W von Papinešu
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GENEVA SUN (Illinois) 08 September 10 Geneva couple plan Reptile Rescue effort - Exotic tortoise captures hearts of Geneva couple; now they plan to establish Reptile Rescue (Linda Girardi)
Geneva: Rhonda enjoys afternoons rustling through blades of grass, basking in the sun's rays, and munching on romaine lettuce, escarole, dandelion greens and the occasional slice of watermelon, prickly pear or fig.
Alice and Ron Marine rescued Rhonda a year ago from an owner no longer interested in having the tortoise after Rhonda had grown too large for her living space.
"People go to reptile fairs where they can buy baby turtles, without realizing how quickly they will grow," Alice said. "People should really do their research before they buy a turtle, and never buy one on impulse."
Rhonda grew to 62 pounds in eight years, and she's still growing. She'll weigh more than 100 pounds when fully grown, Alice said.
The Geneva couple said the original owner had the turtle in an apartment and had dropped her, leaving the reptile with a broken shell and permanent nerve damage in her hind legs, which makes it difficult for Rhonda to walk.
"He didn't want her anymore and was going to put her to sleep," Alice said.
Rhonda is a domesticated African spurred tortoise, also known as an African desert tortoise. She has a calm disposition, and her shell is the color of the Sahara desert, which hides her from predators. The spurred tortoise (Geochelone sulcata) species is known as the third-largest in the world and can live for 80 years.
Ron, a passionate house rehabber who has restored homes on the National Register of Historic Places, built the tortoise a retreat summer house in keeping with their riverfront home.
The home's exterior, painted in dark green with red and white trim, resembles an Italian cottage by the sea. The front yard's decorative iron fence has a sign that says "Turtle Cottage."
The spurred tortoise cannot tolerate temperatures below 55 degrees, so in cold months she lives in the couple's family room, accompanied by three lively dogs -- a bull terrier and two Italian greyhounds -- a cat named Mr. Orange, and a bird.
Once a week, the tortoise is bathed for purposes of absorbing moisture and relaxation. Her damaged shell has fully mended after veterinarian treatments.
"She's very happy this summer," Ron said.
The couple have grown so fond of Rhonda that they have decided to establish a Reptile Rescue on a farmette they own on State Street in Geneva.
"When we came across Rhonda, we realized what a magnificent thing she really is and that she came so close to being destroyed," Alice said.
"We realized there is a real need," she said. "There are all kinds of dog and cat rescues, but no reptile rescues."
The couple have specified in their wills that their pets are to be cared for by their son and friends. The animals include an African gray parrot, which also can live to be 80.
They said Rhonda recovered from an upper respiratory infection over the winter.
"We brought her in to the veterinarian three times a week -- we were very worried," Alice said.
A donation can for Rhonda's care that is affixed to the front yard fence recently was stolen.
"We were pretty upset about it," Alice said. "We assumed nobody would steal a donation can for a turtle. It's pretty bad when someone steals donations for a crippled turtle and future homeless reptiles."
Someone who heard about the theft dropped off a can of coins to help cover the loss.
The couple are building accommodations for the care of other unwanted and abandoned reptiles.
"People have liked tortoises over time, including Napoleon," Alice said.
"When we adopted Rhonda, people started coming to the house to see her. I don't know what the connection is for people, but there definitely is something there. I think at first they are shocked by her size. And once they get to see how gentle she is, they become very fond of her.
"She has such a sweet soul."
Donations for Reptile Rescue can be sent to Alice and Ron Marine, 33W929 State St., Geneva, IL 60134.
Geneva couple plan Reptile Rescue effort
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