Friday, August 10, 2012

TOP STORY >> LOST & FOUND Sherwood family’s pet for 50 years returns after a year's absence.

Leader staff writer

This is not a children’s story, but the saga of a family tortoise that crawled away from his Sherwood home last year. This past week the tortoise reappeared miles away in North Little Rock and was reunited with his owners through the help of animal lovers and pure luck.

“We are so thrilled you can’t imagine. I’m happy to be a tortoise parent again,” owner Susan Reedy said.

Tom, a California desert tortoise, has lived with Sherwood residents Reedy and her brother, Bill Faggard, for more than 50 years. Last August, the siblings had their backyard fence repaired after a car crashed into their Indian Head neighborhood home.

After the fence was fixed, Tom managed to find a gap between the fence and the rock underneath. The spry 90-year-old was able to push himself through and into the wild.

Reedy said only 20-minutes had passed when she noticed Tom was gone. The identification patch glued to the top of his shell was found peeled back under the fence.

She said everyone in her neighborhood knew about the tortoise, but no one had seen him roaming around. Reedy called the Sherwood Animal Shelter and the police department began looking for Tom, but the dinner plate-sized tortoise had vanished.

“We’ve never lost him before, we were resigned that we wouldn’t see him again,” Reedy said.

“Tortoises don’t have the instinct to know they are lost. They tend to go in a pretty straight line unless something catches their eye,” Reedy said.

Faggard was 6 years old living in Costa Mesa, Calif., when he found Tom. The tortoise belonged to a neighbor. Tom had an appetite for flowers and soon the neighbor’s mother had enough of Tom and tossed him out into the street.

Faggard and his friends came across the tortoise in a gutter. He brought the tortoise home, where his mother was more accommodating, even though Tom ate her flowers too.

When the family moved, so did Tom, to Texas, back to California and to Arkansas in 1997. When they lived in Houston during the 1960s they spoke with a zoo specialist about caring for Tom.

The specialist told them tortoises lose the ability to fend for themselves once they are captive.

“He’s lived with every member of the family. He’s been to three generations of show and tells. He’s made the rounds,” Reedy said.

Tom is even in the family’s will. According to information from the San Francisco Zoo, desert tortoises live 50 to 80 years.

Native tortoises hibernate in the winter by burrowing in the desert sand. Faggard said they take Tom inside the house around Halloween. They tuck him in with newspapers and box him up for the winter. They wake him up on St. Patrick’s Day.

Last Friday Julia Ramey of the Park Hill neighborhood in North Little Rock got a surprise. Her neighbor told her something was under her car. When she went to look, Tom moved out from under the vehicle.

Ramey took care of Tom, as her two young children soon renamed him Buddy Boy. Ramey called the Game and Fish Department, who recommended she take Tom to a Lakewood lake.

Ramey said she felt there was something special with the tortoise. It didn’t look like a native turtle. It might be someone’s pet.

Ramey mentioned finding a tortoise at her house to a co-worker, who then contacted Brandy Buie, a volunteer rescue coordinator with the Cabot Animal Shelter. Buie picked up Tom from Ramey but couldn’t keep the tortoise at her Cabot home while they searched for the owner.

Tortoises like to dig big holes and Tom would have torn up the family’s yard. Buie took Tom to Brenda Ransom’s home in Cabot. Ransom fosters homeless dogs for Buie until Buie finds new homes for them or makes arrangements for transportation with rescue organizations across the United States.

On Monday Buie started contacting animal shelters in the area. She sent a text message to her friend Angela Spears, a Sherwood animal control officer, about the tortoise.

Spears and senior animal control officer Charlie Gullette remembered hearing about a Sherwood family missing a tortoise a year ago but they did not have any contact information or the owners’ names.

Just by happenstance former alderman Butch Davis was at the shelter and overheard the telephone conversation between the animal control officers and North Hills Animal Hospital, which takes care of exotic pets.

Davis told them he knew the tortoise’s owners — his neighbors.

Soon Reedy contacted the shelter and sent photos of Tom. After comparing the description of the tortoise’s shell swirls and colorations with Buie, it seemed the found tortoise might be Tom.

On Tuesday night Faggard, Reedy, Buie, Ransom, Ramey’s family and several others met outside the Cabot Animal Shelter for the homecoming.

After talking briefly about Tom’s past, Faggard reached into Ransom’s car and pulled the tortoise from a laundry basket in the back seat. A smile broke across his face as he picked up the 20-pound tortoise.

How did Faggard confirm this was Tom? He tickled one of the tortoise’s rear legs and Tom reacted with a wiggle.

Reedy said now that Tom is back home he will soon be implanted with a microchip.

“We’re so excited to have him back. I’m glad we have people like Brandy who cared and called the animal shelters, Angela and Charlie at the Sherwood shelter who remembered my story and Julia who didn’t toss him out and let him wander off,” Reedy said.

“I am just happy. To lose him and get him back, it’s amazing,” Faggard said.

He said people took a little time and the result was getting a pet back to the family.

“A lot of people think animal control officers just pick up dogs, but we help unite people with their lost pets. We spend a lot of time working with people,” Spears said.

She said she shed a few tears after she found out the tortoise was Tom. “That’s why we do what we do,” Spears said.

Did Tom walk all the way from Sherwood to North Little Rock and survive a year in the wild, or was he picked up by someone, only to make another escape? If only tortoises could talk.