Today (May 3rd) is National Specially-Abled Pets Day. So I wanted to share the story of an animal that I work with that is "specially-abled".
His name is Rudy and he's a gopher tortoise.
Gopher tortoises are called that because they are amazing diggers, like their mammal namesake. They are known for digging tunnels (up to 40 feet long) with a den at the end. These underground burrows are havens to more than 80 different species including endangered animals like Louisiana pine snakes, indigo snakes, and the Florida mouse. Rudy was actually doing what normal gopher tortoises do when he ran into some trouble, a lawnmower to be specific. When the man discovered the tortoise, he brought him to the Audubon Zoo in hopes that the veterinarians could help him.
Rudy lost one of his front legs, but looking at the slice missing out of his shell, it's amazing that he wasn't killed. Now that he only has 3 legs, he couldn't be released because he would no longer be able to dig a burrow for protection. So he lives at the zoo in the Children's Zoo area and was named "Rudy" because like the football player, he's got a lot of heart.
I love taking Rudy out for children to see. Usually when I place him on the ground so they can watch him move, the kids laugh at him initially because it's a little awkward. Like all turtles/tortoises, he lifts his shell off of the ground to walk, but when it's time for his front leg to move, he tips forward on his missing leg's side. Rudy does not give up though. He continues to move forward, albeit a little slower than "normal" gopher tortoises. And soon, the children start cheering him on. They go from being bullies to being advocates and I think that Rudy teaches them perfectly; we should be empathetic to others that might be different than us on the outside. We are all walking through this life together.
If you want to learn about other "specially-abled" animals that help others. you can read my posts about Faith, a dog that walks on her two hind legs giving encouragement to amputees, or the Tennessee Safety Spotters, a group of Deaf Dalmatians that teach kids about safety and Deafness.
Special thanks to my friend Amanda Mazzoni for her fabulous pictures of Rudy.