Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Published: Friday, August 21, 2009 at 3:36 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, August 21, 2009 at 3:36 p.m.

There was a point a few days after Lucky the turtle had his front legs chewed to bloody stumps when his owner was ready to let him “go home.”

Beyond the violent assault, he'd lost a lot of blood and was now bandaged and shot up with pain medications and antibiotics.

Sally Pyne, 60, thought maybe her Lucky had endured enough.

But after finding a resourceful veterinarian with lots of reptile experience, and inspired by the feisty turtle's own vigor, Pyne, an in-home care provider, decided the pet deserved a second chance, even if it meant a $900 bill.

Lucky is now back home and living it up, thanks to four plastic discs of the sort usually applied to chair and table legs affixed to his breast plate with double-sided tape.

The sliders, stacked two high, raise his shell to its proper level and allow him to scoot wherever he wants, powered by his back legs.

“I was ready to let little Lucky go home, but Lucky, he was not ready to give up. His eyes were open, and he was shoving himself around on his two back legs. He was not going to quit.”

North Bay Veterinary Clinic surgeon Robert Jereb said the turtle “was not showing that he was dying.” He amputated what was left of Lucky's front legs then conceived of the chair slider fix.

Box turtles normally live several decades, and this one remained vivacious despite his injuries, Jereb said.

“It wasn't a death sentence to be missing his front legs because he was so active using his hind legs and his mouth,” he said.

Lucky has lived with Pyne and her roommate, Robert Campbell, in their Petaluma home for about three years along with a menagerie that includes a female box turtle named Lovey, six cats and three snakes.

Until the July 31 attack, the turtle companions enjoyed a natural summer habitat enclosed by an 8-inch wire mesh fence filled with succulents, trees and a spineless berry bush, and measuring about 12-by-16-feet. They had a pond, a “hot box,” brick houses and plenty of places to bury themselves in the dirt.

Pyne thinks, however, leaving food out for a cat that had recently adopted the household brought a raccoon prowling, one she'd seen around the yard before Lucky's injury.

She doesn't know for sure, but believes the raccoon is to blame for injurying Lucky, which was found one Saturday afternoon bloodied under a rose bush.

A key question is why Lucky — whose species is named for its ability to enclose itself entirely within its shell — was vulnerable to the attack in the first place, Pyne and Jereb said.

Lovey had no sign of injury. Lucky, Jereb said, may have some kind of shell deformity that prevented him from boxing up. It's also possible he was overweight and unable to withdraw entirely into his shell.

Pyne was referred to Jereb, who has worked on an assortment of animals over the years, including numerous turtles and tortoises whose shells are sometimes repaired with fiberglass, acrylic, Bondo, epoxies and other inorganic substances.

His approach to Lucky's problem was inspired in part by a tortoise about whom he'd read that had a front leg replaced by a halved billiard ball glued to its front shell.

For Lucky, Jereb was thinking more along the lines of PVC pipe but was browsing for materials at a hardware store when he stumbled on the quarter-sized sliders or gliders he ultimately used.

The discs may later be glued on, though so far the tape seems to be working. If Lucky sluffs off shell surface, the discs may need periodic replacement.

When he's healthier, he also will likely require more surgery to trim back some leg bone that's poking into the skin from his shoulder socket.

For the time being, he's getting antibiotic injections every three days.

Pyne says the turtle gets around so well, “I think he thinks he's walking. I don't think he realizes he doesn't have the use of his arms,” she said.

He is somewhat slower than he was, however, and Lovey — at least for the moment — seems to be enjoying one key change in her companion's behavior after years of amorous conduct that's kept her on the run.

“Now Lucky doesn't chase her around and try to make babies any more,” Pyne said.

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