Pet shops that sell tortoises
Photo by Jen Pawloski
Wasabi, in a dress, strutting her stuff in a St. Patrick's Day Parade.
Even Lisa Chicarella thought that way at one point. "I was under the impression they were like goldfish in shells, " she says.
After Chicarella's dog, Chief, died, she talked to the director of the therapy organization. “I said I didn’t have a therapy animal anymore; too bad Wasabi couldn't be one. She said, ‘Why not?’”
Wasabi turned out to be a big success. She’s famous for wearing a dress, which is a great icebreaker, but it started out for practical reasons. Lesson No. 1 in reptile keeping is that these animals don’t produce their own body heat: Wasabi needs to wear thermal wraps to keep her warm when she works in the winter. The dress conceals them, but it was such a hit that now she wears it all the time.
Difficult to Contain
The tortoise got her name because "she’s hot stuff, " Chicarella says. "When I first got her, she literally wouldn’t come out of her shell for two weeks. But once she popped out, she never went back in."
However, while owning a dress-wearing therapy tortoise can be pretty cool, it comes at a price.
Says Chicarella, "My entire existence revolves around Wasabi."
Wasabi’s species is common in the pet trade, but buyers rarely realize what they’re in for. "When you get them, they’re tiny — about the size of an egg, " Chicarella says. She got Wasabi as an adolescent weighing about 12 pounds, and now, seven years later, she tips the scales at more than 40 pounds and is very active and strong — with little respect for human property.
"For a tortoise Wasabi’s size, drywall is simply a suggestion, " Chicarella says. One of her pet's favorite pastimes is moving the furniture around. "She’s always into something, " she says. "She’ll push the ottoman around all day." Wasabi has broken several kitchen chairs, which Chicarella sometimes discovers by sitting on them.
And that's only the start: Wasabi will keep growing till she’s about 100 pounds. But, Chicarella says, "to keep her locked up wouldn’t be fair" because she’s so active and, yes, intelligent. "She’s very much a thinking little being. I can see her trying to figure out things. I tell her 'No, ' and she hisses at me."
Along with Wasabi's challenging day-to-day management, Chicarella has to plan for the long term. Wasabi is expected to live 50 to 75 years, so she’s provided for in Chicarella's will.
A big problem with turtles and tortoises is that the most common species in the pet trade are not necessarily the most suitable pets. Chicarella says that while for her, Wasabi is worth it, she recommends that no one get an African spur-thigh. "For the record, they’re terrible, terrible pets, " she says. "I enjoy her, but it’s an amazing amount of work. They’re not for the faint of heart."