Family, turtle so happy together

Poppy Marie cuddles with owner Mary Bella Betts. The two were reunited on Thursday after the Russian tortoise had been missing for nearly three months.

Poppy Marie cuddles with owner Mary Bella Betts. The two were reunited on Thursday after the Russian tortoise had been missing for nearly three months.



For background on Poppy Marie’s adventure, see the earlier Union-Bulletin story at

“Reunited and it feels so good,

Reunited ’cuz we understood,

There’s one perfect fit, and Sugar this one is it.

We both are so excited ’cuz we’re reunited, hey-hey.”

Peaches and Herb, 1978


of The Walla Walla Union-Bulletin

It took a village, social media and what sounds like a miracle, but Poppy Marie is spending this weekend basking in the joy of her family and the familiarity of her sleeping shelter.

And the wedding is on again, meaning no one has to return wedding gifts.

The dainty Russian tortoise went missing from her outdoor pen on Easter Sunday, just weeks before she was to be “wed” to Walla Walla turtle, Lea-nardo Snow. The bride-to-be escaped from her outdoor pen, where she was enjoying sunshine and dandelions as her owner, Mary Bella Betts, had Easter dinner with her family on the deck.

It was the first truly warm day of the season and the pet loved nothing more than being outside, said Mary Bella’s mom, Becky Betts, in a May 27 story in the Union-Bulletin.

When Poppy Marie went missing, the ensuing “missing turtle” campaign bore no fruit. A week later the Bettses left the country for their planned European vacation, dragging along a distraught Mary Bella. They returned home several weeks later, filled with hope after being told by friends Poppy Marie had been found and was safe in the arms of Blue Mountain Humane Society.

But no. That was another, much larger tortoise. Four-year-old “Dandelion” — who was found on Tietan Street — was eventually linked to the Farnam family, which was on its own mission to find its hard-shelled pet.

Dandelion made his escape from the Farnums’ West Walla Walla yard but is now home and “doing great,” Nat Farnam said. “And now we have a sign on the gate to keep it closed.”

Poppy Marie remained elusive. The newspaper article has been the most effective tool in getting a whole community invested in finding the 2-year-old tortoise, Becky said Friday. “Not a day went by without people asking about our search and telling me they were looking for her.”

On Thursday, all efforts paid off.

Three days earlier Steve and Lauri Jordan were driving home for lunch on School Avenue when Steve suddenly turned the car around. “He said, ‘There’s a turtle in the road,’” Lauri said. “He was afraid it was going to get hit.”

Steve knocked on a few nearby doors before Carl Depping answering and agreed to take charge of the little tortoise, allowing the Jordans to proceed home.

Living on the outskirts of town as he does can mean seeing a lot of wildlife. Even turtles have wandered through his property before, Depping said. “I knew the turtle was not indigenous to this area and it wouldn’t do just to turn it loose.”

Some Internet research led Depping to call City Zoo pet store. Someone there told him to call the animal shelter. Someone there told him to call DaVine Herps, a local reptile breeding and rescue service.

Reptile rescuer Makaiwi Wachter is well-versed in what can happen to such animals when they are homeless or lost, he said.

When he picked up the tortoise from Depping on Wednesday morning, Wachter was happy to see the animal looked to be in pretty good shape. “She looked pretty healthy, honestly.”

He posted news of the rescue on Facebook. That post was picked up by the Walla Walla Sweet Onion Burger Facebook administrator.

And that posting, Becky said, “yielded countless Facebook tags and texts my way because of (the) article.”

Having lived through a few false Poppy Marie sightings, she was almost afraid to believe it could be true, said Mary Bella. “I wasn’t as excited as I could be.”

While the Betts family members made their way to Davine Herps, someone had emailed Wachter a copy of the U-B article about Poppy Marie, Becky said. “So he had matched marks even before we got there. And, of course, we brought a camera full of pictures. No doubt it was her ... even the small dent in her shell.”

That’s the moment she got “really excited,” Mary Bella, 12, said, especially considering how close her little Russian got to becoming road kill soup. “I’m sure she had more close calls than that. That’s just in the time people saw her.”

The tortoise will get a chance to get settled in again before resuming her wedding plans, which include cats as guests. In cages, lest they mistake the bride and groom for the wedding banquet, Mary Bella explained.

“It’s crazy,” Becky said. “I know she is a tortoise, but she seems more sophisticated, more worldly. What an adventure she must have had ... and she’s developed quite a penchant for raspberries.”


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