By Phyllis Doak
Alexandria, VA – The Blessing of the Animals is not uncommon at churches and synagogues in Alexandria. However, the blessing at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Sunday, October 1, was a tad unusual. Rev. Jenni Ovenstone, Senior Associate at St. Paul’s, admitted that she has never before blessed a 45 lb. African spurred Sulcata tortoise.
Stanley, as he’s affectionately known throughout his home in the Rosehill Reserve subdivision of Franconia, is recognized by neighbors and passersby when he ambles along on Rose Hill Drive. Elizabeth and Ron Schall got him four years ago when he was a mere two ounces. Stanley’s breed originates from the southern edge of the Sahara Desert, but he was born from a breeder in Florida, hatched among 20 siblings, and was no larger than a 50-cent piece when he emerged from his eggshell.
Elizabeth says she spent hours researching the breed before deciding the Schall family was ready to adopt. In a brief 15 hours, Stanley was at their front door via UPS. A few months later, Stanley was joined by a “baby brother,” an India Star tortoise. They were about the same size and could play together initially, but Stanley quickly got too big for co-mingling. Elizabeth says that they still “hang out” close to each other.
Sulcata tortoises are the third largest breed and can live up to 150 years. Stanley eats three times a week on a diet of grass, weeds, and flowers. Because of the risk of pesticides, Elizabeth and Ron supplement his diet with various organic greens and veggies. Fruit is like candy to Stanley, so he only gets it as a rare treat.
The Schalls know of two other Sulcata tortoises in the area, one in DC and the other in Sterling, VA. So far, none have met each other.
Stanley’s daily routine consists of 12 hours awake in summertime, which narrows to four to five hours of activity during winter months. He ambles along at a top speed of one mile per hour, but that doesn’t keep him from walking the neighborhood, meeting new people and four-legged friendlies. Elizabeth likes to dress him up for holidays, which also lets people know he isn’t a stray. The bonus is that people recognize him. Anytime he is out for a stroll, he is greeted with shouts of “Hi Stanley” from anyone passing by.