Our tortoise died last week. A week ago today, actually. Or a little over. I found him last Thursday morning. He could’ve died any time the night before. I’d made sure to check on him; since getting an automated light, I didn’t have my twice daily checkin. I found him a week ago. He was dead. The mucus running down his face was more serious than I had thought the night before. He just seemed lethargic, which happened often. But when I found him, the mucus had already started hardening. Later, when I took him out of his enclosure, it ran down over his mouth, under his chin, solid and shining, especially since it stopped just as the head met the now distended neck.
Horrific end for a really sweet, shy creature who was supposed to outlive us. We were supposed to have to pass him off to friends or family. Or set him up in a sustaining nature preserve with maybe some other tortoises but definitely a Croc™ for every mood (google keywords: tortoise, squeaking, shoe). Not have him die out of the blue. We just had the last rat die a few weeks ago and it’s getting to be summer so rethinking the tortoise setup was on our minds. It was going to be Green Beans’s chance to run wild and eat dandelions and poop free. And probably have toys in his enclosure because he likes pushing up against things (google keywords: tortoise, squeaking, shoe). But, no, we discovered he really liked moving objects. I wanted to set him up with some blocks. He’s going to live to a supercentenarian, he should be enjoying himself.
We had another tortoise before Green Beans. Sweet Pea. Only it turned out Sweet Pea wasn’t a boy but a girl, something the original owner and the vet didn’t know either. So Sweet Pea was Petula. After Petula Clark. And she was super-sweet. She loved strawberries and she’d bonded with us. And she died after being outside for a while. We assumed something poisonous bit her because she was in terrible shape when I found her.
But maybe I just wasn’t taking good enough care of her.
I wanted a tortoise–I came into being a pet enthusiast in my twenties, I had none consistently growing up–but I wanted a tortoise because they were supposed to last forever. My first interactive pets had been rats. Rats do not last forever. Depending on the pet store’s holding cage quality or just plain genetics, rats might not last as long as that one school fair goldfish your friend had one summer. Tortoises are supposed to last forever–you’re part of this dinosaur’s life instead of it being part of yours.
And then you find it dead and you killed this amazing creature. Not maliciously, not directly, not willingly. You just weren’t equipped for the task. I mean, aquatic frogs, rats, cats. All fairly low maintenance. Tortoises are supposed to be low maintenance too. So you can successfully just be an enthusiast, you don’t have to know everything. Though when Green Beans had shell rot, we took care of it real quick. And successfully.
I felt responsible enough. Right up until I found Green Beans hadn’t eaten the dandelions I’d given him two nights before. I should’ve known something was wrong then. Green Beans devoured dandelions. He didn’t like strawberries, but he devoured dandelions. And green beans, which is how his original owner named him. But he liked dandelions more than green beans, which my wife discovered one summer day, letting him roam and weed the yard for me.
It’s one of those micro-tragedies. One more way the expected narrative gets shook and it’s in a constant state of rattling these days. There’s no moral, just the resulting hit to morale.
The whole point to having a pet is to give this animal a better life than it’d have in nature or elsewhere. Within reason, of course. I’m never going to be ready to talk about the LICKI brush. Not for free, anyway.
Maybe I’ll bury him in a Crocs™ box. Pet ownership, while extremely humanizing and rewarding in innumerable other ways, is a really fucking dumb idea. It invites sadness. It requires it. Of course, requiring sadness is the entire human condition malarky.
Tortoises who hibernate shouldn’t be house pets. It’s not right. Tortoises need to burrow down deep, scrunch up, their heartbeats slow but rhythmic against the shell, against the soil around them. It’s cold, but that heartbeat is this warmth below the snow covered ground. And then come spring, the tortoises will dig their ways up to the surface, as the dandelions bloom yellow and there are Crocs™ of every color.
Google keywords: tortoise, shoes, squeaking.