One shell of an adventure: We were reunited with our runaway tortoise

escaped tortoise

by take-a-break |
Updated on

When Jodie-Lea’s nine-year-old son’s pet tortoise escaped, they never thought they’d see their runaway reptile again. Then, there was a knock on the door…

reunited with runaway tortoise

Getting the various lotions and potions ready by the tub, I called out to my children.

‘It’s bath time!’ I said. ‘Who’s free to help?’

Suddenly, I heard the patter of running feet.

‘I’m coming, Mum!’ my eldest Harvey, nine, shouted.

But my boy wasn’t helping me bath his younger siblings Isabelle, three, or Alfie, seven.

It was our pet tortoise Michelle that he was giving me a hand with getting squeaky clean in a sink tray.

Harvey loved his animals — our two terrapins, Bubble and Squeak, another tortoise, Shelby, and a cat called Luna — and would always help me with them.

But he and Michelle shared a special bond.

‘He’s so good with her,’ I said to my partner Ryan later, as I described how he’d gently cleaned her shell with a toothbrush and chopped up her lettuce for lunch.

Harvey wasn’t nine-year-old Afghan tortoise Michelle’s only fan, though.

Although she lived indoors in her tank, in the summer, she would have the run of the garden.

People walking by would often peer over the fence and ask: ‘Is Michelle out today?’

She became a bit of a local shell-ebrity!

My nan Hazel and grandad Corin loved her too and would often pet-sit for us.

Even my great-aunt Mary, 91, would ask how she was when we called on her at her care home.

Michelle was a character and for a tortoise, she could be pretty nippy!

reunited with runaway tortoise

She was an affectionate soul, too, and had a habit of resting her head on my grandad’s slipper-clad feet.

Being the biggest out of our other reptiles, stretching across both of my palms, she was the queen bee of the house.

She could live up to 100, so it was lovely to think she’d be in our lives for decades.

One summer’s day, I’d taken the kids out to an adventure playground, while my grandad and nan watched Michelle.

We kept the garden gate secure with a plank of wood, but Grandad sometimes liked to sit outside with our quirky critter, the pair of them basking in the sun.

A few hours later, I got a call.

‘I just popped inside to have my tea and now I can’t find the tortoise anywhere,’ Grandad said, sounding flustered.

We headed straight round and I frantically searched every inch of the garden — but she was nowhere to be found.

Grandad told me that the postman had been and must have moved the plank blocking the gate, which meant Michelle could have escaped.

'Has anyone lost a tortoise?'

‘Or she’s been stolen,’ I said.

We looked in our neighbour’s gardens and sheds, and under brambles and thick bushes.

Pretty soon, more than a dozen people had formed a search party to help us look.

Harvey was in bits but I promised him we wouldn’t give up.

After a few days, we put up missing posters, too, asking: Have you seen this tortoise?

Even when a week passed, and then two, I still kept my eyes peeled for her.

We would get people knocking on our door regularly, asking if we’d found her.

‘We’ll keep a lookout,’ they would say when I told them she was still MIA.

But the more time that passed, I knew our chances of finding her alive were slipping away.

We were all heartbroken.

‘I wonder where she is?’ Harvey would ask most days.

‘Maybe she’s hibernating,’ I said, trying to shield Harvey from my worst fears.

Tortoises could hibernate for three months, but as an indoor pet, she’d never done it before.

Could our house-trained tortoise survive out in the wild?

Seeing the sad look on Harvey’s face, Ryan and I decided to get another tortoise to help him come to terms with Michelle’s disappearance.

And when baby Shelly arrived, it did lift his spirits.

But he never forgot Michelle.

Eight months later, Nan and Grandad invited us over for tea.

reunited with runaway tortoise

My great-aunt had passed away the day before and we wanted to be together.

As we sat down, I saw Michelle’s tank, which was still at their place, light up.

Leaping out of my chair, I went to take a closer look.

And there, chomping on some iceberg lettuce, was Michelle.

‘It can’t be!’ I said, stunned, turning to Harvey, who was jumping up and down with joy.

‘Is it really her?’ I asked Grandad.

‘Yes, the wanderer has returned,’ he smiled.

I was gobsmacked.

‘Come here and I’ll tell you the story,’ he said to Harvey and me, as my delighted boy gave Michelle a hug.

Earlier that day, they’d had a knock on the door from Electricity North West worker Ben.

He’d been clearing litter at a nearby electricity substation when he’d stumbled across our roving reptile.

Reunited with runaway tortoise

He’d decided to ask around and by some stroke of luck, the first door he’d knocked on was Nan and Grandad’s.

‘He asked if anyone had lost a tortoise,’ Grandad said. ‘I thought he was taking the mick at first!’

But when Grandad told him Michelle had gone AWOL months ago, Ben showed him a bucket.

Inside, covered in mud, was our little rascal.

Grandad was shell-shocked.

‘Ben had thought she was a toy but then he saw her move and retract her head,’ Grandad said.

He’d wanted to surprise us so he hadn’t told us straightaway, instead, revealing all at dinner.

I just never imagined we’d find her alive again.

It was a miracle and I couldn’t thank Ben enough.

Back home, Harvey helped me clean her in a special glucose solution to give her an energy boost.

Afterwards, we shell-ebrated our reunion by spoiling her with a banquet of greens for her dinner.

Later, Harvey had a sweet idea.

‘I’d like to change Michelle’s name to Mary,’ he said. ‘She died a day before she was found and it’s like Mary guided Ben to find her.’

It was a fitting tribute seeing how fond Mary had been of her.

Reunited with runaway tortoise

Days later, Electricity North West called and asked if we would like to meet Mary’s rescuer, Ben, and if they could take some publicity photos.

They said the story had warmed their hearts.

‘We’d love to,’ I said.

Ben was amazing and Harvey kept thanking him.

He told us Mary must have buried herself under a tree, metres from the 11,000 volt electricity substation.

‘We tell people they shouldn’t trespass near a substation, but this is the first time we’ve had a trespassing tortoise!’ Ben said.

It definitely gave a new meaning to the phrase power nap!

Now, we’re building a new, secure pen for Mary so our runaway reptile doesn’t go off on another meander.

Our Mary might be a little contrary but to us, she’s a turtle star!

Jodie-Lea Evans, 29, Wigan, Greater Manchester

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