The Speedster

“Tortoises are not very fast, as everyone knows, but they make up for their slow speed by being very determined. And if you turn your back on a tortoise, thinking they will just hang around like a lazy cat, you are in for a surprise.” 

William Herring

I have a tortoise. He’s a Russian box tortoise and his name is Speedy.

I came to acquire Speedy many years ago when I was dating his owner at the time, J. We’re still good friends and I keep him updated on Speedy’s life. He had gotten Speedy from his uncle some years before, where Speedy had lived inside a garage in LA for ten years. J and I started dating in 2006. He was originally from Hawaii, and in 2008, he decided to move back to Hawaii. Obviously, he couldn’t take Speedy with him. I mean, he probably could have, but why, when there was a perfectly good caretaker right here who loved animals and already knew how to take care of him. Right?

I don’t really know how old Speedy is, but from the information I have, I guesstimate he’s in the range of 30 years old. He looks it, too. Old fart. He’s doing good, though. But, let’s be honest… the dude’s been through some stuff. From 2008-2014, Speedy was allowed to free roam in the backyard of the duplex I lived in (during warmer months… tortoise dude hibernates in the winter). He would spend most of his days roaming in peace, doing happy tortoise stuff, eating weeds and sunbathing. It was fully fenced, and I had bricked off any low spots to prevent escaping. This didn’t work all the time, and there were times I had to do the tortoise walk of shame to the neighbor’s house to do Operation Speedy Rescue. Or just hop the fence and quickly retrieve him without getting caught. Occasionally, there would be a dog on the other side that thought he was some type of rock that needed to be heavily scratched and bounced upon. But, those times were rare, and my dogs never touched him. They were so used to him always walking around that they fully ignored him. But then, a thing happened.

Dude loves dandelions.

In the summer of 2009, one of my best friends came over to visit one afternoon with his dogs. These dogs were not used to tortoises. Perhaps had never seen a tortoise, and definitely not used to free roaming tortoises in the backyard. I was not used to having to “watch” dogs in the backyard and didn’t even think about the fact that Speedy was out there. We were inside for a good amount of time, distracted by the amazement of technology, while the dogs were outside playing. At some point, one of us thought to check on the dogs. When we looked out the window, we saw one of his dogs with something in his mouth. Oh no. I forgot about Speedy. My heart sank.

We ran outside and quickly got Speedy out of the murder grip. Luckily, so lucky, so freaking lucky… he was still alive, and with very little damage. His shell was still intact and had no damage other than a few minor scratches. His body was fine, no bleeding or cuts, except… one foot had been chewed off. Super sad face. He wasn’t bleeding at all from his newly created stump, which was good. It was just… fleshy. The whole experience was very traumatic, I’m sure more so for the Speedster, obviously, but for me as well. Holy crap.

We found his foot. It was really sad. So, we did what any logical person would do in a situation like this… we had a funeral for his foot and we buried it. Then we took Speedy inside, washed him up, and we superglued the fuck out of his stump. And you know what? Superglue is the shit. His little leg healed up great. The superglue fell off after awhile, and he had a perfectly healed little stump underneath. And the whole experience seemed to do nothing to the lil’ guy… he went about his day and life like nothing happened, except now he has a super awesome pimp walk. He also had to adjust the way he eats because now he can’t tear food with that leg; it took him a lot longer to figure that out than you would expect. And honestly, with all feet intact, tortoises are a lot faster than you would think; his newly acquired disability did nothing to stop his speed nor his determination to escape. He was still able to dig and burrow himself completely underground so I wasn’t able to find him, freak out, and think he had escaped somehow into the neighbor’s yard. We have fun.

Old man and his stump.

I moved out of that duplex in 2014 and haven’t had a fully fenced yard that Speedy can’t easily escape since. I miss that yard… for Speedy. I’m sure he misses it, too. I’ve lost him a BUNCH of times, but I’ve luckily (so lucky) always found him. I’m an irresponsible tortoise owner. But, I know he likes to roam, and I like to give him that. Sometimes I just start making waffles and I forget I put him outside. You know how it is. Our house in Montana has a very escapable fence, so we built him a Speedy-proof tortoise corral: completely wired in so he can’t dig out and predators can’t get in. Unfortunately, that means he doesn’t get the brightest sunlight, or the best roaming grounds. So, I’ll occasionally let him out on a chaperoned “tortoise-walk” all over our property. When he’s not outside in his corral, he stays in Casa Kiddie Pool; it sits on a coffee table so it gets some natural sunlight through the window and also a nice view of the bird feeder (that he probably can’t see, but I give it to him anyway). Casa Kiddie Pool was born after we moved out of the duplex and we didn’t have a fenced yard for him to roam around in. For about two years, I let him free roam around the house because he seemed pretty happy doing that, not realizing I was preventing him from getting the precious UV light he needs to survive. Yeah, I’m an irresponsible tortoise owner.

I started this post wanting to talk about Speedy’s 13,000 mile road trip across America. Or the time I lost him for four days because waffles. But then I realized before I write about any of that, I had to obviously do an introduction post about the time he lost his foot and became Speedy, the 3-legged tortoise. He’s not really 3-legged, though. It’s more like 3-footed, I guess. Specifics, jeez. It doesn’t matter. What really matters is that he went through this traumatic experience and overcame it like a badass. Overall, he’s had a pretty interesting life for a tortoise. Also, did I mention he has a super awesome pimp walk?