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Vets Pets - Life in the Freezer

Spring approaches, if a little slowly, and it is time for my tortoises to awake from their period of hibernation. This used to be a time for rummaging in straw laden boxes in the attic to determine if the prized family pets had survived another winter, but with the milder winters brought on by global warming, opening the fridge is all one has to do.


For the last five years my tortoise collection has slept peacefully on the shelves of a household fridge. This means that their temperature, and hence length of hibernation, can be perfectly controlled and I can keep an eye on them whenever I want. Usually I weigh them every two weeks during the winter and make sure nothing untoward is happening. The tortoises are in a relatively dry and clean environment and protected from mice and rats who used to try and move in when they were kept in the outhouses. This has meant a safe, controlled and deeper period of hibernation for all the tortoises and resulted in fewer losses over this potentially dangerous time of their year.


After they are extracted from the fridge there will follow a period of daily bathing, gradually rising temperatures brought about by the central heating turned low and heat lamps strategically placed over compounds in the spare bedroom. They await their favourite food, dandelion leaves, (the only feature of the British environment that suggests that tortoises should be kept on our damp cool island) and eventually in late April or so they will make the jump into the great outdoors.


Tortoises have come a long way from the family pet of lettuce and straw box frame. They require much care and attention to survive this time of year and thankfully with our increased knowledge they usually do.


I was remembering recently a local Antique Road Show in which a proud family brought a box containing a crockery set left by an elderly relative to determine its value. After much digging about the top was off the box to reveal the family tortoise fast asleep despite an impromptu journey from its hibernaculum in the attic! I can’t help thinking that a pet that owners have had for decades is worth much more that a china dinner service however old!


Tom Clarke

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