To tortoise owners everywhere, all twelve of you. Have you ever contemplated what you would do if your pride and joy escaped from your garden sanctuary?
You might think that finding a lost tortoise would be considerably easier than tracking down a tearaway terrier or repatriating a playful pussy, but this is not necessarily the case.
It is generally true that if you were to momentarily lose sight of your prize specimen, as it went foraging in the lettuce beds, you could draw up a relatively accurate diagram to narrow down its potential position, based on an estimate of its maximum speed of movement and original position. By discounting such impossibilities as scaling six foot wooden fences and traversing streams (though I would suggest looking in any sources of water), nine times out of ten you could probably flick the kettle on and find the creature before the water came to the boil.
But what if the thing actually did go missing? Perhaps you went shopping and it crawled, ninja-like through a shrub-concealed hole in the perimeter fences, or maybe a naughty schoolchild popped over to retrieve a football and decided a tortoise in the rucksack would do wonders for his street cred.
Calling the beast would be a futile exercise. Even if you had bothered naming it, it is highly unlikely that the poor creature had ever been made aware of the event. Perhaps, though, your pet shop had brought in an exotic line of intelligent and responsive tortoises. But what could its manner of response be? Excitement is a lot easier to display when you are a dog, the propensity to over exaggerated affection obviously an evolutionary advantage when your food source is cruelly hidden inside metal skins that rely upon another species to break into it. Even a cat’s more refined show of commitment is a lot more obvious than anything your glorified garden ornament could emulate.
What could the tortoise’s ecstatic return to its loving owner’s arms translate into apart from a wrinkled smile and a meandering wander towards a creature that infuriatingly won’t stand still and actually look in the right direction. Even if you did happen to look at it you would most likely mistake it for a rock or a lump of vegetation.
And what about the posters? There are myriad ways to describe a missing moggy or pinched pup; the colour of its fur, the distinguishable marks, torn ears, gouged eyes, responds to the name ‘Carnage’. However, it is quite likely that when sitting down to design the reward notice it might suddenly dawn on you that you had never actually thought to look at your pet before, and while you desperately try to console your grief-stricken four year old, her contributions of ‘it’s green’ and ‘it has a shell’ and ‘it likes dandelions’ might have you reaching for the pet shop telephone number and taking the easier route back to her heart.
Which begs the question, is it really worth the effort to even look for a missing tortoise? Unlike a cat or dog it should be relatively easy to sneak a replacement into the vegetable patch before milking the adoration of your children for your sublime detective skills. However, moral conscience would probably kick in and although you know very well that the little blighter is munching away on poor old Granny Jones’s cauliflowers and getting fat, the niggling worry that a psychopathic pothead is devising the most entertaining way of separating him from his shell in order to obtain a new ashtray won’t go away. Fearful that your nights and days would blend together in a nightmarish guilt-fuelled existence, with thousands of mutilated tortoises plodding over your prone corpse for eternity, would no doubt motivate you to continue looking.
I hope this little piece of writing will strike a chord in the hearts of all tortoise owners, and owners of any other boring, pointless pets out there. You may have thought you were being clever, taking the easy option, dodging the responsibilities of pet-parenthood but you are mistaken. Look after that long-distance relative of the Dime bar, that famous hare-racing, One Foot in the Grave starring reptile for it may even now be plotting its escape. Of course, you could always spray paint a cross on it.