I’ve never been much of a reptile person. They’re neat animals and all, just not my first choice for a pet. But you guys have seen what goes on here at Casa de Chaos. What are the odds I’m going to say no to a homeless pet just because it doesn’t have a fur coat?

Simon is a sulcata (aka African spur thigh) tortoise who used to belong to a veterinarian friend of mine. We think he’s in his mid-30s, which makes him middle-aged. He also weighs about 150 lbs, which makes him super heavy.

Simon has had a few homes before, which is unfortunately pretty usual for his kind. These tortoises start out impossibly tiny and incredibly cute, and can easily be kept in small indoor terrariums. But in a few years, they grow exponentially–they can weigh 50ish pounds by the time they’re five years old and can top out at close to 200 pounds when fully grown. Obviously, that little terrarium is long gone by this point.

In addition to getting awfully big, these guys also live awfully long. The pet trade for sulcatas is fairly new, having really taken off in the past 20 to 30 years. Best guess for average lifespan in captivity is about 70 years, but it’s thought that this number may actually be low. A lot can happen to tortoise owners in this amount of time. Illness, old age, job loss, and relocation often mean adult tortoises need to be rehomed.

My guy needed a new crib when my friend decided his small home lot near the beach didn’t give Simon enough room to roam. So Simon came to live with us in North County San Diego. At first, I confined him to a 10-foot by 10-foot horse corral. He seemed ok with this arrangement. I mean, I didn’t hear any complaints . . . He ate hay and vegetables and was no problem at all.

Then we moved to a larger, fully fenced property. Now, relocating all these animals was quite a chore, and Simon was one of the most difficult ones of all. When we got him to the new place, I didn’t really have a corral or enclosure for him. I just figured I would wing it. It’s what I do.

What we found out is that Simon was way cooler than we initially thought. This guy was so happy to be in his new home that I swear to you he cruised the entire two acres for days on end. It was a whole new world for him!
Sometimes he heads up the hill to share hay with the ponies.

Sometimes he stands by the back door and begs for a veggie plate.

And he’s been known to ram anyone who’s not looking when he’s feeling particularly plucky.

He’s quite a showstopper and never fails to attract attention from neighbors, gas and electric workers, road crews, and mail carriers.

So I guess I’m a little bit of a convert to reptiles as pets. Maybe I’ll even get another one. Now I just have to make sure one of my kids wants to inherit one or two really large, kinda slow, scaly beasts who eat you out of house and home . . .