Frankie Tortoise Tales Frankie Tortoise Tails sulcata care tortoise sulcata husbandry Frankie Tortoise Tails Frankie Tortoise Tails: 2014



December 24, 2014

So this is Christmas

It's early Christmas eve and Greg and I doing what we usually do for the Christmas Holidays....avoiding the Christmas Holidays.

It's not that we are Bah-humbug, but Christmas is the longest holiday we have to endure.  It starts well before Thanksgiving when the first tv commercial features the sounds of Christmas bells or an outright Christmas song. The array of things to do for Christmas for the next 45 days is so vast no one family can do it all. We pick and choose what we do but the rest still comes at me like bad celebrity news. It is exhausting.

Our plan for the next two days is to watch commercial free TV, stay outta the stores, make home-made pizza (both days), relax and pretend it is January.

The only other thing to be done is take care of Frankie, the cat, and the geckos.

It's getting cold tonight so Frankie is inside in the big bathroom.  I was prepared.  Room cleaned, rags and newspaper available, cardboard palace set up.  I went out and picked Frankie some grass.  I mixed it with some lettuce, vitamins, and calcium.  I brought Frankie his Christmas Eve din-din.

Frankie sat, rear blocking the the door, munching on his feast.  He was happy.  And then he peed.

I've said this before, it is absolutely astonishing how much pee can come out of the back end of a 100 pound sulcata.  I can hear it from the gecko room.  I arrive in time to grab rags and inspect the damage.

One can never have enough rags with a 100 pound sulcata.

Now this has never happen before:  Frankie's pee went under the door and into the hall where there is a rug.

I start throwing rags at the door to sop up as much pee as possible.  It was too late.  Although I could not open the door (Frankie is blocking), I can peek out enough to see that the rug just outside the bathroom door is getting soaked.  I squeeze through to door.



"Can you bring me the rug cleaner spray, NOW?"

You see, as much as sulcata poop seems to bother people, there really isn't anything, including sulcata poo that smells as bad as sulcata 24 hours.  Getting the sulcata pee out of the rug is a Holiday emergency!

I sop up what pee I can from the rug.  I start spritzing the rug with rug cleaner.  Then I just open the rug spray container and pour it where the pee is.  Rub, rub, rub, pat, pat, pat, pray, pray, pray.

I finish all the rug cleaner and go through a dozen rags.  I squeeze back into the bathroom, pushing Frankie butt away from the door.  Good timing.  Frankie just finished up another round of pee.

At this point I am ready to have Frankie move so I can get under him but he refused. 



"Can you bring me a carrot.  Frankie will not move."

I've been criticized for feeding Frankie carrots.  They are not appropriate sulcata food.  Carrots are a tool.  I make sure Frankie gets them as a reward and a bribe.  In instances of Frankie refusing to move, carrots come in real handy.  

Frankie still made me wait for a while before he got up and moved off his pee.  But he did move.  Thank you carrot.

I cleaned up the last of the pee.  Put all the pee soaked rags in the washer machine (there were a lot of wet rags).  Opened the bathroom window.

Now if that rug starts stinking, and it may, I will be forced to do something I did only once in 1982:  go to a store the day after Christmas to rent a rug cleaner.

In 1982, I promised myself I would never, ever, ever again go to the Day After Christmas Sale.  Sulcata pee:  What a way to spoil a perfectly quiet Christmas.
Best wishes for the new year.

November 17, 2014

Fall to Winter Frankie

It's that time of the year again when I loose all sense and intelligence and start thinking of bringing Frankie indoors.  Yes, the South is headed to the plummeting cold of 30º F or what I think are shell shattering temperatures.

Actually my insanity began the first time it got to 40º F.   I dragged the electric oil heater out of storage, brushed off all the cobwebs, got on the internet to read instructions on how to set the 24 hour timer, searched for a decent extension cord and then placed it in Frankie's enclosure outside his inner cave where the heat will never get to him but it fights off the cold coming in from outside. 

It happens every fall.  I think I can't keep Frankie warm enough outside without doubling my electric bill.

Huge electric bills are nothing new to reptile keepers.  Electric bills are huge even in the summer but when winter rolls around, watch out.  We start turning off lights and computers because every spare cent is going to the geckos and the outside Frankie who are going to enjoy balmy tropical temperatures while the humans bundle up to keep warm inside the house.

Which is how I came up with the idea of shared heat.  Why should Frankie sit outside in an enclosure warm enough to grow orchids all winter long when Frankie could come inside and sleep with the geckos and keep them warm with his heat pad and electric oil heater?

It's genius....expect for one thing.

First is the set of rules for Frankie indoors:  1) Don't eat anything fabric and that includes rugs and couches and clothes, 2) Walk in the middle and don't scrape your shell on all the walls, 3) No rearranging furniture,  4) Poop and pee on the newspapers, 5) No ramming indoors.....

Then I tear all that up because Frankie can't read English and he does what he wants to do even if the table has several glasses full of juice sitting on it. 

But still, here I am clearing out the large bathroom (the gecko's bathroom) and setting up a place for Frankie to sleep.  He is assigned there because the bathroom has a water proof floor.  I don't know if Frankie can take out a ceramic toilet: just hoping he doesn't.

Frankie in the fall is much different that summer Frankie.  For the last two weeks Frankie woke up around 10:00 am, finely emerging from his cave about 11:00 am, and goes to bed around 2:00 pm.  He poops only one or two small poops.  Frankie drinks water but only small amounts and won't go into his kiddy pool full of water even after I threw a dozen carrots in there....he waited on the edge of the pool while I fetch the carrots outta the water.

Shared heat aside, the biggest reason I bring Frankie inside during fall and winter is I miss him.  Even after what follows bringing Frankie indoors.

Frankie's first day inside? Bumper car journey from the back door to the gecko bathroom including near disaster with a coffee table leg getting tangled up with Frankie's front foot, a bamboo basket getting taste tested, a new shell scraps along bathroom wall, rams the garbage can, rams the humidifier......pretty much as expected.

Then I am reminded why I keep two boxes of rags and old towels in the gecko room.  I will never get used to the Niagara Falls worth of instant sulcata pee followed up with a pond worth more pee only this time filled with urates.  Frankie had to saved all his pee from all summer.  There is no explanation for that much pee coming out of one tortoise.

Complain all you will about sulcata poo.  I think it's nothing: nothing next to the overwhelming stench of sulcata pee. Hint:  pick that stuff up fast.  Sulcata pee gets exponentially smellier by the minute.  Towels and rags have to be washed instantly or the stench will drive you out of your house.

Bring fresh grass, please when you're done mopping up the pee
 Tell me again that there are people who raise their sulcata indoors?

I hear it's going to warm up again later this week.  Please say it's true.   

October 19, 2014

UFO Invasion on Isle 8

Frankie, um, I mean the UFO (Unidentified Frankie Object) abducted 1st prize at the Pet Supermarket Pet Costume Contest.

UFO gets treat
UFO was spotted by everyone.

Best for last.

All out UFO invasion on Isle 8 by dog beds.

October 16, 2014

The Little Sock That Could

Seven days later, Frankie pooped the sock.

Yep, examining sulcata poop is a bit stinky.  Because of Frankie, I've done this so many times that it no longer disgusts to me.   

Little sock hidden within sulcata poop.
Dissection confirmed it was my under-ankle sock with the blue stripes.

Not to be left out of any backyard activity, Frankie butted in to see what I was doing. 

Sock must look appetizing to Frankie because he tried to eat it again.  Okay, now that is disgusting.

Sulcata owners learn that their tortoises can and will attempt to eat almost anything: plastic, cloth, shoes, toes, fingers, cigarettes, paper, rocks, scissors, toys, sticks, small children, dogs, gophers, cat poop, dog poop, roofing nails, geckos, yard tools, electrical cords, peanuts, candy, gum, fast food still wrapped, wrappers, scarves, wicker, book bags,......

Let's put it this way, if Amazon sells it a sulcata will try to eat it. 

On a serious note, these are the typical steps to take when a sulcata has eaten an object it should have eaten:

1) Confirm it happen. Search for object. If the object has disappeared completely and was near the sulcata it was probably eaten.
2) Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate: clean and fill water dish daily or more.  Allow tortoise to soak daily, or if it's too big to soak follow it around the yard with garden hose with rain sprinkler attachment.
3) Feed simple,safe laxatives: cactus pads, aloe vera, various succulents, pumpkin, etc.
4) Check all poop for object.
5) Encourage sulcata to walk, walk, walk.

If things don't progress or the suclata's wellness changes, move to more aggressive action.

6) Visit veterinarian for examination, x-ray, appropriate drug therapy, manual cloaca manipulation or surgical removal.

Work hard on #1 through #5.  #6 is gonna cost a lot.  I was gonna have to give up cable for a year.

Frankie and I celebrate the Little Sock's triumph journey by taking a walk around the block.  Spend most of walk clearing path of cigarettes, to-go cups, plastic lids and a child's toy. 

October 7, 2014


Frankie ate my sock.  Um-hum, it is a bit funny. Right now.  Frankie eating my socks.  Again.

Muddy yard work.  It's fall and yard work increases exponentially.  Some mathematician is gonna get me for that comparison.  It feels like it's increased exponentially.

I finely broke down and bought two pallets of centipede sod.  Ended up I got the wrong kind as Greg was recommending St. Augustine but I had spend a week talking to someone about Phelsuma cepediana (commonly called the Blue Tail Day Gecko).  When I called for the sod I said I wanted "two pallets of cepediana...I mean ceppy, seppy,...what do you guys call it?"  Hence I ended up with two pallets of centipede. It should be okay.

Right or wrong, the ultimate test belongs to Frankie.  If Frankie eats the grass then the grass is okay.  If Frankie doesn't eat the cepediana......I mean centipede then my next door neighbor gets a free lawn make-over.

The centipede grass was a hit.  As Greg and I install it in the back yard Frankie went to work grazing on it. 

Don't worry, we bought this from an organic farm.  The sod is grown on soil that grew organic peanuts last year.  To help keep the soil healthy, they rotate crops and this year they grew cepediana....I mean centipede grass.

I found about the sod was grown on a previously-peanut-field until the soil was delivered.  All the peanut hulls and roots are on the bottom of the sod.  I wasn't worried about Frankie.  I was worried about was Greg who is sensitive to peanuts.  I warned Greg about it.  Greg wasn't worried about it since he wasn't the one grazing on the soil.

So we laid the sod.  Frankie taste tested each roll.  We finely have a Frankie approved yard now almost fully grassed.  Sod went down on 1/3 of the yard, 1/3 of the yard is the old grass and I've surrender the other 1/3 and call it Frankie's slide, mud pit and worm farm.  It works. 

The hard work began after the sod was laid.  Greg's arms had swollen red welts that took days to return to normal (I warned him).  We both would soak all the sod daily for up to two weeks regardless of how hot it is outside.  In hot weather it's like standing in your own steam bath while watering.

The greatest burden went to the grazer.  Frankie had the difficult choice between the old St Augustine, Pensacola Bahia Grass, clover, weed, hay or the new cepediana...I mean centipede grass.  It's a burden Frankie doesn't take lightly.

I can see it as he walks around the yard.  It's a bite of Bahia: light, crisp but a bit thin.  A taste of St Augustine: short but stout but chewy.  The small bitter clover is yummy.  The plentiful new cepe..centipede grass is delicious with a slight peanut overtone.  A return bite on the favorite Orchard Hay: dry crisp and the aroma of fresh hay. 

All that was nice but I suspect my sock was the pleasant surprise of the day.

I had just finished 30 minutes of watering all the sod.  At the back door I slid out of my wet shoes and pulled off my wet socks.  The socks got tucked into the shoe but not deep as I didn't want the inside of my shoes to get wet.  Barefooted I went inside for some nice cool ice tea.

Intending on returning outside immediately, I was briefly distracted by twenty-seven other things and actually opened the back door about an hour later.  Sitting less than five feet from me is Frankie chowing down on my sock.


Ignoring my frantic shouts to Stop!, Stop!, Stop!, Frankie continues to dine on my sock.  I grab the last half of the sock and battle Frankie for whole of the sock.  Ever so firmly I pull the sock back out of Frankie's mouth.

Frankie sits while I lecture him on the dangers of eating things like socks which are bad news if they get swallowed and have to travel the twist and turns of a sulcata tortoise's intestines.  Bad news, Frankie, if a sock gets caught on the way through and plugs up the plumbing because then said sulcata will have to visit a veterinarian.  If that veterinarian can't get the plumbing cleared then it could be the sock is causing an impaction and boy will that be a big deal: a really bad deal.

Frankie is patiently listening to my lecture when it dawns on me that the other, second sock is missing.  Yep. I got one sock in my hand lately saved from being totally ingested by Frankie but number two sock is completely missing in action.

My head dropped down to my chest.  Awe, man!

Write out To Do List:  1) search yard for missing sock, 2) go to every Asian and Hispanic market in the area to find aloe and cactus, 3) buy canned pumpkin, 4) reconsider that caring for a sulcata is more trouble than it's worth, 5) buy mineral oil, 6) erase number four (because I love Frankie), and 7) start poop patrol.

Worth considering is the missing sock is a super low cut sock.  You know, the socks that are so small they just don't stay above your heal and end up under your arch.  Yea.  Lucky me.  Cepedianna, centipede. Tube sock, ankle sock. Yea.  I know where missing socks go.

Wish me luck on poop patrol 2014.

September 24, 2014

Scent of a Turtle

Scent of a Woman:  I like that movie.  My favorite part isn't the Colonel's speech at the school.  My favorite part is the restaurant scene.  We'll get back to that.

This morning's weather was exceptional:  cool air, clear sky, sunny.  Just the break I needed to get some back yard chores done, a chance for the box turtles to spend time in their outside habitat, and perfect for digging up worms for turtles.

Besides my own two box turtles, I am rehabbing a two year old wild box turtle who was chewed up by a dog.  Iz, the victim box turtle, is healing well but his back legs don't yet carry weight. 

Momma Turtle and Big Turtle (with me for 15+ years) were dropped into their outdoor habitat. The little rehab turtle, Iz, needs some outdoor exercise time so he gets to stay with me.  Iz and I head into the yard to dig up worms for all the box turtles.

Not yet mentioned here but a force to be reckoned with is the 100 pound Frankie the sulcata tortoise: this is his backyard.  Frankie often sleeps in late and I hoped he would be still be sleeping when I am dig up worms.  Regretfully, Frankie too is enjoying the cool morning and is basking by the fence near the area I was going to dig up worms.

Oh, well.  I can handle Frankie......  (Haven't I said that before?)

I head to the fence looking for an area away from Frankie, With a small container, hand trowel, hand tiller and Iz the turtle in a box, I select an area where soil has built up by the fence, and a little distance from the basking Frankie. The worms love the deep soil and Frankie will be occupied with basking.

Iz is placed on the ground next to where I am sitting.  Iz get's busy scamping around while I dig for worms all the while keeping peripheral vision on Frankie.

Frankie's been eying me, too.  I am doing something in his yard so he considers that such activity must be contemplated, investigated, scrutinized, inspected, engaged, entangled, and possibly ultimately destroyed.  The minute Frankie picks up his shelled-shelf and starts walking my way I grab Iz and hide him back into the box lest Frankie find him.

Frankie inspects as he approaches the area.  He comes across the container full of dirt and worms.

"No, Frankie!  No ramming the dirt!"

Too late.  With one one step Frankie dumps my container of dirt and worms.

"Frankie! Go do something else. There is nothing for you here." 

Frankie stares at me like he doesn't understand English.  The voice tone Frankie gets because after a 30 second stare-down he turned around and headed up the hill. 

Iz gets placed back on the ground next to my knees and I start picking up dirt and worms Frankie dumped.  I take a gander over my shoulder checking to see where Frankie has walk. It's not good.  Just as Frankie gets five feet up the hill, he abruptly halts and stands there.  Slowly he turns his head back toward me like he's just figured something out.

Uh, oh.  Time for Iz and I to move.  It's a scramble to pick up Iz, supplies and what worms I've recovered.  Iz, supplies and I exit quickly to the left and relocate in another area.

Frankie heads back down to where I have finished digging.  Nose to the ground he re-examines the area I just left.  Standing in one specific spot Frankie reaches a conclusion and then he poops.  He takes another step and pees.

Yep.  Frankie has picked up the scent of a turtle:  specifically Iz the box turtle.  Frankie has peed and poop where Iz was sitting.

I make a prudent decision.  Abandoning the current task of digging up worms, Iz gets put back into his box, I pick up the worms and dirt, and we exit.  Just in time because Frankie is heading to our more recent location.

In full retreat, I watch as Frankie reaches our abandoned location.  Oops, I left the hand trowel. Frankie sniffs the unsuspecting hand trowel.  Iz was sitting right there on that spot.  Frankie sits on the hand trowel.

"Frankie! That was a new hand trowel!"  Frankie thinks it's a turtle.  

The exciting discovery of a new turtle scent trumps common sense of what a turtle looks like.  It's the scent of a turtle. A turtle that may well be a female. Trowel is a turtle.

After Frankie has smashed my hand trowel into the ground he heads over to his Home Depot orange bucket, mounts, and humps.

Frankie's busy, I think to myself.  Maybe I can dig up some more worms.  Iz can stay in the container. I retrieve my once concave now flat trowel.  Oh, well.  It still works.  I resume digging while Iz hangs around in his box.

Frankie stops humping in mid-hump.  He looks back my way.

In Scent of a Woman at the restaurant, Colonel Frank Sade says "I detect a fragrance in the air." What bouquet has Frankie detected?  His favorite perfume: Eau de Tortue.

"Frankie has a nose for you."  I look down at Iz in the box, stretched out, minding his own business.  So what if Frankie has flubbed up Iz's sex.  I don't think Frankie cares.

The Colonel said, "If you make a mistake and get all tangled up, you just tango on."

Tango on Frankie, tango on.

August 26, 2014

A Guide To Big (Dear Waffles...)

Dear Waffles, I've noticed how big you got over the summer.  It happens really fast for sulcata tortoises.  As I am an expert on BIG I thought I would share some things about getting closer to that 100 pound marker.

You're gonna need a bigger blanket.

Indoors starts looking a bit small

Indoors gets a little hazardous (for the indoor things, you'll be fine).

Your mom is gonna get tired of picking up these

You'll end up outside more often but you'll love it!
The buffet is all you can eat!

Things you used to eat become toys.

You'll start doing this a lot.

Mom will need help getting you in and out of the car.

You'll need a bigger outdoor house.
This is big but 75% is for storing hay and carrots.

It's important to learn that a glass is solid.  If you insist you can crash through but you will need to wear a safety will everyone on the other side.


You got to get yourself a skateboard.

Sloth can't move outside with you but it's okay, there's things to snuggle with.

Even big you'll make all kinds a new friends.
If you can't dance just go freestyle. Nobody will mind.

Best of all, you'll make lifelong friends who love you.

And that famous hiney shot gets more and more awesome.

Love, Frankie

PS Godspeed my friend Michele Renea Wales who picked up her angel wings today.  We love you!

July 31, 2014

The Story of Bob the Magic Tortoise

Once, not very far away, there was a land of modest fame where a young boy name Prince resided with his Queen Mom and his King Dad.   Prince was a special boy who lived in a spectrum called Autism.  The people didn’t know what this meant, nor could they understand his frequent seizures so they just said the Prince was sick and left him alone. 

Prince kept to himself and never spoke to anyone.  He didn’t understand that he was different he just knew his head was full up inside and he had thoughts no one understood.  His seizures struck like sudden thunderstorms and his mind became chaos and darkness.
One day, a magic tortoise named Bob was walking by and saw Prince sitting very quiet in his garden.  Bob walked right up to Prince and they became instant friends.  Bob decided he must stay and live in the garden that belonged to Prince and his family.

The once silent Prince began speaking to Bob, and Bob would talk to Prince. Even though no one else could hear Bob speak, Prince would listen to Bob and understood everything Bob said.  Prince knew this was because Bob was a magical tortoise.

Everyday Prince would bring flowers and clovers for Bob to eat and he would tell Bob about his day at school.  Prince told Bob about the things he thought and he would tell Bob when was feeling bad.  Prince told Bob the thoughts in his head got so jumbled up that it sounded like buffalo stampedes, and his seizures stormed through his head like lightning. 

Bob told Prince a great secret: when you can breathe like all the winds of the world like I do, your thoughts will fall away like feathers and the thunderstorms loose their thunder.  Bob taught Prince to breath in deep like the ocean, to blow slowly like a breeze, to puff strong like a tornado, to breathe warm like the desert, and even blow funny like a raspberry.  Prince began to get better, he could sleep through the night, and fewer thunderstorms happened in his head.

King Dad and Queen Mom saw that their son was happier than he had ever been before and the reason they believed was Bob.  Everyone could see that Bob was helping Prince.  It wasn't long before everyone believed that Bob was a magical tortoise.

Word about Bob the magic tortoise spread far and wide.  A boy who lived outside the realm wanted to know what kind of magic a tortoise could have.  One day he stole Bob from the families’ garden.

The boy took Bob to a mountain top so he could take Bob’s magic for himself. The boy was very cruel and ordered Bob to do magic for him.  Bob became sick as the boy screamed over and over to see magic. When no magic happen the boy got very angry and he left the ailing Bob alone on the mountain. Lost and sick, Bob could not find his way home.

Bob cried and cried for Prince, his special friend.  Bob wanted to go home as he worried that Prince would stop breathing like all the winds of the world and would forget how to stay well.  Bob cried so much that tiny golden tears surrounded him on the mountain top.

Living in the mountains are many creatures, some scary and some wonderful. It is difficult even for a magical tortoise like Bob to know who are friends and who would do him harm. 

A very scary monster came across Bob on the mountain and saw that the tortoise was lost and alone. The monster took pity on the sick tortoise and decided to help him.  He collected all the golden tears that Bob cried for Prince and made a trail of golden tears that started from Bob and went all the way down to the land where Prince lived. 

On that day King Dad and Queen Mom were looking for Bob as they had for days.  They came across the trail of shinning golden tears so beautiful that they knew that they had to come from a magical tortoise.  The two followed the trail up into the mountain and there, hidden among trees and bushes, was Bob, very, very sick.

Bob was carried down the mountain and to a special healer.  The healer understood about tortoises and about magical ones like Bob.  Special herbs and elixirs were mixed to make Bob feel better. Bob would stay with the healer until he got well. 

Since the day Bob went missing, Prince was very upset.  He worried and worried about his friend and he forgot to breathe like all the winds of the world.  Prince was silent once again and his seizures returned like chaos as never before.

King Dad and Queen Mom told Prince that Bob was found but said the magic tortoise could not come home as he was very sick.  Prince grieved to find out that someone hurt Bob for his magic.  Prince knew that Bob’s magic was a gift that not just anyone could have.

While Bob was with the healer, Prince worried so much that he could not sleep and his thoughts were like horses trampling across his mind.  Prince struggled to stay well while he waited for Bob to get better.  Prince needed Bob, and Bob needed Prince.  Magic tortoise and friend struggled to get well again.

While Bob recovered at the healer’s cottage, Prince came to see him when ever he could.  At every visit Prince brought Bob his favorite flowers and clover from the garden but the weak tortoise could not eat any of them.

One day, when Prince was visiting, he asked Bob to please eat one of the flowers that he brought him.  Bob looked up to the Prince and silently said, “I will eat a flower but first you must show me how the wind blows warm in the desert.”

Prince took a long deep breath and slowly blew a steady whistle of air that was warm and soft like the desert wind on a hot day. When Prince finished, Bob said, “Now we will both get better and soon I can go home with you.”  Bob ate the flower Prince had brought him.

Very soon Bob the magical tortoise moved back to the garden with Prince. Everyday after school, Prince would rush to the garden and show Bob how all the winds in the world blew while Bob ate clover and flowers.

Prince and Bob lived happy after that, for everyone knows that turtles can heal boys and boys can heal turtles. There really isn’t magic, it’s really just love, and love is all that really matters.

* * * *

Dedicated to my magic tortoise, Frankie.  Happy Birthday!

July 18, 2014

Endless Pursuit

Big day for me on Thursday:  gecko management & feeding, working with two injured turtles, cursing a phone that hasn't worked in 35 hours, two doctor appointments, painting trim outside, and haunting thoughts, without relief, over the torture of another turtle.

With no sleep to help me navigate the day the only escape I get is watching Frankie's endless pursuit of absolutely nothing.  He walks everywhere in his yard getting no where special yet with focus of vital importance.  At least the weather today is comfortable.  Awake since eight in the morning, Frankie is taking advantage of every moment as he has.

At three I decide I deserve a nap so I go inside, recline on my sofa, turn on TV, and relax.  The Godfather is on and even though it's violent, the scene of the Don chasing his grandson and having a heart attack is surreal so I may wake up just to see that.

Cat in lap, I slip off into a very comfortable state of not-completely-asleep-but-pretty-much-unavailable-to-the-world for a nice stress relief and temporary halt to reoccurring thoughts of mobster-like-violence I'd like to try on turtle abusers but absolutely know I'm incapable of physically hurting anyone.

How long was I napping?  Thirty minutes? Forty-five? A god awful clatter unfamiliar to my trained reptile emergency and Frankie-catastrophe-in-process ear causes me to bolt up from the chair.  The recently sleeping cat goes flying to the ground.  I clear my mind and wait fully aware to see if it happens again.

Probably Frankie, I think, but it could be a neighbor.

Rumble! rumble! crack!

It's got to be Frankie I think as I open the back door but also confounded that the sound is muffled like it's happening in a tunnel.

The back porch is cluttered with things waiting storage.  There was a ladder next to Frankie's dogloo but that's been push aside, probably by Frankie (remember the video of the sulcata moving the ladder?  Yeah, Frankie does this now).  I pull aside an empty cardboard box and there it is.

Frankie is head first into his dogloo.  All I see are two back feet are posed on the edge of the dogloo.  He is just sitting there.  I tilt my head to one side to think what's in that dogloo that has Frankie's undivided attention?

Those two feet squarely set on lip of the dogloo are there for a reason.  I witness that huge shell pull back on top of those feet which then launch Frankie deep into the dogloo accompanied by a huge, but muffled, BAM!

I am not stupid, okay maybe my priorities are skewed, but disregarding what ever is being rammed to pieces in that dogloo, I got to video this and it just happens the camera is just inside the door.  I get it.

It takes about forty seconds to fetch, turn on, switch to video, compose my self (so the camera doesn't shake) and focus on Frankie's back end. Go!

What used to be in the dogloo was a bale of hay.  Only bits of hay remain but behind the absent hay is wire garden boarder, a bird feeder, and, well, this is why he is there, a plastic turtle form Julie from Turtle Rescue of Long Island sent Frankie so he could hump it.

Frankie's friend, Judy.
This could be classified as a conjugal visit.  Judy (plastic turtle's name) has been hidden from Frankie since we got here.  He has enough things to hump in the yard.  He doesn't need another.  Judy has not been available to Frankie's affections.

Tortoise affections and mating overtures just don't compare to human courtship. Tortoises don't give flowers.  Rams: They prefer to give rams. Endlessly.

The video is two minutes.  Possibly Frankie was whispering sweet nothings between rams but trust me, quiet moments are followed by passionate overtures of pure ramming. 


Video can also be seen on YouTube: Link to Frankie's video

Dedicated to our long time friend, Pat and her yard monster, Frankie. 

July 9, 2014

Let the Games Begin!

A friend e-mailed me yesterday.  "You don't write any more.  What is going on?"

I dunno.  It's summer.  A lot of things going on at home, with Greg and I,  injured box turtles, geckos, new house, and Frankie.  Things!

I mean, it's summer.  Yeah, Frankie is busier than ever.

Yesterday I was working in the yard and I spy Greg just standing in the middle of the yard watching Frankie walk the fence line.

"What are you doing, Greg?"

"Watching Frankie get in trouble."

I look back at Frankie who is just walking along the fence line.

"He is just walking, Greg."

"If Frankie is walking Frankie is getting into trouble." 

I look back at Frankie at the end of the fence line.  As if he was plainly blind Frankie bumps nose first into the corner fence.  He shakes off hauling right into the fence, shimmies the corner and proceeds walking along the fence line.

I see Frankie do this walk-into-corner-bump-into-wall a lot.  He just doesn't get corners all that well.  He just doesn't get a lot of things that well.

Greg and I emptied our rented storage space.  Twenty boxes, two vivariums, two bicycles, a dining room table and chairs, holiday decorations, turn table, lawn spreader, mirror, and a few miscellaneous bits were stuffed into two vehicles and driven home as the last bit of evidence that we moved six months ago.

We decided it would be easiest to take everything through the back gate since it's a quick 12 foot walk to the backdoor. Straight into the house. 

Not taken into account is the path from car to house passes right through a territory belonging to a beast who can make a twelve foot path fraught with all kinds of dangers. Boxes in arm, we walk into the yard and head directly to the backdoor.

Frankie is quick to observe two potential food givers and made a beeline to the back door.  When we came out of the house we are forced to hop over the big shelled obstacle.  We dashed to the back gate with Frankie in hot pursuit.

And so began games of tag, leap frog, hopscotch, and tag with Greg and I passing back and forth from gate to door and Frankie looking a lot like Jackie Robinson playing rundown back and forth between first base and second base.

Except he isn't as quick as Jackie Robinson.

You see, Frankie's turn's are awkward.  He is like a big car attempting to turn around in a very narrow street: pull back, shift forward, one step, push back on back foot, slide front foot over, push back foot forward, step forward once, pull back, shift forward.....and so on.

Our trips to and fro cars and house continue.  Stuck mid route is Frankie looking to tag the first human to pass in front of him.  Just as he is turned to get the one walking into the house the other is just walking in the gate.  It's like a game of Keep Away and Frankie can't win.

He is persistent.

Back to Frankie's apparent blindness.

We dug a trench in the yard from the house to the solar panels.  The trench wasn't that deep or wide but it's obvious to any one or animal with eyes.  Except Frankie.

Frankie walked right into that trench, dozens of times.  Every time one of his feet fell in he looked annoyed or surprised. 

Just how long is this canyon going to be here?

This is annoying.
It's hard not to be amused with Frankie, at the expensive of his dignity.  It's just Frankie's profound lack of spatial awareness creates potential for chaos during his everyday walking around.

Good morning, Frankie.  Hope you had a good sleep.

Let the chaos commence!

June 11, 2014

Tail of a Hit Turtle or Setting Off a Rant

Not a Frankie Tortoise Tail.  It's about the tail of a hit box turtle. It's a tail about how to set Leann off!

Neighbor knocked on my door before eight this morning.  At least I was dressed.  It was Dennis who walks his dogs in the neighborhood and up the main street.  He hands me a plastic container with two turtle eggs inside.  He came across a turtle that was run over and he was able to recover two intact eggs.  I praise him for his kindness.  I ask if the turtle was dead.  He said yes.  I ask if he knows what kind of a turtle it is and he says box turtle.

A person with some broad range experience with turtles knows something many people don't know:  turtles don't die that easy.  It's the first thing I think when he says its dead.  The eggs are in remarkable good shape.  I ask where the hit turtle is. 

After a description of the turtle's location I again praise my neighbor for his quick response and action.  I return inside and look for shoes, several rags and a plastic bag.  I have not showered, combed my hair or brushed my teeth but it is not the priority here:  the turtle is the priority.

I walk out of our neighborhood and about a hundred feet down the busy main road I see a very squashed turtle.  I curse automobile drivers.  When I get to the near flattened turtle I shutter when I notice her head is up.  Around her is about 12 separate pieces of shell barely held together by tissue, a leg attached by a single ligament, a scapula protruding through lung and muscle tissue, and lots of blood.  I need to get her out of the road. A shovel would be helpful but that is not how a turtle lover would handle this. 

I put my hand in the side of the plastic bag.  I spread my hand as wide as I can and place this over the top of the turtle.  As careful as possible I slide my other hand under the carapace (actually in one piece) and then gently turn over the whole bloody mess in tact, pull the rest of the plastic bag over her top and again, turn her gently right side up. 

After I check to see that I have left no pieces of her behind I move off the road where I can examine her in safety.  Now covered by the bag except her front end, head and a dangling foot, I look for signs of life.  I look at one eye and there is no movement when I touch it.  Just to be sure I touch the second eye to see if it moves.

My heart just dropped as she blinks when I touch her eye.  She is alive.  I move quickly for home.

There is no recovery for this turtle but there is no reason for her to continue to suffer as she slowly dies.  Euthanasia is called for, as humane as possible.  All the way home I consider the fastest and most humane action I can take.  Now would be kindest, 30 minutes if we are lucky, one hour if I have to search for help.

I decide that if I cannot get her humanely euthanize within an hour I must, for her sake and not mine, euthanize her myself.  There are two things I can do if I have to that will instantly/within moments kill her.  I've never had to take these options in all my years but this may be necessary.  That internal decision took 10 seconds.  A serious turtle/reptile keeper understand this and is prepared to take emergency action.  It's not pleasant, but it is for the turtle's sake.

Not wanting to do emergency euthanasia I move to the next option.  The closest places to me who could euthanize this turtle is a small animal veterinarian clinic and a wildlife center.  The clinic opens at 7:00 am so they are available.  There is a chance they would turn me away but this is my cats veterinarian and I could direct them as to the proper way to euthanize a turtle and would assist them in the procedure.  

The wildlife center probably has the ability to do an emergency euthanasia even without a veterinarian on site.  Although I have tried to warm the center to me with donations and offer of help they seem unreceptive to my gestures.  Recently I was told they don't have a volunteer position for me (?????).  Why they could not use a highly skilled reptile person to clean cages is beyond me.  

I call and find that the staff is there and the center is open.  For the turtle this is the very best option. 

Still not showered, teeth not brushed, and with only one cup of coffee in me I head off to wildlife center's location.

When I get there one person directs me immediately to the reptile room.  Just as quick a second staff member stops me and ask why I am there and then tells me to fill out an animal intake form.  In my hand I am holding a plastic bag with a dying turtle inside.  I tell her to call the staff in charge. 

The reptile keeper comes to the front.  They recognize me.  I show them the turtle and ask if they can do an emergency euthanasia.  I am assured that they can do an injection.  

Now here comes the rant.

I ask to stay with the turtle.  Staff says no.  I cannot go in the back until I complete a two day volunteer orientation course.

Since the day I got my first reptile I have insisted in attending my animals in all medical procedures.  X-rays, injections, examinations, surgeries, deaths, every single time.  Once I took a tokay to a veterinarian for a parasite check and the vet picked up the tokay cage and started to leave the room.  I asked what they were doing and he said he was taking it back for examination and fecal check.

I should have let him take the tokay.  Within second there would be screaming and yelling and people dashing out of the room.  I told him that I had to be present for the examine and treatment.  He said that wasn't possible.  I got up, took the tokay from him and left.  

Frankie's veterinarian in Birmingham was one of the most skilled turtle doctors I have ever met.  He was smart enough to want me in the room in case Frankie ever went ballistic.  Like when Frankie got his first x-ray.  The x-ray technician said they could handle Frankie.  We insisted on at least walking Frankie to the x-ray room.  We put Frankie on the x-ray table and at the request of the technician we left the room.  Three minutes later he asked if we would come in and help settle down Frankie and get him in position.  I grabbed the lead apron and gear.  Technician said I would not be staying for the actual x-ray.  I said, "You wanna bet on that?"  Three minutes later I was putting on all the safety gear and keeping Frankie quiet so we could get the x-ray.

It's not that I am just skilled at reptile medical procedures, or know how to handle numerous reptile species, or that blood and guts don't bother me, or that I am the calmest person in the room during an emergency, it's the combination that makes me a really terrific person to have around to make the veterinarian's job easier. 

What is most important to me is I am the compassionate, responsible advocate who represents that reptile, that living being's interests.  When I picked up that hit turtle on the road I made unspoken promise that from that moment on I would see that it's interest came first.

It just burns me that a anyone thinks I need a two day course about wildlife, that I am overqualified to teach, just to see that a dying turtle meets it's final moments, compassionately and lovingly.

Advocacy.  Fighting for our animals.  Caring for our reptiles.  Soothing Frankie when he is somewhere unfamiliar.  Making sure a dying turtle isn't set on a table for 30 minutes while the staff mops the floor.  Making sure an idiot doctor doesn't put his hand in a tokay cage forcing the mishandled tokay to bite the bloody crap out of the doctor.  

Rant complete.  We now return you to your regular Frankie Tortoise Tails.

June 3, 2014

Chance of Carrots

Just as distracting as a flea to a cat, so a new object in a yard draws the attention of a sulcata tortoise: specifically, Frankie the tortoise.

Frankie has finely deemed the back yard worthy.  With warm and sunny days now abundant, Frankie has taken to walking his yard, every inch, every day, for hours on end.  Frankie is completely familiar with his yard's unique terrain, tree placement, where various objects sit, best basking spots in the morning, best basking spot in the afternoon, and the idea place to sit and cool off.
No one can see me.  I look like wood.
If something is out of place Frankie will attempt to rectify the situation.  To me, it just looks like Frankie is dragging tables and pushing over chairs. He calls it Property Management.

In the morning Frankie does property inspection and if all is well he will do his marathon walk all the way around the yard, reverse all the way around the yard, up and down the slopes, side to side on the slopes, and (if I am lucky) an accidental slide down the slope. Such feats of fortitude deserve tribute and rewards:  A carrot, one a day, if at all possible.

Frankie visits the patio door which goes inside the house (where his staff resides).  Frankie announces his presence at the back door by walking half on and half off the threshold dragging his shell against the door just in-case I have not noticed his presence. He walks face right into the back door window peering inside to see if there is any chance of carrots.
I can has carrot?

All this is nice to see as I could tell during the last few months that Frankie wasn't quite sure this was his home or just a temporary stop.  There is no question now:  the backyard operates under the Frankie Rules.

Greg and I are not quite finished getting Frankie's yard ready.  I am still planting grass. Greg put up his weather station and is working on a second Frankie cam installation.  Leaves are raked weekly.  Drainage has to be improved.  Busy work for Greg and I, and Frankie ever underfoot.

After every rain I have to clear debris from the fence line at the bottom of the slope.  If I am lucky I work on my own but most of the time Frankie supervises.  Frankie supervises by trampling trash bags full of debris.  I switched to the orange bucket that Greta & LD bought for Frankie which he has ignored....until I filled the orange bucket with tree debris.

Frankie now uses the debris-filled orange bucket as a battering ram target.  I'm not using it any more nor have I emptied the bucket out as I am afraid Frankie may be waiting up the hill for some dumb sucker to touch it.  Orange bucket sits in the same place since last I used it.

Uphill from the bucket is the gutter downspout that drains rainwater into Frankie's yard.  In planning a downspout extension, Greg and I picked out a low profile extender that can be place leveled with the ground.  Less stuff for Frankie to mess with and tear up.

I dug a channel in the dirt in which to place the extender.  I spent some time digging out the front area to allow the rainwater to flow down hill on a slope.  A bunch of rocks were set at the end to allow for good drainage and reduce erosion. 

This installation was going oh-so-well until Frankie came to inspect my work.  He stood for a minute watching my progress.  I hurried along before Frankie stormed though and tore it up.  Four flat rocks were placed on top to keep Frankie from crushing it.  Before I could finish the rock placement Frank walked on top of the whole project and sat down.  He covered the whole thing.

I couldn't drag Frankie off.  He would dig in his feet and the whole project would be ruined.  Same if I tried to push him off.  I just sat down face to face with Frankie to wait him out.  Regretfully, Frankie planned to stay a while.  Or he is trying to tell me something?

Maybe carrots?  I leave Frankie to retrieve a carrot from the house.  I walked to the bottom of the hill to see if I could temp him off my project.  Frankie was still sitting on my extension.

I waved the carrot at Frankie,"Carrot! Frankie!"

Frankie looked down at me and the carrot.  Frankie saw what I had.  Frankie just turned away and looked at the other side of the yard.

I walked around ten feet in front of him.  "Frankie!  Do you want a carrot?"

Frankie looked through me like I was a cloud.  I walked about five feet directly in front of Frankie.  "Want this carrot?'

Nothing.   I sat a couple of feet on the ground in front of Frankie.  If he wanted the carrot he still had to move off my project.  "Do you want this carrot?"

Nothing.  Scooted right up to him and put the carrot right in front of his nose.  "Carrot, Frankie!  You gonna eat this carrot?"

And he did.  The minute he was done eating the carrot he got up off my downspout extension and meandered away.  Who's the boss of this yard?

I felt so manipulated.   

Dedicated to Turtle Rescue of Long Island, celebrating 10 years of heroic turtle and tortoise work. TRLI is worthy of our support. If you have $25-$50 to give to the turtles please consider TRLI:

May 21, 2014

Hay is what's up.

It just happen.  I was heading to the back yard to check on Frankie and there it was. I had no idea that it would happen. It just couldn't happen because it never happen before.  I mean there he was. Frankie was sitting there eating hay.

Frankie was eating hay.  He was EATING hay!  Hay!  Not grass but hay.  Hay as in Vitakraft Orchard Grass Soft Stemmed Grass Hay from a plastic bag from Petsmart hay.  Hay.  Dried hay.  He was eating hay.

I stood there for a moment watching him eat hay.  I wanted to be sure it was hay and that he was eating it and that it wasn't an accident.  It wasn't an accident.  Frankie was eating the hay.  Chomping the hay and then swallowing the hay and then eating some more hay.

It was hard believe what I was seeing.  Frankie has refused hay for more than 12 years.  He didn't want to eat hay.  Frankie wanted to sit on hay.

I cut up hay into small pieces, soaked hay in water, tried different brands:  Frankie was not eating it.   If I mixed chopped carrots into the hay to trick Frankie into eating the hay Frankie would pick through the hay and eat only the carrots.

Years and years I've tried.  Frankie eating hay could have solved so many problems like absent grass in the winter or no grass in a new yard and I am trying very hard to get grass to grow in his yard so I have to run out twice daily and pick grass in vacant lots, public meridians, and parks.  

So I am standing there watching Frankie eat hay.  Frankie had nearly finished the hay so I quickly ran to his cave and fetched the bag of hay.  I got back just in time as he finished the last bit of hay.  Frankie was ready for more hay.  Frankie wanted more hay!

I put down more hay while Frankie looked at me with real appreciation on his face.  This was a bit surreal as Frankie has never appreciated hay as food, ever.

Frankie has accidentally eaten hay before.  He has taken a few bites of hay in years gone by but it was just a quirk.  I hesitated to really think this was the real thing, Frankie eating hay and liking it.  Frankie eating hay could be a coincidence.  I knew I would have to wait for tomorrow.  If he ate hay two days in a row, well that would mean something.

All the next day I watched to see if Frankie was up for a repeat performance.  Frankie was all over the yard looking for bits of new grass newly.  He came begging for a carrot.  As the day pressed forward but there was no hay eating.  I was tempted to run out and pick some grass and weeds to mix in they hay but I held back hoping he would be eager for hay, just hay, at the end of the day.

So what do you think happen?  Frankie ate hay!  Again!  Late that day, Frankie just sat down in front of his pile of hay and ate it.

The first time could have been an accident and the second day could be a co-incident.   Maybe I am jumping the gun.  He could just be starving.   Maybe that particular batch of Vitakraft Orchard Hay was exceptional.  I went out and bought a whole brad new bag of Katee Orchard Grass.

I was willing to wait it out.  If Frankie eats hay a third day in a row, well then, it's not an accident or a coincident, it's a rule. 

Day Three.  Frankie ate hay!  Yea!  What luck is this?  Can I reduce the number of times I run out and pick Frankie grass?  Yes, yes I can because Frankie eats hay.  Do I need to feel anxious that the yard grass is growing slow?  No, I don't need to any more.  Frankie ate hay the next day and the next day and the next day.

Frankie eats hay.

Yesterday, after a long day of Frankie-ness, basking on the West wall, walking everywhere, dragging the old ten foot aluminum tower around, napping under the magnolia tree, pushing the blue chair off the porch, grazing the incoming new grass, walking up and down the slope, grazing the older grass, bumping the back house door checking to see if his staff is around (that would be me), dumping the water out of his kiddy pool, and basking on the East wall as the sun was creeping down the West horizon, Frankie made it back to the porch to eat a large amount of Vitakraft Orchard Hay and a cuttlebone.

I am tearing up a little here because it's a rule:  Frankie eats hay.

Frankie eating hay.

May 13, 2014

Pass the Grass

Grass is on my mind.  It keeps me up at night.  It takes up a lot of my time during the day.  No, not "Colorado Grass".  Grass as in Frankie's grass in his yard, or the lack of grass in Frankie's yard.

The backyard grass that came with the house is woefully inadequate.  Regretfully, we moved in the house during the winter and didn't know until Spring that Frankie's yard never had much grass.  What it had isn't enough for a 95 pound sulcata.

Woefully lacking grass.  The rest of the yard has no grass. 

Hey, mom.  No Grass. Do something.
Frankie's been somewhat patient about the situation.  No, I take that back.  Frankie has not been patient about a lack of grass in the yard.  He mopes about with this sad I-can't-believe-you-abuse-me look on his face.

I am starving, mom! Wait, is this a giant carrot?

Since there is no grass then I must pick a bag of grass & weeds for him, twice a day, and we all know how well that is going.  If I don't go pick a bag of grass then I must take Frankie for a walk.

Frankie siting by the gate. Well, more like blocking the gate until I get the hint Frankie wants a walk
Used to be Frankie and I would go on walks but we don't walk any more.  The minute he is out the gate he heads to the neighbor's house where they have real grass. We don't walk, we graze.

Frankie having thoughts of moving in with the neighbors who actually have grass in their yard.

There's been some heated discussions as to why there is no grass in our yard and how we're gonna get some grass:  Bad soil, lack of care of previous owners, not enough sun, aliens.  We looked at the biggest sun blocker tree and had it removed.  No kidding.  Took down a perfectly healthy tree so we could grow grass in our yard. Well, okay, it was a Pine Tree and Frankie was eating too many pine needles anyway. It was a good thing to take down.

I started planting more grass.  Bought Tortoise Grazing Seed from Carolina Pet Supply and planted it in three areas of the yard.  It came in great.  Then Frankie ate it.  The grass still exists but as it's kept trimmed to the ground by the hungry Frankie.  So I bought more seed.

Almost ready to be eaten. 
Small sections are planted and then covered with heavy duty screen.  Frankie can't eat the new grass until it grows above the screen. When the grass is ready I remove the screen.

Hey, this isn't fair.  And I ain't eatin' your hay either.

I got really ambitious and planted a really big section with grass seed.  I didn't have enough screens to cover it all so spread hay over it.  It's okay, Frankie won't eat hay even if he is starving.

Back corner is seeded and covered with hay.  Frankie ignores the hay.
Planting seed is a slow process but this way we get the right kind of grass to grow that is best for Frankie.  I choose seed based on Sulcata Station's list of good grasses for sulcatas.

Is the grass ready yet? Not yet?  Then go get me a bag of grass.  I'm hungry.
Right or wrong, slow or not, maybe there is a better way to get grass to grow in this large yard.  Considering the steep inclines, leaf-debris ground, varying soil types and lack of skill on my behalf, I am managing to get it done.

I keep reminding myself that once I get this grass seeded and grown the task will be complete and I will not have to do this again on such a large scale. 

We'll get here eventually.

 Looks like it's time to go pick a bag of grass & weeds for Frankie.  Hurry up and grow grass!