Steve The Missing Tortoise To Be Reunited With Family 3 Years Later
Steve had managed to evade capture in Waltham and lived a life on the lam. But an old Patch article in part helped a reuniting.
WALTHAM, MA — After three years on the run, Steve, a pet Russian tortoise, is going to be reunited with his owners — who now live across the country — thanks to one Waltham family.
Steve went missing near Gilbert and Main streets in Waltham near the firehouse in 2014. His family put up notices in the hopes that they would find him. He was a tortoise, how far could he have gone? Over the years there had been several sightings. But Steve somehow managed to evade capture.
The family held out hope but eventually had to move and relocated to California (Sign up for the Waltham Patch breaking news alerts.)
‘I didn’t realize we had a turtle statue’
Then, yesterday evening, Joshua Bennett-Johnson and his family were in their backyard when his wife Andrea Coughlan noticed a tortoise near the garden box in their backyard near a statue of a little bird. She pointed it out, and Bennett-Johnson thought, « I didn’t realize we had a turtle statue. »
Coughlan has worked with wildlife at Drumlin Farm Wildlife Santuary and as a naturalist teacher knew it wasn’t just an ordinary box turtle. So they posted about it on social media, and friends speculated and commented and wondered and researched turtles. Meanwhile, someone posted a Patch article from three years ago about a tortoise named Steve who had gone missing.
« We think it might have happened when we opened/closed the entrance door to our house when he escaped, » Daniela Tsvetanova posted on a missing tortoise notice to Patch in 2014.
She told Patch in a phone interview that she’d bought Steve at the Waltham Petco in 2009 for their son who had a hard time getting over the loss of a hamster.
« He wanted pet that would be with him for his life, » said Tsvetanova.
Her son loves animals and he loved Steve, who lived in an aquarium in the house but would be free to walk around the house and would sometimes hide in shoes or in corners.
And then Steve escaped. Her son was devastated, and the family spent weeks searching for him. After the fliers went up on their street, a neighbor took a photo of the renegade tortoise and sent it to the family to see if it was theirs.
« That was the first time we truly knew he had escaped, » said Tsvetanova. But the neighbor was too nervous to pick up the tortoise, who looks pretty tough though Tsvetanova insists is pretty gentle. So by the time they got to the location, Steve had moved on. Nine months later, the family moved to California, despite the concerns of their son, who worried Steve would try to come home and no one would be there for him.
A couple weeks after they moved they got a tip that Steve was headed toward Belmont.
« I thought, you got to be kidding me, right after we move?, » said Tsvetanova.
But once again, the tipster didn’t stick around to corral Steve. And Steve did what all tortoises on the lam do.
« Tortoises hibernate in the winter, and they move in the warmer weather, » said Tsvetanova, who said she was convinced Steve could fend for himself and tried to assure her son as much. « They’re really sturdy animals… he got away, but he actually was sticking to places where there were brooks. This is their usual habitat in Asia. »
The family got two more tortoises, Donatello and Ginger, but Tsvetanova still secretly held out hope that Steve would turn up one day. Her son, however, later said he’d pretty much given up hope.
After seeing the photos of Steve online and thinking about how many Russian tortoises would be wandering the streets of Waltham, Bennett-Johnson decided to contact the owners through their old missing tortoise advertisements.
When Tsvetanova heard his voicemail, she was hesitant at first. She was skeptical it was another case of a well-meaning tip but that Steve would sense that the fuzz was on to him and would scoot.
But not this time. Bennett-Johnson was watching a tortoise, whom his 5-year-old daughter, Mari, had dubbed « Tortey. » Both he and his wife, avid animal lovers, had set Tortey up so that he could spend the night in their backyard but wouldn’t escape or get eaten by cats. He was safe in a box filled with dirt and greens in their daughter’s pink play tent in the backyard.
He forwarded some detailed photographs of the tortoise, and the more Tsvetanova and her son looked at it, the more they realized, based on some unique, identifying markings on the tortoise’s top and underside, it was very much likely the Steve who absconded in October 2014. On the phone Bennett-Johnson could hear her get a little choked up when she realized it.
Although Russian tortoises tend to look a lot alike, « We’re 99 percent sure, » she said to Patch.
Tsvetanova’s son, meanwhile, is over the moon, she said. « He just asked me again when Steve is coming home, » she said in a phone interview.
A little after 8 p.m. Tsvetanova’s family friends walked up the driveway to the Bennett-Johnson house and met Steve. They dialed their friends in California and let Tsvetanova and her son Facetime with the tortoise and the Bennett-Johnson family.
« We’re certain now, » said Tsvetanova as Chris nodded. He said he could tell because of the front of the shell and « his facial structure. »
With that, and some marveling at how Steve managed to wander Waltham for three years, Bennett-Johnson handed off the tortoise. Tsvetanova’s friends carted Steve in the large box Bennett-Johnson and his wife had prepared for Steve’s overnight stay the previous night into the back of their car.
Bennett-Johnson confesses he’s gotten a little attached to the little guy but is happy to be able to help out another family.
Next mission for the Tsvetanova family: Figure out the best way to get Steve home. « I’ve heard that UPS delivers live animals overnight, but we want to double check. We don’t want Steve to die on the trip over after all that, » said Tsvetanova.
She added that she and her family are excited to have such a happy ending to this saga, one that may give a little hope to anyone who’s ever had a pet go missing. (Woman holds out hope about finding lost cat after 4 years).
« I’m just really grateful for the person who called us. He didn’t just see the tortoise and not do anything. So I’m really, really thankful to him. »
As for what Bennett-Johnson got out of the whole two-day tortoise wrangle?
« Life’s many stories seldom have happy endings. Losing a pet is like losing a family member, » he texted Patch. « For whatever reason, Steve ended up wandering into our lives. And because he did, we got to help restore what was previously a broken family, and to give them a happy ending to this particular tale. And in doing that, we got one of our own too. »
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