The Box Turtle Who Went Walkabout

Once upon a desert street, amidst a sea of nearly identical stucco homes, a girl who had become obsessed with “terrtules” (turtle pronounced with a rolled r and flipped vowels) was taken to the pet store on her 14th birthday to pick out a turtle of her very own. Told that she would be responsible for keeping her pet’s tank clean, the girl chose a box turtle (aka the one who was staring at her when she arrived and didn’t require a full tank of clean water).

After reading that the turtle’s tail wouldn’t be a full grown, accurate method for determining the turtle’s gender for many more months, the girl chose a genderless name for her new pet which she believed reflected the animal’s nature: Pokey. To ensure that caging such an amazing creature didn’t make it unhappy, the girl took her turtle outside to sit in the grass whenever she was out working on her tan. Pokey shared a room with her mother for more than four years – until the day she said she wasn’t allowed to take her turtle with her to live in the college dorms (even though they now knew her to be female) and put her in the yard to hang out in their favorite spot until she graduated.

Pokey saw and heard her grandma put out food for her to eat on the patio a few times, but she didn’t eat it. She missed her mom and wanted to be wherever she was. She wandered daily, eating bugs and plants when needed for energy, hoping she would eventually walk long enough and/or far enough that her mom would be home. Most days were brutally hot. More than a few nights left frost on the prickly plants that surrounded her. She had almost lost all hope of ever seeing her mother again when, nearly three years later, she spotted her mom’s red car and rushed out of hiding and into plain sight.

“Oh my gosh! Pokey!” The young woman shouted with joy as she ran to grab her shell baby. “This is Speed,” she said as she put the leopard tortoise she had recently adopted face to face with the box turtle she never thought she would see again. The three posed for a photo beside mom’s already packed car. Then, going against what she desired (to do what she thought was best), the young woman left her turtle in her mother’s care once again. “You’ll be happier here, Pokey. I swear. More space, more sun… and I will be back to see you. Don’t run away,” she said before driving off.

Try as she might, grandma couldn’t keep Pokey from chasing after her mom. She practiced using her claws to scale the stucco house until she was strong enough to drag her 6″ long carapace over the 2 foot tall bricks which had been planted one foot into the ground to meet outdoor turtle enclosure recommendations. Pokey went missing again in less than two months. Then, Speed died suddenly of pneumonia a few months later… as did the next tortoise she bought illegally small. The woman declared herself unfit to parent any more turtles or tortoises and pledged to love them from afar instead.

She graduated from college, got married and divorced, and was just trying out a third type of career when the winds of change blew Pokey out of hiding. The family that found her put up signs with her photo (in case someone was looking for a turtle) weeks before Pokey’s grandparents moved out of their home one cul-de-sac away from the hiding spot she’d taken years to traverse to. Grandma rushed to claim Pokey and promptly found her a ride to California… where she currently lives in a tank and shall have turtley pawsome outdoor adventures only when her mama is supervising furever more.


This post is based on real life events of the author and contains far more truth than fiction. Pokey went missing twice (in the suburban Arizona desert) between 1996 and 2003, once climbing over two foot tall bricks to get out of her enclosure. She currently lives in a glass tank with reptile carpet, a synthetic half-log, fake stone lake, and stick on decor. She is no longer allowed outdoors unsupervised, but does go on walks sometimes with her mom (Rachel Hoyt) and sister (Harry the tortoiseshell kitten).

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