Tortoise burrows out, makes run for it

by: HOLLY M. GILL - 'Tiny,' an African spurred, sulcata tortoise, is back home this week after he burrowed out from under a fence last Wednesday, and went for an overnight stroll.An escapee made his way up Buff Street on Thursday, with the police hot on his trail. The repeat offender was caught as he stopped for a bite to eat on a nice green lawn at Seventh and Buff Street.

The escapee, ironically named "Tiny," was a large, 9-year-old African spurred tortoise, who had been on the run since the previous day, when he had burrowed under his owner's fence on Hull Street, just north of the Jefferson County Fire Department, and made a run for it.

Officer Mel Brown, of the Madras Police Department, was dispatched to find the repeat offender, who had also escaped a year or so ago. After circling the area, Brown spotted the sulcata tortoise resting in the grass, loaded him into the back of the police car and took him to the station.

by: HOLLY M. GILL - Mel Brown, of the Madras Police Department, loads 'Tiny' into a police car."That's the first time I've ever dealt with a tortoise," said Brown, who was expecting a small tortoise, "not one that gargantuan. He chilled here in the police department for about an hour."

Because "Tiny" had a police record from his previous escape, Brown was able to locate his owners, Amy and Tim Pattenaude, of Madras, who had been searching for him since the previous day, May 14.

As Amy Pattenaude recalled, it was a nice day, so she put Tiny out in the yard around 9:30 a.m., and checked on him every 45 minutes to an hour. "I noticed around 4:30 that he was gone," she said, noting that nothing had been amiss when she had last checked, around 3:30 p.m.

"He burrows holes and he can slip underneath the fence," Pattenaude said.

The Pattenaudes, their children, Brady, 14, and MaKenzie, 13 — to whom the tortoise belongs — and Madison, 11, immediately started searching for Tiny.

"I was telling the kids he couldn't get that far, but apparently he could," said Amy Pattenaude. "We were looking from 4:30 to 11 o'clock with kids, neighbors, friends."

Although Tiny traveled several blocks over about 25 hours, it wasn't his longest jaunt. "Last summer, he actually escaped and was found in the baseball field at the high school," said Pattenaude. "We were lucky because it was my son's friend's coach that found him."

This time around, she said, "At first we thought someone had picked him up. We thought we aren't getting him back a second time."

African spurred tortoises, which can live from 50-150 years, are originally from the Sahara Desert in northern Africa. They can grow to two to three feet in length, and weigh from 100-200 pounds.

The Pattenaudes bought Tiny from a neighbor as a gift for their daughter, MaKenzie, about four years ago, and have enjoyed his presence.

"He's easygoing; he likes to be scratched on his head," said Pattenaude, who was happy to have him back home.

She feeds him green leaf lettuce, grass, hay in the winter, green beans, and occasionally, fruits such as peaches and strawberries.

"He doesn't really eat in the winter," she said, adding that he lets them know when he's hungry or wants something by grunting. "When it's summertime, he eats and eats and eats."

As for why he tries to dig out of the yard, Pattenaude has a simple explanation. "He likes to roam," she said.

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