I sat on a committee a couple of summers ago and heard how desert tortoises were being treated. People were treating them like they were water turtles. After a few years, they’d abandon them. I heard people were turning them in at the animal shelter, so I started researching tortoises—how to build a burrow and what kind of plants to put in it. That’s how I ended up with Charlie.
My husband and I built the burrow from the ground up. We had dirt brought in and got all the cinder blocks. We also put in an irrigation system. The fencing came because we have two Jack Russells.
I’m in two different [pet] relationships. My dogs are more independent. [For my tortoises], I have to get in the habitat to feed them. I have to make sure they’re in their burrows and it’s secure from wind and make sure certain things aren’t in there—we discovered earlier this year that a cat was making it a home. So it’s more care with them.
You have to pay attention to when they go into hibernation and when they come out. My tortoises tend to hibernate in early November and come out around the end of April. I like to interact with them, so when they’re gone that long, I wonder when they’re going to come back out. The first year, when I got Charlie, he didn’t come out, so I was concerned that he died. There’s a cinder block on the other side of his burrow that has a handle on it in case you need to get inside easily. I pulled that brick out, and he fell out. He was pissed! He was still sleeping. He looked like, “I cannot believe you just did this.” I put him back, he went back into hibernation and I didn’t see him for about two more weeks.
We have people in the neighborhood who bring their kids over and feed them. I have friends online [and] they’re always [saying] “Oh, I’m coming over.” People just can’t believe that a black man has tortoises in his backyard.