Pansy is an extremely special tortoise. No one knows exactly how old she is but what is quite plain to see is that her early care , or lack of, has shaped the rest of her life.
I met Pansy on October 18th 2013 after going into my local reptile store to buy some bugs for our pet dragons. I love to have a look in all the vivariums and fish tanks when I visit such a store. As I was mooching around, I came across a 4ft long vivarium and I couldn't believe what I saw inside. In all my days I had never seen such a deformed and unfortunate creature.. My stomach flipped with horror. There infront of me was a large and very flat and bumpy Tortoise. She looked to me like a cake that had sunk after the oven door being opened on it too soon. Her back legs dangled behind her, her claws were easily over an inch long and her beak was so over grown she looked to have a trunk.It literally nearly touched the floor.
I asked in the store if she was boarding with them and who she belonged to.. The young lady in the pet shop remarked that the tortoise had been dumped on them by the previous owner and they didn't know quite what they were going to do with her. I asked If I could do something about her beak and claws just to make her eating easier which I was allowed to do..
After a trip to the local chemist to get some cuticle clippers I sat on the floor of the shop with the tortoise on my lap and proceeded to trim about 15 mm off her beak and halved the length of her claws.. She was so calm to be sat there with me clipping away at her face and I could sense she was a very gentle soul. After I had done , I put her on the floor and watched her drag herself by her front legs across the floor while her back legs just trailed behind her and at times lifted and curled backwards over her carapace with no coordination or strength in them at all.She also had an audible wheeze as she breathed from the shallow lung space that her flat shell provided..My heart broke for her.
When the owner of the store returned, He told me that she was a tortoise that had been boarded in their Malvern store.. his wife had had a serious word with the owners when they came to collect her, urging them to take her to a vet because of the state she was in. 24 hours later they took her to the Worcester store along with the 15 inch vivarium they were keeping her in , and dumped her there..I will point out here that Pansy was 11 inches long !
We had a conversation about her future which resulted in her coming home with me there and then. That was just the beginning of a long road to her rehabilitation.
The day Pansy came home 2013
Pansys rehabilitation started that day.. To start with I had to sort her some living space where she could get everything she needed.. warmth, uvb and exercise..I figured that her back legs were so useless for two reasons. 1. she had a severe calcium deficiency due to the Metabolic Bone Disease that she clearly had.. and 2.. she hadn't needed her back legs in the cramped space she was forced to endure.. her muscles had wasted and rendered her legs useless. Observing their movement , they were completely un-coordinated with one another.
We started on a daily routine of calcium, Vitamin D3 and hydrotherapy sessions.
The Hydrotherapy was the most beneficial to her muscle tone and coordination and it was always followed by a lap on her wheels that I made out of a toy tractor and, some dowl and a piece of plywood..
The hydrotherapy pool was made from a washing up bowl, an upturned pyrex dish filled with water that was very warm. I wanted the temperature of the water to relax her muscles and make it less arduous on her. The first time we did this, Pansys legs needed to be told what to do. I took hold of her back legs and 'paddled' them. it took her a nano second to catch on and do it herself, only needing slight postural correction. It was the same for her wheels. This course of treatment was wholly intuitive and it paid off tremendously. We continued this for around 3 months , twice daily. The results were fabulous.
Pansy eventually joined the other tortoises in Hermann Hall in the spring of the following year. Gradually she improved in many ways. She gained weight, loosing the haggard appearance she once had and especially, enjoyed the new freedom she had with her improved mobility..
Pansy went from strength to strength and her first full year of living with me was fast approaching and so was the winter.
In late Autumn, I had noticed an unusual pinking on the thick part of Pansy plastron right under her head.. I took her to the vet and a blood test was taken.. it showed she had elevated white blood cells indicating that she had got a 'low grade infection'. She was treated accordingly with antibiotics and her follow up blood test indicted she was improving..
The day after boxing day 2014, I had the shock of my life. I came in to turn her lamps on as she was back indoors while the other torts slept for the winter.. As I approached her table I was sure that she had died.. the insides of her eyelids were protruding and her head was partially in her shell..I rushed her to the vet where she was xrayed. This revealed that she had an enormous egg which she was having trouble passing. The vet gave me two injections of Oxytocin to take home with me. I was to give her the first injection then after 6 hours , if she hadn't passed the egg,I was to give her the second injection. I sat up all night with her.. she had both injections and failed to lay the egg. The only option now was to surgically remove the egg or to have her put to sleep. It was a costly and risky operation but there was no way I could loose her after everything she had been through. there wasn't even a guarantee that she would survive the anaesthetic .
Pansy had the surgery. A square piece was cut out of her plastron so that the vet could remove the egg, her follicles and her ovaries. It was a long and difficult surgery,complicated by the state of Pansy's insides. The vet told me that Pansy must have been in this state for a very long time indeed.. The egg was so old that it had gone rotten inside.. it actually burst when the vet touched it and it had been there so long it was fused to the oviduct wall. Her body cavity was so full of infection it took one and a half litres of saline to flush it out. Pansy also had a bad bladder infection and her bladder itself had scarred so badly from infection that it had fused itself to the inside of the body cavity. The vet was astonished at just how ill Pansy had been all along and was in awe of her fighting spirit . Pansy stayed at the vets overnight for observation and morphine and I picked her up the following day. I was so relieved but not to be £1007.03 lighter!!!!
So my beautiful girl was home again and I could tell we had a long recovery ahead. She had a square of epoxy resin around her operation site and she had a lot of swelling.
I had oral painkillers and lots of injectable antibiotics to give her over the next fortnight.. I was very worried about her mobility again as her back legs were completely lame and didn't seem to have much feeling.. Again my intuition kicked in and I made a 'jacuzzi' spa for her out of the good old washing up bowl but this time with two lengths of air line submerged in the nice warm water under each of her back legs, powered by a fish tank air pump with a twin out let.. This worked a treat and with twice daily sessions of this and white board magnets blu tacked under her plastron to give her lift, the swelling went down miraculously and she was walking around on her own again in no time. In fact in the following years since her surgery, Pansy has positively blossomed.. Her flat shape is changing and she has grown at least an inch taller in the carapace than she first was ,even her breathing is less laboured. I am honoured to have been able to help her and adapt her world so life is easier for her. We have ramps because her legs are too short to push her over some things and she has to be fed in a bowl on its side as she can't reach the ground to eat due to her over thickened plastron.
Pansy is an extremely special Tortoise.. Her spirit is strong and her soul is gentle. It was both of our destinies to come together.
I still agonise over the years she must have spent cooped up in a 15 inch vivarium with out the room to even turn round, probably having lived in it from the day she was purchased as a small hatchling. How bored and miserable her life must have been.
And yet the biggest thing that grieves me about Pansy and her situation and the life of struggle that has been inflicted on her.. is that once upon time a perfect little tortoise hatched , with a perfect shell and perfect limbs. Sadly, that Tortoise fell into the hands of someone who's ignorance and cruelty disfigured and deformed them ...that perfect little tortoise was Pansy.