There’s something brown in the greenhouse at the Lapeer County ISD’s Ed-Tech Center in Attica Township, but it’s not dead. It’s Aggie, the school’s African spurred tortoise, which came to live at the school at least 15 years ago after she was found in a nearby yard.
“Somebody picked her up and gave her to us,” said Debbie Thompson, the parapro who works in the agriscience and horticulture classroom at Ed-Tech. “It was September or October and it was getting cold.”
They contacted the Detroit Zoo and were told in no uncertain terms that the zoo was not interested in taking in any unwanted pets. No one was found to be missing a tortoise in the area, either, so Aggie – named for the program – was allowed to stay in the greenhouse.
She turned out to be a perfect addition to the program.
It should be noted, they’re not entirely certain whether Aggie is male or female, but since Aggie sounds like a feminine name, the tortoise is often referred to as “she,” though Thompson said Aggie doesn’t care either way.
That first winter, Aggie just went to sleep. It turns out, spurred tortoises hibernate during the winter months.
“We had to do a lot of research on her,” said Thompson.
As the days get warmer, the tortoise wakes up and begins to move about in the greenhouse, coming out to sunbathe and eat… and eat… and EAT all the tasty treats brought in for her by staff and students. The kids in the culinary arts program at Ed-Tech will save scraps for her, and Thompson said they also purchase plenty of food for her, because she puts away a lot.
“She’s spoiled rotten,” said Thompson. “On a hot day, she eats a lot. Grazes like a horse. Eats all the time.”
“Apples are her favorite fruit,” piped up one student. “She’ll chase you for an apple!”
While tortoises are known for being slow animals, they can make progress when they want to. And when someone accidentally leaves the greenhouse door open, Aggie has been known to make a break for it. Staff members report coming into the school and finding her wandering the halls, unsupervised. When that happens, she’s put on a cart and taken back to the greenhouse. She’s rather large and is too heavy to carry, though Thompson said it’s been a long time since they had her weighed.
“There’s nothing more unique than to see a tortoise roaming the hall,” said Thompson.
Aggie is kind of like the teenagers in the school, Thompson said. She sleeps until 10 and then she’s going until dark.
During the summer months, Aggie goes home with Thompson to live on her farm. There she spends her days in the pasture and at night, she has a ramp leading into the barn, where she buries herself in the straw.
“It’s so cute, she and the goat sunbathe together in the morning,” said Thompson.
Aggie is gentle, and many of the kids at the school feed her by hand. If they’re working in the greenhouse and she’s hungry, sometimes she’ll chase them around, and she enjoys human interaction.
“Sometimes you can scratch (her shell) and she’ll wiggle,” said Thompson. “Raindrops will make her do that too. She’ll dance.”
She can also be stubborn. If something is in her way, like a bench, she’ll ram it until she figures out that it’s not going to move. She’s powerful enough to move a railroad tie if she has a mind to do it.
Overall, though, having the tortoise at the school is fun for students and staff alike. Some staff members head to the greenhouse on their lunch break to enjoy the fresh air and visit with Aggie, and the special education students in the building also get a kick out of her.
“She does wonders,” said Thompson. “She’s really good therapy, and she’s got a personality.”