Meet Henry, a 16-year-old African tortoise living in Morningside Heights in New York City. He's looking for someone to be his new tortoise friend and take him on long walks in Central Park. Actually, it might be more accurate to say that Henry's owner, Amanda, is the one hunting for a tortoise walker. On Wednesday, she put up a Craiglist ad that has since garnered a bit of attention. Amanda, a marketing copywriter here at R29, took Henry in a little over two years ago when his original owner had to give him up to focus on her own young kids. "It was going to be a trial foster situation," she explains, thinking she'd have him for six months, max. "And then, I ended up falling in love. I was like, if he needs a forever home, I'll be that for him!"
But now, it's been two years and Amanda "couldn't imagine life without him...I think of life now as Before Henry and After Henry, B.H. and A.H." So, what's it like living with a tortoise? Based on my chat with Amanda, it's kind of weird — but mostly just awesome.
Henry's Upkeep"I've modified my apartment a lot. He's free-range," Amanda explains. "I had to get a baby gate for my living room, because he was rearranging my furniture." Amanda also has pet guards on the walls (the spikes on his front legs scratch), a heat lamp, and a heating pad for when Henry gets cold.
He eats a special kind of hay, which his human has to order from Idaho. As for where that special hay ends up, well... Henry poops free-range, too. Luckily, his "turdles," as Amanda has nicknamed them, are easier to clean up than cat or dog shit. Plus, he's a desert animal, so he only pees once a week or so. And unlike cats or dogs, "He doesn't really make any noise at all."
Henry's HobbiesHenry's got a personality all his own. "He definitely has a personality...more than I anticipated," says Amanda. "He’s really social, he’s curious." Henry's interests include: bright colors ("If you’re wearing bright toenail polish, shoes, or socks, he’ll follow you around."), long baths ("He bathes everyday; he loves being in my bathtub."), mouthing foreign objects ("He explores the world with his mouth, because he doesn’t have hands."), and cuddling with his human ("If I'm reading in bed, I’ll let him snuggle next to me.").
Henry's Social LifeHenry loves people. No, really. "He's never really in his shell," says Amanda. "Henry will greet anyone who comes into the apartment. One time, a FreshDirect guy told me, 'If you don’t want him anymore, I’ll take him.'" Her super loves him. And Henry seems to be especially good with women. "He’s a ladies' man," says Amanda. "I have told my male friends, 'If you want to meet a nice girl, take Henry out by yourself.'"
But it's in Central Park, where Amanda takes him on weekends, that Henry can really be the social butterfly he is. Amanda thinks of herself as an introvert, but when she goes to the park with Henry, he causes a scene.
"People love him," she says. "They ask a lot of questions...I have to be up for all those conversations." About 99% of the interactions Amanda and Henry have with strangers are positive ones. "I like to say that Henry brings out the best in people...It's reaffirmed that most people are really friendly, curious, and good people." And having a tortoise has helped renew Amanda's faith in the city. "I think talking to these people reminds me that people in New York are great. [And] it feels nice that I get to be one of those things that makes New York fun and crazy...part of the weirdness of New York."
The only thing that seems to be missing from Henry and Amanda's beautiful life together? A pet walker for when Amanda's at work and Henry's stuck at home — epsecially as the weather gets warmer. "On weekdays, when it's nice, I don’t have anyone to take him out, so I imagine him being kind of sad." If you're interested though, you better apply now. Amanda's already gotten tons of applcations. "There have been a lot of responses to the job post, especially after all of the coverage...I have a few people I like already that just have experience with animals."
It might take a little while for Amanda to find just the right person to help her with Henry — but he's already got legions of fans. "I knew it was a weird gig and that people would appreciate it," says Amanda, "but I didn’t expect this."