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Tortoise Emergency? Max to the Rescue!

Turk and Caicos the tortoises, wondering together in Elaine's back yard.

When a friend needed help with her dog, I offered to foster him as long as he got along with my reptiles. I was very pleased when Max and my free-roaming tortoises easily accepted each other. Good thing since it’s looking like Max, a Chihuahua mix, is going to be a permanent member of my household. Especially since he became a tortoise rescuer!

Max, the dog, relaxing on a blue rug.

To the Max

I’m new to the dog world. I didn’t grow up with dogs, I grew up with snakes. My first personal pet was a barnacle. Yes, I am weird. So, this is to say, I don’t know much about dog-to-human communication. I’ve met dogs that will bark at their human to let them know they need to go out. I’ve finally figured out that if Max stands by the door and whines, he needs to go out. If he comes upside me and whines, he really needs to go. Unless it means his water dish is empty or his meal is late.

This afternoon I was in a Zoom meeting, Max stood by the door and barked. He usually waits until he really needs to go and signals by whining, so barking perhaps indicated a really urgent need. I excused myself and dashed to the door to open it. Fortunately, I have a walled-in backyard, so he can’t escape and the predators entering is slowed. I always keep an eye on him when he is outside. Max is the perfect snack size for a coyote. As I opened the door for Max, I looked out to see one of my newly adopted desert tortoises, Turk, upside down. His fellow tortoise, Caicos (formerly Carlos), was beside him.

Turks, the tortoise, lying upside down in the dirt his head and feet are retracted into his shell.

I couldn’t decide if Caicos was trying to help him flip back upright or if he had been the flipper, knocking Turk over. When I opened the door, Max rushed over to the upside-down tortoise. I shooed him off – the poor tortoise was rather compromised and not into being probed by a dog nose. It was apparent, Turk had been on his carapace for a while but had no permanent effects. Tortoises can suffocate if stuck on their tops too long. Their internal organs are not designed for inversion.

I’m still curious about how Turk ended up that way. Turk and Caicos are both male, so I’m not surprised they don’t hang out together and seem to roam different areas of the yard, but is there aggression between them? Tortoises do fight. They bite, aiming for their opponent’s necks or feet, and chasing their victims. They can ram each other, sometimes flipping each other over. The red-footed tortoises inside my house have been known to flip Trevor Box Turtle when he annoys the much larger females and then spin him like a top. Did Caicos decide he wanted his new yard as his own territory and tried to knock off Turk? Was it simply a male macho fight? Or did the other tortoise in the yard, Cantata the sulcate, get involved and Caicos was trying to help?

We’ll never know – tortoises are very close-beaked. However, I hope the reptiles know that they have a friend in a dog named Max. I think he barked to alert me to the tortoise in trouble. In fact, I wouldn’t have gone out for another hour, if Max hadn’t barked. In my opinion, Max has taken his guard responsibilities to the family seriously. After all, his family includes both me and the reptiles.

I’d like to think that Max wanted me to know a family member needed help but maybe he just something interesting happening and wanted to check it out. Either way, he saved his new brother.

While I don’t have any books on any dogs (yet), I do have several on tortoises! Take a look at them here

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