Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Long Lasting Pets (like Malcom)

Yes, pets are a responsibility.  But some are more of an investment than others.  Investment of years, that is.  Consider the difference between a Betta Fish and an African Grey Parrot.  Well cared for, the Betta may live a year and a half, the Grey seventy years.

Many people make provisions in their wills for the care of their pets.  Laws vary from state to state in the US but usually a trust fund can be set up to provide for the pet's needs.  In addition to the monetary provision, a guardian is named to manage the pet's care.

The topic of pets to grow old with gives me an excuse to talk about Malcom.  In the summer of 1975, I was thirteen.  Macomb Pet Shop was about a mile away and a frequent destination for my family.  My brother was an avid tropical fish hobbiest and I often came along to look at the Mynah Bird that apparently lived there in the store.  And there were the turtles.  I had enjoyed terrapins as pets.  Then I found out about tortoises. Very cool critters and less dirty water to clean!   A shallow pan of water is all they require for drinking and occasional soaking.  Tortoises need to be keep warm, so a light and/or undertank heating unit is necessary.  

Red Footed Tortoise
Malcom was about the size of half  a shoebox when I bought him. These days, when you buy a Red Footed Tortoise from a pet shop he'll be a baby, slightly smaller than a baseball and captive bred.  Malcom was probably caught in the wild and shipped to the pet shop.  This likelihood has always led me to believe that Malcom harbors not a small amount of animosity towards me.  (This may be more my hang up then his, however.) Still, there is no denying that Malcom is a prisoner.  But then, arguably, most pets are prisoners.  As Warden, you try to make it a nice prison. 

The day Malcom came home with us was hot and sunny.  So, by Red Footed Tortoise standards, quite comfortable.  Under my giddy and watchful eye, Malcom strolled around on the grass in the backyard.  He was magnificent- elephantine hind legs, dark brown shell decorated with three tidy rows of yellow squares.  His head was sprinkled with yellow and orange polka dots.  Dark orange circles accented his feet.  Malcom's front feet looked like standard turtle feet (though thicker) shaped at an angle with nails suitable for digging.  Of course, tortoises tend to be thicker all around than terrapins.  It is no doubt by design.  Terrapins need to be more stream-lined for swimming.  Tortoises need to be heavy and sturdy to handle the challenges and perils found on the ground. On this lovely summer day, Malcom ate his first meal in Lynn's Prison yard:  a perfectly ripe strawberry.

My relationship with Malcom has spanned some three decades.  Stay tuned, more excuses to talk about Malcom are forthcoming.


Image: from the book, Turtles by John M. Mehrtens
Recommended reading:  Turtles by Hartmut Wilke and Exotic Pets by Arthur Rosenfeld


  1. And of course turtles do have that really, really long lifespan...

    I'm sure he'll enjoy being the center of attention.

  2. My ex-husband's grandmother was in her 70s...and bought a cat that has a 30+-year lifespan. I always wondered why. I understand when someone's younger...but if your pet will outlive you, it might be time to stop and think about it! At that age I'd probably get a standard 15-years-or-so lifespan pet!

  3. I love turtles!

    My bird Sam lived to be 21. His vet told me he'd only seen one other grey-cheek live past 20 in his 24 years of practice. Apparently the average lifespan is 12-15 years.

  4. Malcolm looks like my brother's desert tortoise who lived to be over 50, but recently....went to turtle heaven?

    By the way Desert tortoise used to be endangered, but now they are still protected. We got ours in the 60's when they didn't have any laws about them. Are Red Footed Tortoises a protected species too?