“Very few people have interacted intimately with a tortoise,” says Jim Ferron. By that, he means having one as a long-term pet.

His tortoise is Cha Cha. Like turtles, they are reptiles from the order Testudines. But tortoises are land-based while turtles live in or around water. Cha Cha is a 13-year-old leopard tortoise – a strict vegetarian.

Ferron will alternatively refer to his pet as either “he” or “she”. He doesn’t know his pet’s sex. But he does know what it likes. “He-she approaches family and friends for attention much like a cat, by walking up and rubbing against a leg.”

Cha Cha loves greens of all sorts, “especially Southern greens, with an occasional toe nibble. Strawberries are the favourite treat.”

tortoise

Out for a stroll, Ferron takes his pet tortoise Cha Cha to a grassy area in Seattle’s South Lake Union for an outing.

Having a tortoise as a pet is not like having a dog or a cat. “She can go three or four weeks not really noticing me, or ignoring people altogether, unless she needs water or a green leaf.”

So, it’s a different kind of companionship. Low maintenance. Even in the tight spaces of the boat Ferron lives aboard, Cha Cha might just park face-first in a corner and take a nap.  And be prepared for a lifetime pet. Cha Cha can easily live another 40 to 80 years.

tortoise

Only Cha Cha knows if it actually recognises the toy tortoise onboard Ferron’s boat where pet and owner live.

He-she does like to get out and about, going for walks along South Lake Union. Ferron says, “She can be fast when she’s really determined.”

This is relative, as the top recorded speed of a tortoise is about 8km/h. It’s that determination that led to the tortoise’s victory over the hare in Aesop’s fable. The race is not always to the swift. – Tribune News Service/The Seattle Times/Alan Berner

tortoise

Cha Cha can scoot along at a pretty good pace, though it is less than 8km/h, top speed for a tortoise.