Rescued Tortoise Gets New Lease on Life Comforting Nursing Home Patients

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Photo Credit: Facebook Chataqua Rehabilitation Center

When you think of pet therapy, you probably envision a dog or maybe a cat making the rounds, but at least for one nursing home, the answer is a bit different.

At Chautauqua Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in DeFuniak Springs, it’s a rescued tortoise who serves as the facility’s only full-time therapy animal.

Shelly the tortoise was found wandering along a roadside, most likely after being abandoned by his former owner. Believed to be about 20 years old, Shelly was given another chance at life – and a wonderful purpose, bringing joy and comfort to those who really need it. Today, the slow-moving creature who weighs in at about 65 pounds, is the center’s most popular resident.

“He’s a rescue tortoise that was found walking down Highway 20 near Portland, said Brandy Meredith, an occupational therapist. “As he’s grown, he was too big for his former habitat, so he came to stay with us.”

Meredith said though it may be uncommon, Shelly has been a delight to visitors and residents alike.

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“Winter, summer, rain, shine, Shelly is always out here, and that’s a way for the nursing home residents to know they’ve always got pet therapy available to them anytime they need it,” she added. “It definitely takes a village to care for a tortoise of this size.”

He provides entertainment, fun and maybe a flashback here or there. “Yeah, that’s a favorite thing for me,” resident LaVerral Fox noted. “Not very many people get to see an animal like this.”

Older folks aren’t the only ones who benefit from having a friend like Shelly on duty. His presence there has helped make the whole facility a more lively, welcoming place for everyone who visits.

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“One of my favorite things is how he helps youngsters who come in to see their grandparents,” Meredith said. “Sometimes, it can be intimidating here because of the wheelchairs and the nature of long-term care can be overwhelming when you first walk through the doors. Shelly takes the edge off. Kids can bring snacks for him, and have their grandparents go out to feed him. That’s a nice thing about having him here.”

Shelly is an African Spur Thigh Tortoise, a breed that can live to be up to one hundred years old, which means he could be around for quite a while.