankie watching the backyard activity of a bunch of men who spend the next 30 minutes discussing the biggest dang turtle they've ever seen.  ....have I warned the guys that Frankie has a web-cam?   Watching the web cam one would catch the men seeking glimpses of Frankie every time they walk by the patio.

Frankie knows these are strangers.  Frankie recognizes people.  He knows me.  He knows Greg.  He knows visitors.  He knows when he is being introduced.

Greg's mother, Fran, is here for the week spending time with us.  When she met Frankie, his regard towards her was simply amazing.  There was no distant consideration of what she was doing in the yard as Frankie did with the tree men.  Oh, no.  Frankie came right up to Fran, stretched up his neck just as high as he could, his eye's brightly shiny.  She was very welcome in his yard.

When it comes to sulcata language it's all in the shell and the eyes.

Back to the yard.  Frankie is sitting under the porch, his back shell toward the crew and head turned away.  Now and again he will turn his head but mostly he is listening intently to the going on's of the men.  Frankie's eyes are not fully open but instead shifting to and fro.  He is on alert.

If those rolling logs put down feet, Frankie will be ready for them.

If that roaring chainsaw tries to take up residence, there will be trouble.

Suddenly, Frankie gives me a Big Frankie Yawn.  Mom has things under control.  Wake me up, will ya Mom, if there's any butt kicking to do.  Until then.  I'm taking a nap. 

August 16, 2011


Day two of poop-elation at my house.  Okay, so you have to own a sulcata tortoise to understand what poop-elation means and how it feels after sick Frankie for 10 plus days.

Ten days of sad, miserable, I-don’t-want-to-do-anything, no-pooping sulcata is a sign of big trouble.  This results in a very expensive visit to Frankie’s veterinarian and a tell-all x-ray starring poop with stage fright (….no, that’s not right), I mean poop with a refusal to show it’s ugly face because the story it tells may just be a tragedy.  This was followed by a week of daily medicine, hours of Frankie soaking in pool and rain (his preferred choice of soaking), and enough cactus pads to keep a local Hispanic grocery market in business.
The poop diary over those days was bleak.  The average sulcata poop dump on a typical summer day should count more than 10 very generous fibrous poops.  Frankie was eeking out maybe one to two each day.  Poop dissection revealed lots of leaf litter, pine needles and an occasional rock:  items that should not be in happy sulcata poop.

But yesterday, a breakthrough!  The otherwise would be miserable Frankie was a mighty proud producer of five large morning poops.   And just to prove there was no outside donor Frankie produced one more with me as a witness.  I did my happy-poop tap dance.  The poop dissection revealed 100% pure indigestible fibrous grass remains.  I became a backyard cheer leader. 

The rest of the day Frankie spend walking, grazing, relaxing as I smiled from the sidelines.  Big sigh of relief.  Frankie is going to be okay.  I can afford to pay for Greg’s birthday present (he already bought it). 

…..but maybe I am getting too far ahead.  After all, tortoises are slow to get sick and even slower to get well.  I’ve already announced to everyone about Frankie’s 5 poop delivery and there is a chance it’s not over yet…..

Oh, but this morning, another big pile of Frankie poop!  Whooooooo hooooooo!  Leann happy dance.  Happy, happy, happy!  Poop dissection reveals very warm, summer green, all grass fiber contents complete with fresh as Frankie’s butt aroma.  Whooooo hoooo!

Frankie, looking at me from under the patio, looks annoyed at my behavior.  Then I notice that he has pushed his Dogloo from its original spot.  And the blue pool that was full of water yesterday is empty and crumbled like a napkin.  Across the yard I spot the old grey plastic chair that was by the gate yesterday.  The chair has a new crack across the seat.

Whoooooooo hooooooo!  Frankie the descruction-antor is back!!!!   

August 13, 2011

Not feeling so good

Frankie is not feeling so good. 

It started about a week ago during a heat wave. Frankie brumated on the hottest days. He stayed in his enclosure not bothering to come out to graze or walk which is not so unusual during the hot days. But even in the evening when he would usually come out, he stayed inside.

Then the weather improved, cloudy skies and lower temperatures. Frankie failed to exit his abode. This is unusual. Frankie would usually take advantage of a break in the weather. He would head out for as long as possible to make up for missing days grazing and walking.

I dragged his shelled-self out of his enclosure one evening since his abode needed a poop-mucking after a weeks worth of Frankie offerings.  As soon as he abode was poop free, he went right back in.  I was suspicious. 

The next day, Frankie began marathon visits to his pool. A ten minute soak would advance to a thirty minute soak, and finish around an hour. Usually, Frankie is fan of short soaks. He is more like a drink-n-spill, a poop-n'-go, or a pee-n'-go kind of fellow. Suddenly he acted more like an aquarium turtle than a land tortoise. Water is good for sulcata and soaking is good for a sulcata but an all-day pool party is out of the norm for Frankie.

And then it rained. He interrupted his burmating for sit in the rain. Regardless of how miserable he felt he chose to sit in the rain rather seek shelter. Then it dawned on me that he was soaking in the rain. I've heard of this. The minute it starts raining, sulcata head out into the rain. Sulcata are taking advantage of the rain. Now I understand Frankie's insatiable love of rain.

So here is Frankie, double soaking: in his pool and in the rain. He just had to be waterlogged.

It was a few days into all this that I did take him to his his doctor. I had too. After watching a non-normal Frankie, brooding around and looking sad, I administered the sulcata wellness test: offer Frankie a carrot, his favorite treat.

Frankie turned it down. Uh, oh. So I did the Just-How-Sick-Is-The-Sulcata-Test. I offered him a small bit of banana. Frankie turned it down. 

Oh, shells! This is bad.

Into the house to make an urgent appointment with Dr. Atlas. At the veterinarian clinic, the usually exploring, lets-move-the-reception-room-furniture-the-way-I-like-it Frankie sat in a corner. A third ominous sign.

Dr. Atlas took the history: lethargic even when during good weather, reduce poop output, increased brumation, refusing favorite treat, refusing banana.

Dr Atlas took out some land tortoise food and put it down in front of Frankie. Frankie smelled at it and then ate it. When he was finished, Frankie went back into the corner.

He is eating,” Dr Atlas says.

Well yeah. But he isn't chasing you around the room trying to get more.”

Dr. Atlas considers this. “There is that.”

Frankie gets an x-rays which revel he has bowels full of poop and “substances”. “Substances” would be non-sulcata approved food items that sulcata eat just to prove they can and do eat anything. The good news is there is no nails, sticks, rocks or plastics. He has no gas bubbles in his intestines which is also good news. But he has lots to pass, and pass it must before Frankie will feel better.

Doctors orders: Take 7 each tabs of Metoclopramide/Reglan each day. Feed aloe vera, cactus plants or any sulcata safe laxative plants and lots of grass and hay. I am ordered on Poop Watch: how many, what is in them.

So Frankie goes home to begin the road to wellness. I go home to start Poop Patrol. Yep, I look through each and every fresh poop looking for the right stuff and wrong stuff. I think Shakespeare said something like “Out, damned poop” in Macbeth, or maybe that was spot or blood, but the point is Sulcata stink hangs on like grass stains white cotton. Thirty minutes later and three soapy hand washings and I can still smell Frankie butt on my hands.

So besides Poop Watch, begins the daily monitor Frankie's behavior: sleep, walking, soaking.

It's a roller coaster. Frankie has better moments of the old walking and grazing fool which is a relief to me. But the other moments are still there.

I'll visit him under the porch and he will just look like the most miserable feeling sulcata in the world: eye semi-open, head hanging, thinking of pooping but nothing happens. He feels so bad he just wants me to sit by him and rub his shell. Not exactly big-sulcata boy stuff but it seems to put him a bit at ease.

If he manages a few poops, he feels like a trillion bucks (inflation). Off Frankie goes to graze and walk around his yard.

On day 7 of Frankie not feeling good, and he is still not feeling good. No poops in the morning. Lots of time in the pool. Lots of sleep under the patio. Miserable sad looking Frankie.

So I sit under the patio with Frankie hoping for poop.

When a sulcata get's sick, recovery is slow. It just takes time. It's up and down, feeling good then feeling bad. Unlike humans, Sulcata tend to take just as long to get well as they do to get sick. It is usually not just something that happens over night. And so an illness may take a while to show up on Frankie's face, or poops, or lack of. 
Frankie is miserable. I am miserable. Frankie can't wait to get better. I can't wait for Frankie to get better. It's watch and wait.

August 3, 2011

It only takes a moment

A fence that can withstand the force of a large sulcata who wants on the other side is very important.  Postponing the installation of such a fence can prove to be heartbreaking, I can attest to this. Before we installed a suitable fence, Frankie disappeared from his yard.

Without close supervision Frankie had already made a few "mini-escapes" into our neighborhood.  As soon as he was missed the Frankie Neighborhood Alert would go out to everyone.  All available neighbors would check their yards for the fugitive Frankie.  One time he was found a couple of houses over under a swing and the next time he was found napping in a friends garage.

Luckily, Frankie was found quickly. Alert neighbors and quick timing saved the day

Still, the warnings were disregarded.

On this fateful day, Frankie was allowed outside his small temporary fence to graze.  Frankie completely occupied himself with munching a huge amount of grass so it seemed safe to kick back on the patio and watch him graze.

The phone rang.  Drats. I should have brought the phone outside with me.  What a dumb-dumb.  I run inside to answer it.  A few moments speaking to a friend seems brief.  Before I know it, 15 to 20 minutes have ticked away.

It hits me like ice water - dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb.  Hang up phone, run outside and look around with great hope that Frankie is grazing were I left him.

He isn't.  Frankie isn't anywhere in sight.  My stomach tightens. I have a gut feeling.  Groan.

School is in session and adults are at work.  A Frankie Neighborhood Alert is useless. This search is up to me. The area is big:  my yard, all the neighbor's yard, up the street, down the street, the apartments behind our house and a undeveloped wooded area.  Time starts ticking. I have 30 minutes to find him.

Starting in Frankie's yard, I look under every bush and tree.  No luck.  I check the front yard, then the neighbor's house.  I head down the street searching each yard, under every bush and every open area.  No luck.  No sign of Frankie.

How much time has passed?

I search the apartments behind my house.  Nothing. Next is the dreaded undeveloped area next to the apartments.  It's not far from my house so he could have got in there.  Bad news:  it is thick with trees, bushes and vines.  I look but there is no sign of Frankie. 

It's been more than an hour and I can feel my heart hollowing out and stomach filling with acid.  I have to think.  It takes Frankie 45 minutes to walk a mile.  After an hour the chance of finding Frankie diminishes.  In desperation, I revisit every square inch of my backyard.  Again I check the whole neighborhood.  Once more I search the apartments behind the house.   

My stomach is not feeling any better.  I am near panic.  It's now been two hours since Frankie vanished.  As time passes the search area grows bigger and Frankie's risks are greater. The chances of finding him plummets by the moment.  It's getting late in the afternoon and the sun goes down after 6:00 p.m.   Despite my feelings of total desperation, I gather my wits to think what to do.  

Frankie is at the mercy of anyone he comes into contact.  It's important to spread the information that Frankie is a pet, that he has a home and we want him back.  Returning home, I get on the computer and create a LOST poster complete with Frankie picture and REWARD in large letters.

I make 30 copies, grab tape and a stapler. I head out into the neighborhood and hang them on posts, signs and wherever I can without making people mad. I go house to house leaving lost posters through out the neighborhood. 
Phone and address removed

Frankie Lost posters are staple along the fence in the apartments and taped to every dumpster. I Wish I could put one on every door.

When Greg gets home there is no dinner.  He is on his own.  Once more I go through the neighborhood looking under every bush, through every empty lot, under every car, around every house for the one chance Frankie was overlooked the previous two times

People are home from work so the Frankie Neighborhood Alert is raised and neighbors join the search.  Kids are highly motivated when they hear about the Frankie Reward that goes to the first to find him. Greg stays at home to monitors the phone.

As the sunsets, searchers start giving up one by one.  I am the last to surrender.

The only good thought I can come up with is that Frankie may find a safe place to stay the night.  A not-so-good thought is that night temperatures are going to be in the 60s, a bit cool for him.  I feel overwhelmingly guilty for my irresponsibility.

My evening is dedicated to thinking of everything possible action to take.  I must be one step ahead of the search.  I must stay determined.  I have to have Frankie back.  If I don't get Frankie back, I think my heart will break into pieces, slowly, everyday.   

"If someone found a large tortoise, what would they do and who would they call? .......Bingo!

A Lost Frankie poster is fax or an e-mail is sent to every veterinarian within a 25 mile radius.  The local humane society gets a fax and an e-mail.  Every pet store within 50 miles gets a fax or an e-mail.

Then phone calls begin:  I speak to the dispatcher at the local police department. She thinks I am nuts but takes all the information.  I call area firemen (they think I am nuts) but yes, they sometimes get calls about strange animals that people find.  I send out more faxes and more e-mails to anyone who may come across a large tortoise.

That night, sleep is difficult.  It's near impossible to stop my worrying mind.  Again and again, I experience the day's events.  What else should I have done?  Can I get over loosing him?  My heart is breaking.   Not knowing if he is okay is killing me.  Thinking that he may end up somewhere terrible hurts.  What if he is injured or got run over?  Why did I leave him alone for just those few moments?  How could I do that?  It's difficult to think there will be a good outcome. 

If Frankie is nearby there is one chance to find him when he gets up to bask. At first light, it all begins again.  Up and dressed, holding a handful of lost posters, I am outside looking for Frankie before neighbors leave for work.  More posters are distributed.  For the 10th time I check under every bush.  Once the sun is full up, I check open areas for a Frankie warming up in the sun.

By 11:00 a.m. it's time to return home.  What else can be done?  I go over finances.  How much money would I be willing to give to have Frankie back?  $50? $100? $500. Is there enough money in the bank to cover what I would give to have him back?  Could I offer babysitting?  House cleaning?  Bargaining may be required.  I am willing. 

Frankie is at the mercy of other people and I am scared.  If Frankie is on the road, someone may just decide it's fun to run over a large turtle.  Another person may just take him home for a pet never thinking he is someone's pet.  Maybe they would sell Frankie.  I cringe. Someone may use him for target practice.  For the first time, I cry.

I am a horrible, horrible owner.  That fence should be built by now. Stupid, stupid, stupid.  How could I have forgotten him for a moment?  My stomach has shrunk to pea size and my heart no longer works right. I'm sobbing but need to pull myself together so I can keep thinking.  I feel like I should take a hammer to my finger or something.  I am miserable.  Miserable.  Miserable.  Sad. Sad. Even sadder.

The phone rings.  The number isn't familiar.  "Hello?"  It's 2:00 p.m.

"Are you missing a turtle?" says a man.  My whole body turns into goose bumps. 

Yes, yes! YES, Oh, holy SHELLS and saints and sand castles! YES! YES! YES!

Calmly, I say, "Yes. I'm missing my tortoise."

"I think I saw him yesterday at the apartments."  More goose bumps. I ask, "Do you know where he is now?"

"Well" replies the guy, "Yesterday, I was leaving my apartment when I saw this turtle walking between some cars.  He was really big.  I figured he was just a wild turtle from the woods. I thought about taking him home and cooking him but he was so big I figured it would be too much of a mess so I took him to a really nice pond. I left him there."

What?  A pond?  Oh, my stars?  How far away is this place?   .....wait, wait, wait, did he say cook Frankie?

I disregard the food reference.  I am feeling too grateful.  This is my only lead, and even if he thought about Frankie as dinner, this guy offers hope. He is my good Samaritan.  My knight to the rescue.  Nope, I don't know this guy from hay but I am all ears.

The thought that I may find Frankie trumps the idea that this guy could be a serial killer.  I don't care.  I drive over to his apartment. He looks like an average guy. Most serial killers look like average guys.  I throw all caution to the wind.  The guy, John, gets into my vehicle.  The only single precaution I take is to call Greg on my cell phone and let him know the plan while the Good Samaritan potential-serial-killer hears the conversation.  I risk all to get Frankie back.

We drive out of the the apartments.  We drive out of the city.  We drive down a state highway.  Oh, my goodness.  Exactly how far is this?  We turn on a small country road.  This is far, far away from home.  We drive a bit more. I would never have found Frankie. This is more than 10 miles from home.  We drive into a wooded area.  I spot an old house surrounded by junk-to-one-person-is-treasure-to-another acreage of stuff.  There is a small pond on the property.  I am humming the theme song to Deliverance. 

A man who can be described as I've-lived-my-entire-life-on-this-land waves us over.  He is wearing overalls, no shirt and carrying a beer.  It is past noon so I am guessing a beer isn't all that inappropriate. 

My new best friend John waves at his friend and then walks me down to the pond's edge.  I ask John if he put Frankie into the pond.  My heart thumps loudly.

"Well," he says, "I brought it here cause I figured it being a water turtle he would be right at home. But when he got near the water he just went nuts flapping his arms and punching me with his legs.  I had to set him on the ground next to the pond.  Figured he was just not familiar with the area. So then I though I'd push him in.  Do you know what he did?  Well, he started back peddling like he was being pushed into a burning house.  I gave up.  Just left him there by the pond and went back home. I didn't know he was someone's pet until I saw the poster on the dumpster.  So I called.."

I can clearly imagine Frankie looking at the murky water and frantically backing up with his front feet, desperate to stay out of the water.   For the first time in 24 hours, I smile.  Frankie won that fight.

Good Samaritan John heads up to his friends house for a beer while I start walking the area looking for Frankie.  It's a big area so I call for the reserve troops.  I phone Greg and tell him exactly where I am. He's leaving work early to help.

This search area is about two acres of bushes, weeds, and grass up to my butt.  It's a bit muddy around the pond.  I look for foot prints.  None.  It did rain a little last night.  I look for grass that has been pressed down.  Nothing easy for me to follow.

2 o'clock turns to 3 o'clock and I am not finding Frankie.  Greg arrives with a friend. We divide the area and start looking again. I must find Frankie today. I can't image leaving here without him.

It gets past four o'clock and I am loosing hope.  I start searching the yard full of, I mean collect of treasures.

And there, sticking partially out from under an old golf cart, I see the butt end of a treasure:  a very large shell.  No mistaken, it's Frankie.  My heart fills warm, I start to cry. I wave my hands and yell to everyone, "I found him, I found him, I found him!!!!"  I's so happy I could dance.

Frankie will not come out from underneath the cart.  He digs in his feet refusing to move. Maybe he is afraid someone will throw him in the pond.  I sit on the muddy ground and pull at Frankie with every ounce of strength I have.  Greg show up to help.

When he is pulled out Frankie's looks terrified.  This is one very unhappy, cold and miserable tortoise.  Then he sees me.  I swear to you, when he looked at me it seemed as if he was saying, "It's about time! I've had the most horrible time. Please take me home!"  

The sense of relief is overwhelming.  My whole body is filled with love and I want to hug Frankie and not let him go.  Greg lifts Frankie and walks him to the vehicle.  If Frankie's legs were longer he would have clung onto Greg and not let go.

Good Samaritan John, Frankie and I get into my vehicle.  I am muddy and dirty and spreading it all over the car seat and I don't care.  Frankie would be in my lap if I could hold him and drive. 

I take John back to his apartment and give him the reward.  My friend has money enough to buy beer and chips for several weeks.  I wish I could do more for him.  I am ready to invite John to move into our house.  I love this man even if he wanted to cook Frankie.  He will forever be Frankie's hero. 

Frankie and I go home.  I wash down the muddy dirty Frankie.  He is obedient, patient and allows me to clean him thoroughly.

I bring him inside into the kitchen, set him on the floor and start to prepare him a welcome home snack.  Frankie never leaves my side.  This attention is not about food. He wants me to stay close to him.  He walks so close to me that I keep tripping over him.  This tortoise is very happy to be home.

As Frankie digs into his carrots and spring greens I walk toward the computer and notify 100 people that we found Frankie.  Frankie is not pleased that I am leaving so he abandons his food to walk after me.  I decide to stay with Frankie while he has his snack.  I sit on the kitchen floor.

When he finishes his food, he walks over to me.  He forces his way under my knees and my legs hang over his shell.  He is happy just to sit there.  So am I.

For a couple of days Frankie acts like he is tethered to the house.  He is not leaving his home for anything! 

But soon he forgets.  He returns to the same fence crashing, furniture moving, and walking fool I know and love.  Funds for a permanent privacy fence are found fast so Frankie can wander his huge yard at will. 

That fence is probably the best thing I ever gave Frankie. That fence means freedom.  Frankie can walk and walk and walk.  He can graze and graze and graze.  For a sulcata, a good fence means safety in an unsure world.