The Zen of Tortoise Turds

I got the call from Lana yesterday morning. I was expecting it. Carolyn had looked so much more at peace the night before. Her color was not good, but her breathing seemed much easier. I wondered if she was beginning to let go. And a few hours later, she joined the saints eternal. 
I got the call as I was leaving the house (late!) to take Squish to his Parents’ Day Out so that I could go to the zoo. For a few minutes, I debated whether I should even go. I needed to write my portion of the obit still, and there were people to notify. But my supervisor’s son had been born a few days before, and if I didn’t go, the tortoises would miss their soak for the week.
To be fair, my supervisor would never expect me to be there under the circumstances. And these are tortoises which hail from Madagascar. Each week at their soak, these animals are presented with more water than their wild counterparts would see in half a lifetime. So they didn’t necessarily need me. But I think I needed them.
I sat down to the computer and finally typed out the words that had been rattling around in my head for the obit. I knew what needed to be said. So I did. I hit send, grabbed the kid and his lunch, and we hit the road.
I arrived late, so I was pressed for time. Two groups of tortoises to be soaked, with a 15-20 minute disinfection in between each round. Someone’s ipod was plugged in, and I was treated to several hours of the 90’s greats: REM, U2, Counting Crows, Tom Petty. Loud, soulful, distracting. I liked. 
I have only done tortoise group one in reverse a couple of times. I had taken careful notes during my training, but it was slow-going. After setting up 14 soaking tubs with their respective tortoises, I realized I had made an error in my notes. I suffered about 5 minutes (or was it hours?) of agonized panic before my brain finally kicked in. All I needed to do was soak these guys, put them up, get round two started, and see who was left. If I didn’t have time to run that last group, the world wouldn’t come to an end. 
If it seems like soaking a reptile and returning it to its home enclosure is a brainless task, let me go ahead and enlighten you. When the fate of an endangered species is in your hands, your thinking cap had better not be in the dryer. Okay, maybe I exaggerate. A little. Maybe a fate doesn’t hang in the balance, but putting someone back in the wrong enclosure risks cross-contamination, inaccurate breeding records, and the wrath of Michael. I like to avoid all of those things. So I am careful. 
I have my routine for soaking. I get the critters in their filled tubs, and then I wait for them to poop. Kind of like Squish at bath time, only less irritating. Once they are crawling around like they are hitting the high and dry road, I check the turd-count. If there’s one for each critter in the tub, I put them up. I pour out the mucky water (fluffy floaters down the left sink, rinse in the right), add some bleach to the tub, fill with the hose, wait. Empty, rinse, refill with water, add tortoises.
I have zero tolerance for stupid people right now, so I avoided the public. I tried to ignore the BANG, BANG, BANG of unsupervised school children banging on exhibit glass. Occasionally, I popped my head out of the door and glared at useless chaperons, but I didn’t bother with interpretation today. I stayed in my hidey-hole, wrist-deep in turdy water, and hung out with my friends.
I have my favorites and have given some names. Big Mama (so-called because she is, well, she’s BIG). And there’s Lumpy, the Common Spider Tortoise who hatched with a deformed carapace a few years ago. I like the Chacos because they were the first tortoise I ever got to handle (with gloves, Michael, thank you very much). And the male Radiated, whose amorous advances to an unwilling partner tend to leave him screwed in a less-literal since than he would probably like, needs to be rescued at least once. 
And they all have their personalities. The Pancake tortoises will always try to leave the scene. One male Padloper becomes quite amorous when soaked, and he can usually be found making passionate love to his brother. It’s a little disturbing, really. The young Burmese Stars will always poop before everybody else. One group of tortoises resides in the top bunk, and they will always be found on opposite sides of their enclosure, necessitating an inconvenient move of the step ladder to catch them both.
It’s not rocket science, but it does require my full attention. So as I soaked feces from endangered species, I was able to get a handle, albeit a temporary one, on my real life. I look forward to next week, and I hope to high heaven that I got everyone back where they belong. If not, I’ll definitely hear it. And that’s okay, too. I can handle it. 
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