AVON LAKE, Ohio — Once thought three shells to the wind, a rebellious reptile named Tiny Tim evaded his owners in Avon Lake and remained missing for 223 days until a chance encounter this week with a 12-year-old reptile enthusiast.
The treacherous tale of Tiny Tim, a 12-year-old Horsfield’s tortoise, has been the talk of the Waterside Crossings subdivision in Avon Lake this week after this months-long escape from his outdoor enclosure ended with him being returned to his grateful and elated owner, 15-year-old Vanessa Baker.
Baker, whose lifelong affinity for turtles and tortoises of all shapes and sizes, received Tiny Tim as a birthday present when she turned four. Much like his canine companions, Tiny Tim has become an indelible part of the family — despite doing everything in his turtle power to get away from them.
“I love turtles so much, and this was a dream come true when I got him. Ever since then, he has been the best thing that has ever happened to me,” Vanessa Baker said. “All ten years years that we’ve had him, he’s been trying 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 his way over concrete, stone and grass. He’s a tortoise on a mission.
“There is always somewhere else he’s got to be. I don’t know what it is. He’s a little traveler. He loves going everywhere,” Vanessa Baker said. “He’s always going places.”
Truth be told, the tortoise had escaped a couple of times before. Each time, however, he was quickly recaptured, often never making it past the neighbor’s bushes.
“When we got [Tiny Tim], I told Vanessa that Russian tortoises live for 50 years. He’s going to be with you as you go to college. He’s going to be with you at your first apartment,” Katie Baker, Vanessa’s mother said. “He’s with you all the way. When he left us, I didn’t think that was going to 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 developed in his outdoor enclosure, giving him just enough room to escape custody. This was his time. This was his "Shellshank" Redemption.
Known to dig and burrow several inches into the ground, Tiny Tim’s escape wasn’t detected by the Bakers until a day or two afterward. Days turned to weeks. Weeks turned to months. Hope 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],” Vanessa Baker said. “I didn’t think I’d 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 emblazoned on the front. It looked like a mugshot more than anything. In addition to posting the flyers around their home and the nearby walking trail, the family posted on the neighborhood’s Facebook page.
“With a lost dog, you know, there is kind of a protocol with that. With a lost tortoise, it’s all about 'who lives near us,’” Katie Baker said. “We didn’t hear anybody reporting seeing him or anything. We lost hope for sure.”
As the snow eventually turned to spring, there was an even greater threat: Lawnmowers. Ever still, the family kept searching for the reptile. Then, on Wednesday, about a mile away from the Baker Family home, Tiny Tim was spotted by a keen-eyed delivery driver and inquisitive 12-year-old named Clayton Johnson.
“A delivery driver stopped in the middle of the street. He saw a turtle in the road and he asked me if it was mine, which it wasn’t,” Johnson said. “[The tortoise] was moving pretty fast — for a tortoise of course.”
Johnson then gave chase, quickly confirming that Tiny Tim was not a native species to Ohio. This information told him that Tiny Tim had to be someone’s pet. A quick Facebook post then left the Bakers feeling shellshocked.
“Right when 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 tortoise. By sheer luck, Tiny Tim was unscathed and healthy. The Bakers believe he might have burrowed into the ground near the pond behind their home and remained there for a large chunk of the winter.
“It was just really heartwarming. I’ve never had an experience like this so it was really nice to get him back to where he belongs,” Johnson said.