Opinion

OPINION | GARY SMITH: Escape of 200-pound tortoise makes for a slow news day

Another slow-speed pursuit makes news

Looks like we can all breath a sigh of relief: Wendell is back home.

I know. You didn't even know he was missing. And you wouldn't be alone, because apparently Wendell's owner didn't, either. Which is only one of the many strange elements of the story.

That's because Wendell is a 200-pound sulcata tortoise who became something of a celebrity in the Dallas area in late September when he turned up in the back yard of someone who was absolutely sure they didn't own a 200-pound sulcata tortoise. Or likely wasn't aware that there were even varieties of tortoises more specifically labeled than "big" or "bigger."

It seems that Wendell had escaped from his previous owner, a fact which may force us to reconsider everything we know about the physical act of escaping (apparently speed isn't as much of a requirement as one would have believed) and went on what Australians would refer to as a walk-about. OK, crawl-about.

Whatever the case, he wound up in a stranger's yard with no idea where he was or how to get home. Yep, I feel confident we've all been there.

The person who was inadvertently serving as Wendell's short-term rental host called the Dallas Animal Service, which promptly dispatched an employee (OK, likely more than one. I mean, 200 pounds) to collect the tortoise. I would imagine this took place after an internal debate on jurisdiction ("Should we send the reptile people or the amphibian people? Let's look that up ...") but I have no proof.

I mean, maybe the DAS people can remember enough of junior high science that they know whether a tortoise is a reptile or an amphibian (reptile, apparently).

The thing was, no one had reported Wendell missing. Which seems ... odd. I would imagine the only thing more disconcerting that finding a 200-pound tortoise in your back yard when it shouldn't be there is finding one not there that should be.

And you'd think someone would have spotted a 200-pound tortoise making a break for it on a city street. For one thing, that would be a heck of a speed bump. Or, if Wendell had escaped in Fayetteville, a speed table or a speed cushion. Whatever those are, in addition to being distinctions without a difference.

So the DAS collected Wendell, apparently without further attempt at escape. Well, maybe he was trying. I mean, a 200-pound tortoise making a run for it may look very much like just sitting there to the untrained eye.

They cleaned him up, fed him and actually even named him Wendell.

Again, another pause: I'm not sure how I feel about naming animals that aren't going to come when you call. Again, maybe Wendell was coming when called and it was just really hard to tell, Likely, however, it didn't register with him that he was being addressed.

Naming animals that aren't likely to respond seems to be more editorial than nomenclature. Did the tortoise look like a Wendell? Do Wendells all look like tortoises? Should either Wendells or tortoises be insulted? And is it just as pointless to name a cat, because they do know you're calling them, but just choose to ignore you?

Whatever the case, the DAS let the world know that, while Wendell wouldn't be making his one phone call, they were holding him. Strangely enough, within five weeks of Wendell's apprehension, they got 20 calls from folks claiming the tortoise was theirs. Which is 19 more than is accurate, but does speak to people's interest in either finding homes for strays or having what's probably a lifetime supply of turtle soup.

For the record, the rightful owner was found. And it seems not only are sulcata tortoises prone to escape, since they like to dig and are curious, but Wendell's name isn't actually Wendell. It's Lorenzo. Which, while only marginally letting Wendells off the hook, may or may not be an insult to Lorenzos and is also likely one more name the tortoise isn't responding to.

Seems Wendell/Lorenzo was acquired by his current family from the owner of the zoo made popular in the television series "Tiger King," and lives (at least when he's not going all "Shawshank Redemption") with 41 other pets, including a spider monkey that wears a dress and a diaper. Told you this got stranger.

The family also has five children, which may explain a lot about why no one noticed Wendell/Lorenzo was missing. And definitely explains a lot about why he left.