An Old Metairie resident affectionately known as “Tony” became a local celebrity this week after he pulled a traffic-stopping stunt.
The nearly 100-pound sulcata tortoise was found wandering down Glenwood Street on Tuesday after he broke out of his backyard home by digging his way through cinder blocks and wire.
Owner Jody Northrop said at first he didn’t realize the family pet was missing. Then a neighbor texted him a picture of cars stopping to gawk at the 12-year-old reptile.
Tony had managed to wander a few houses down, where neighbors Brandi and Tommy Gennusa somehow picked up the animal and lugged him to their backyard.
“The thing proceeded to knock over their barbecue pit and move all their furniture around,” Northrop said with a laugh. “Brandi said, ‘Enough is enough.’ It had scared the life out of her dogs.”
The Jefferson Parish Animal Shelter Department came and fetched Tony, then hauled him back home after the Northrops contacted the agency.
In the meantime, the story had gone viral online after Brandi Gennusa posted a photo on a Facebook page managed by NOLA Pets Lost and Found, a group dedicated to uniting lost pets with their owners.
“We really believe it is someone’s pet,” she wrote.
The image was still being circulated Wednesday, long after Tony was rescued, and had gotten more than 700 shares.
But an escaped tortoise isn’t that rare an occurrence. By Wednesday afternoon, in fact, another tortoise from Arabi had managed to escape. According to Ginger Shell, the office manager of the West Esplanade Veterinary Clinic, runaway tortoises are fairly common.
“They don’t move fast enough to run away too far,” Shell said Wednesday. “But they dig. If you have one in your yard and not in a good enclosed area, they dig out under the fence. And they’re gonna wander around.”
Shell said a tortoise is a hard animal to care for, and she frequently recommends putting permanent name tags on the backs of their shells so owners can find them when they wander off.
“They’re just out looking for grazing places,” Shell explained about the animals, which are vegetarians and like to eat kale, lettuce and fruits. “They’re just doing their thing.”
Other challenges of owning tortoises include keeping them warm in the winter and caring for them once they are too big to stay in the house, she said. Plus, the reptiles can live to be 100 years old, which means they often outlive their owners.
Dixie Louvier, a boutique owner who manages the missing pets Facebook page, said she was thrilled to learn Tony had been reunited with his owners.
Regardless of the type of animal, she said, her goal is always to get pets home.
“It’s the same thing with goats,” Louvier said. “When you see it posted, you’re like, ‘OK, this is a new one.’ But you gotta share it and help them, because someone loves them, too.”