I am not what you would call an emotional guy. I make very few relationships with others, and those I do tend to be shockingly shallow. So it might come as a surprise to see me attempt to wax poetic at the loss of a tortoise, of all things.
A little background. Several years ago, through a complicated series of events almost too silly to be believed, my mother ended up with a 10-gallon aquarium filled with wood chips and a turtle. Her thinking was that it would make a nice pet for her then-2-yr-old grandson. My brother, the child’s father, had a different opinion – something about “that thing’s not going in my house!” Out of choices, Mom turned to me, and I became the guardian of a 6-inch, 25-yr old desert tortoise.
Not being one to do things half-way, I built an enclosure on the side of the house to get the turtle out of the glass box. I did a web search to learn what to feed it, and how to deal with hibernation. As my nephew grew, his sense of ownership grew as well, and it was not uncommon to see him trooping across my back yard with friends in tow to show off “his turtle”.
I don’t want to say I was really “attached” to this thing, since it clearly wasn’t attached to be. Tortoises are a lot like your prickly old grandfather – always just a little pissed at something. Initially, I wouldn’t even name it, but I had to call it something, so I settled on “Sluggo” after comedian Ron White’s dog that has a habit of crapping on the floor. I knew that my Sluggo would do the same, given the chance.
Several weeks ago, I was feeling guilty (you’ll see that guilt is the underlying thread of this episode …) because the enclosure was in the shade. Tortoises, being reptiles, need the sunshine to keep warm, so I would take the tortoise out of the enclosure to let it run free in the yard while I was tending the roses. However, being a small animal, it could get into places I didn’t want – like under the fence – and I was constantly worried it would make its escape while I was pre-occupied. So, I put a barrier around a portion of my rose garden and created a connection between it and the enclosure. To give the tortoise access, I cut a hole in the chicken wire of the enclosure and bent it back. The tortoise could now move freely between the two, getting all the sunshine it wanted without any chance of escape. When I first cut the hole, I realized that it was much larger than the cross-section of the shell. I adjusted the cut wire and pushed part of it back into place, but didn’t secure it. I made a note to permanently decrease the hole size when I got a chance (cue ominous music …)
Unfortunately, the path to hell is paved with good intentions. Yesterday morning, I noticed that the racoons that frequent my yard had obviously been swimming in my pond, and had torn up the filters and pumps. This happens periodically, and results in all the water draining from the pond, and me being pissed off. I didn’t think to look and see what other damage might have been done …
After work, I was showing my brother and nephew the new addition to the pen. As I walked around the corner of the house, following the path from the addition to the enclosure, I could see that something had been digging right next to the opening – and had made it larger. I suddenly felt like Gil Grissom rolling up on a crime scene. I suggested my brother take his son elsewhere while I initiated the gruesome search.
The good news is that there was no clear evidence of a struggle – no tortoise parts, no blood, no shell pieces. The bad news is that there was no tortoise, either. I spent several hours searching the yard and all the places I know the raccoons hang out, but there was no sign of of the tortoise. It could have been carried off, I could have simply missed the evidence, or it got away and escaped. I may never know.
Unfortunately, I now have the task of explaining to a 6-yr old that his turtle is gone. At least I can hide behind the technically true statement that it simply escaped, albeit with help. That’ll all change if I find a shell fragment over the weekend …
Hard to believe, but I miss the little bastard …