Lost tortoise brings Arlington neighbors out of their shells

ARLINGTON — Tino Turner ran away.

Baby Tina Turner wouldn’t crawl out of bed; Tina Turner seemed lonely without her companion.

And June Angevine couldn’t stop crying.

It had been a week and a half since Tino, a 15-year-old African spur-thighed tortoise, peeled back a layer of chain-link fence and escaped from a farm north of Arlington.

Every day since Tino crawled away, Angevine had patrolled the rural neighborhood, searching for signs of the giant 50-pound Sulcata tortoise. Natives of southern African deserts, Sulcata tortoises can live to be 100 years old and weigh up to 200 pounds. They are the third-largest tortoises in the world.

Angevine, 54, always thought Tino would be with her until the end. She wrote Tino, Tina and Baby Tina into her will and set aside money to help care for the tortoises when she dies. Though she has more than 50 tortoises and turtles along with goats, geese, chickens, dogs, cats, a pot-bellied pig, a Peking duck and a blind rat her three Sulcata tortoises are among her favorite animals.

“This isn’t something showy to have in the yard; we love these guys,” Angevine said, as Tina Turner licked her toes. “When I found out they were missing, I cried a million tears.”

Angevine’s ordeal began on one of the best days of her life. While running errands in Renton, her boyfriend, Carlton Gensil Jr., slid a white gold diamond solitaire ring onto her finger, making her his fiance. They celebrated with dinner on Aug. 31, then returned to Gensil’s home to find Baby Tina and Tino Turner missing.

Sulcata turtles are strong. They have been known to bore through walls in order to get to something they want. Apparently, Baby Tina and Tino uprooted part of Gensil’s fence and crawled to freedom.

Angevine is in the process of moving from her Lake Goodwin home to Gensil’s farm on 19th Avenue NE and she didn’t know any of the neighbors.

She was nervous about walking up to strangers and asking for help. But she wanted her tortoises. So she drew a cartoon sketch of Tino on a missing poster and started knocking on doors.

She was amazed by the response.

Strangers held her hand and walked through fields, calling the tortoises’ names. People shared stories of lost animals and deceased relatives. Neighbors who hadn’t spoken with each other before now talked about how they should look out for each other.

“She only lives a few houses down from me and I would never have met her if it wasn’t for the missing tortoises,” said Dana Grahn, who has called Angevine every day since they met last week. “My heart goes out to her, but everything happens for a reason. Something positive came out: our friendship. We’re going to be friends now forever.”

Several neighbors reported seeing Tino ambling along 19th Avenue, headed north. One man said he picked up a tortoise and put it in Gensil’s driveway, but it must have crawled away before anyone returned home. Another man said he saw Tino standing by a deer. He reveled at the wildlife of the area, but didn’t realize the tortoise was a pet and let it be.

“Our areas are growing and people are kind of afraid of each other, and I got kind of an inside scoop on all these people how they’re feeling and how they want to reach out and they’re afraid,” Angevine said. “It was almost like an ‘Ozzie and Harriet,’ ‘Leave it to Beaver’ experience for me. Everybody really cared.”

Two Saturdays ago, a neighbor found Baby Tina and brought her home.

Tino Turner remained missing. Ten lonely days came and went without news. Tortoise experts said he was in danger of dying.

Tom Silverfield, the Pacific Northwest Herpetological Society’s “turtle guy,” said Sulcatas are very rare and need specialized care. Dogs, coyotes and other predators may attack the tortoise, or it might not be able to find enough food. People have also been known to trap the tortoises and harm them or sell them over the Internet. Endangered in their native Africa, Sulcatas need warm, dry living spaces.

Sulcatas in the fall, usually dig a hole or hide in branches and hibernate through the cold months. So the window of opportunity for finding Tino was narrow, Silverfield said.

“He’s going to be in real trouble, real soon,” said Silverfield, of Everett, on Friday.

Anxious to hold Tino’s camouflage-colored shell in her arms, Angevine decided to offer a $100 reward for Tino’s return. She has two school-age kids and wanted to offer a bigger reward, but said she couldn’t afford it. She works at a cat shelter and cleans rooms at a nursing home once a week.

Late last week, neighbors she hardly knew before Tino’s escape offered to double the reward money.

Then late Saturday afternoon, Angevine’s phone rang.

Tino the Tortoise had been found. He was wandering down a stranger’s driveway a mile or two away from the farm. He had ambled almost all the way to I-5.

Angevine rushed to the house and embraced her tortoise.

She drove him home and paraded him around her new neighborhood, thanking her new friends for their sympathy and help.

Then she took Tino home and put him in a straw-filled dog house with Baby Tina and Tina.

Tina had her companion back. Baby Tina broke her fast and started eating again. Tino fell asleep with the tortoises he had spent most his life snuggled against.

The Turner family was whole once again.

And June Angevine can’t stop smiling.

Kaitlin Manry: 425-339-3292 or kmanry@heraldnet.com.

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