Speedy the tortoise, a flight risk, is home after month-long escapade

Hermann’s tortoises. They are gentle, attractive creatures partial to a Mediterranean climate and a daily regimen of digging, burrowing, foraging, sunbathing, and eating leafy green vegetables.

Climbing is one activity they aren’t supposed to enjoy. Speedy, however, may have been distracted by some Swiss chard and missed that genetic memo.

A six-year-old male Hermann’s tortoise, Speedy embraced an escape strategy that involved ascending the sides of an outdoor pen that Mike and Lily Oliveira constructed for their son Rex’s pet reptile in the backyard of the family’s home on Old Stagecoach Road.

“Usually he stays on the boundaries of the property and we find him pretty quickly,” Lily Oliveira said. “He isn’t missing for very long.”

In early July, Speedy embarked on his most daring getaway yet, scaling a three-foot-high baby gate that the Oliveiras had installed in his chicken-wire enclosure as another measure to prevent escapes. This time, though, there was no sign of Speedy on the edge of the property.

“We looked all over and he was nowhere to be found,” Lily said. “A few weeks went by and our son was sad, thinking that Speedy was gone for good.”

Sky Top sighting

About a month later, shortly before noon on Aug. 2 to be exact, Sophie Behunick (a 2020 Ridgefield High graduate) was driving on Sky Top Road (where she lives with her family) when she spotted a turtle trying to cross the road.

“Since I live right around the corner from a lake and hiking trail, it isn’t uncommon to see turtles, as well as other creatures, attempting to cross the road,” Sophie said. “I knew it wasn’t a snapping turtle, a painted turtle, or any other turtle I was familiar with, but I still just let it be.

“When I got home, I told my mom about my encounter. Shortly after our discussion, we hopped in the car to go get groceries. As we were driving down the road, I spot the little guy back in the street again. I get out of the car and pick him up to move him once more, and then I noticed he had a little heart painted on his back. At that moment, I knew he couldn’t just be a local turtle. He wasn’t even a turtle at all. He was a tortoise.”

The Oliveiras had painted the little heart (non-toxic, glow-in-the-dark pink nail polish) on Speedy’s shell to help locate him at night on their property.

“We did that after the second time he got out,” Lily Oliveira said.

Before calling animal control or any other town department, Sophie and her mom posted a photo of Speedy on several Ridgefield-centric Facebook pages. They made sure that the heart was visible.

“Thankfully, someone tagged the owner in the comments of these posts,” Sophie said. “It only took a couple of hours for the owners to claim him.”

Well fed

During his brief stay with the Behunicks, Speedy was treated like a head of state at the Waldorf.

“We kept him in a wide pink gardening bucket. It was the only thing we had we felt would give him a decent amount of room,” Sophie said. “After doing some research online, we discovered tortoises love fruits and vegetables. We fed him a single banana slice, two blueberries, and little bits of kale. We learned that fruit is like candy for them, so we did our best to give him the diet he was accustomed to. We also didn’t want to over feed him so we were a little sparing with the food. He loved the fruits, especially.

“Our family is used to taking in ‘orphan’ pets,” Sophie added. “Our youngest cat was found as a baby in the middle of the road, and we’ve now had him for about six years. If we had to, we would have loved to make Speedy a member of our family.”

It didn’t come to that. The Oliveiras saw the Facebook post and went to retrieve Speedy, whose road trip covered a few streets and about a half mile.

With Speedy likely to live another 30-plus years, more stringent security measures are being discussed.

“He’s in a dog crate right now while we figure out what to do,” Lily said. “It’s probably time for us to get him a small [GPS] tracker that we can put on his shell. He’s definitely a flight risk.”