It's not everyday a tortoise goes missing from its home – a 70-year-old, 155-pound tortoise, that is.
But that's exactly what happened to a beloved family pet named Tortellini, an African Sulcata tortoise, owned by Elexis Hays and her family.
On Thursday night (Aug. 16) Tortellini wandered off from the wildlife rehabilitation farm he calls home located in the Matt Highway area of northwest Forsyth County.
The good news is that the giant tortoise was spotted in a neighborhood near the Hays' farm and was returned safely on Sunday afternoon.
"I'm not a sissy girl, but I cried like a big ol' baby when I got him back," said Hays.
She and her family have been rescuing wildlife creatures like fawns, deer, opossums, groundhogs and squirrels, and other non-indigenous animals for years.
During the interview Hays was feeding a squirrel a bottle while she told Cumming Patch, "I take the overflow from the r, AWARE (Atlanta Wildlife Animal Rescue Effort), DNR (Department of Natural Resources)," she said. "When they find oddballs like Tortellini – that's how I ended up with so many."
In addition to saving the wildlife "oddballs" she also goes into the schools and tries to educate students on what to do and what not to do when an encounter with a wild animal happens.
The Hays wildlife rehab farm is also the family home. She said it sits on five acres and when she's raising deer and other critters – that's where they live.
As for Tortellini this is not the first time he's left home.
"He escaped about seven years ago without us even knowing it, out our front gate, and made it through multiple fences, across two busy roads and into someone's yard. And they called animal control – animal control knows me well cause I work with them a lot and they said 'hey we've got your big boy here' so I had to go bail him out."
Since Tortellini's most recent adventure Hays has set up a Facebook page for the tortoise, which will also feature the other animals on the farm and the ones she rescues. While she is happy to accept donations to help with the costs of caring for the animals, the main reason for the page is education and awareness.
Hays plans to write about caring for the animals and her experiences that she's had with the animals throughout the years.
One thing she wanted to point out to parents is that turtles and tortoises, while they may be cute when small, do not make great pets and would advise mom and dad not to get one for the kids as a pet.
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