AVON LAKE, Ohio – Once thought three seashells in the wind, a wayward reptile named Tiny Tim escaped his owners in Avon Lake and went missing for 223 days until a chance encounter this week with a 12-year-old reptile enthusiast years.
The treacherous story of Tiny Tim, a 12-year-old Horsfield turtle, was the talk of the Waterside Crossings subdivision in Avon Lake this week after his months-long escape from his outdoor enclosure ended with his return to his grateful and delighted owner, Vanessa Baker, 15.
Baker, whose lifelong affinity for turtles and tortoises of all shapes and sizes, received Tiny Tim as a birthday present when he was four years old. Much like his canine companions, Tiny Tim has become an indelible part of the family – although he has done everything in his power to distance himself from them.
“I love turtles so much, and it was a dream come true when I got him. Since then, he’s been the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” Vanessa Baker said. “In the ten years that we got him, he tried to get out of here.”
Tiny Tim’s reputation precedes him. All it takes is a few seconds of inattention and he’s off to the races, methodically plodding over concrete, stone and grass. He’s a turtle on a mission.
“There’s always somewhere else he needs to be. I do not know what it is. He’s a little traveler. He loves going everywhere,” Vanessa Baker said. “He always goes places.”
In fact, the turtle had escaped several times before. Each time, however, it was quickly taken over, often never getting past the neighbour’s bushes.
“When we have [Tiny Tim], I told Vanessa that Russian tortoises live 50 years. It will be with you while you go to college. He’s going to be with you in your first apartment,” said Katie Baker, Vanessa’s mother. “He is with you all the way. When he left us, I didn’t think that would be the end of our story.
One day last fall, after years of plotting and planning, Tiny Tim had his moment. A small hole had formed in his outdoor enclosure, leaving just enough room for him to escape from custody. It was his time. This was his “Shellshank” redemption.
Known for digging and digging several inches into the ground, Tiny Tim’s escape wasn’t detected by the Bakers until a day or two later. Days turned into weeks. Weeks turned into months. Hopes of finding Tiny Tim began to wane.
“We didn’t think we’d find him, really. It was winter and there was snow and everything. We really tried not to [lose hope]”, said Vanessa Baker. “I didn’t think I would see him again to be honest because he had been gone for seven months.
Immediately after his escape, the Baker family printed “missing” posters with Tiny Tim’s bewildered face on the front. It looked more like a mugshot than anything. In addition to posting the flyers around their home and the nearby walking path, the family posted them on the neighborhood’s Facebook page.
“With a lost dog, you know, there’s kind of a protocol with that. With a lost turtle, it’s about ‘who lives near us,'” Katie Baker said. having seen it or whatever. We’ve certainly lost hope.
As the snow finally turned to spring, there was an even bigger threat: lawnmowers. Still motionless, the family continued to search for the reptile. Then, on Wednesday, about a mile from the Baker family home, Tiny Tim was spotted by a bright-eyed and curious 12-year-old delivery driver named Clayton Johnson.
“A delivery driver stopped in the middle of the street. He saw a turtle on the road and he asked me if it was mine, which it wasn’t,” Johnson said. “[The tortoise] moved pretty fast – for a turtle of course.
Johnson then gave chase, quickly confirming that Tiny Tim was not a species native to Ohio. This information told him that Tiny Tim must be someone’s pet. A quick Facebook post then left the Bakers in shock.
“Right as he posted it, within five minutes, several people started calling us,” Katie Baker said.
Using a distinct scar on Tiny Tim’s shell, the Bakers knew they had finally found their long-lost turtle. By sheer luck, Tiny Tim was unharmed and healthy. The bakers believe it could have burrowed into the ground near the pond behind their house and remained there for much of the winter.
“It was just really heartwarming. I’ve never had an experience like this, so it was really good to bring him back where he belongs,” Johnson said.