Missing 'bride' slows down wedding plans

Poppy Marie the tortoise has gone missing prior to her wedding.

Poppy Marie the tortoise has gone missing prior to her wedding. Courtesy photo

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WALLA WALLA — Where in the world is Poppy Marie?

There is no shortage of theories of why the Russian bride-to-be has gone missing in Walla Walla, but gone she is — just weeks before her arranged wedding.

Earlier this month, hope went trans-Atlantic when the bride was thought to have showed up on the west side of town. Through Facebook, Walla Wallans let Poppy Marie’s family — visiting in Europe at the time — know she had been found.

On Wednesday, it became clear that was a case of mistaken identity.

So Poppy Marie — the 2-year-old Russian tortoise and beloved pet of Mary Bella Betts — remains at large.

The reptile scooted away from an outdoor family gathering on Easter, the first warm day of spring. Poppy Marie had been cooped up indoors all winter, but that morning dawned full of promise and the Bettses were excited to let her out to bask in the sun.

“We were keeping an eye on Poppy,” recalled Mary Bella’s mom, Becky Betts. “She was enjoying eating dandelions and grass.”

While the family banqueted on the deck, however, Poppy Marie, the size of a dainty saucer, found an unsecured panel in her pen. When the breakout was discovered, a massive hunt ensued.

“We had people combing the creek, we were looking under the deck, everyone was looking everywhere,” Becky Betts said.

Addie Snow, as is often the case, was there that day and joined in the hunt. Addie owns Lea-nardoe Snow, a red-earred slider turtle she pledged to marry Poppy Marie. And, as Mary Bella’s best friend, Addie was on tap to take care of Poppy Marie while the Betts family vacationed in Europe. That’s when the two, uh, love reptiles were supposed to meet, Addie said.

Poppy Marie’s wedding dress was to be ivory, looking much like a linen napkin, taped to the tortoise’s back, she said. The venue was to have been the spot Poppy Marie disappeared, near the stream that flows across the back border of the Bettses’ yard, where numerous flowers would have cut decorating costs.

Ike the cat had been called into service as priest and Mary Bella’s fish was going to be (A) ring bearer or (B) flower girl, Addie said. “We were going to somehow put it in a small tank and roll it down the aisle.”

Before the family trip, Mary Bella began a frantic campaign to find her pet.

“She has been fraught with worry, especially at night worrying about cold and predators. She made posters, offered up a reward, organized search parties, and combed the neighborhood up until the moment we left,” her mom said.

A week later, with Poppy Marie still missing, the Bettses left for Europe.

“I think if she had her druthers, she would have continued the search,” Becky said. “It was heartbreaking.”

Then came a Facebook post from the Blue Mountain Humane Society saying it had a tortoise that was found on Tietan Street.

The Bettses saw the post and called the shelter from London, where their trip took on a new shine with hope that Poppy Marie was in caring hands.

The Bettses returned from Europe early last week and arranged to pick up their pet on Tuesday. In preparation, Poppy Marie’s favorite treats were bought and her heat lamp switched on.

“Then our whole family goes to the vet clinic, we brought her special carrier pen ... the staff took me back to identify it. And it wasn’t her,” she said

The odds of having two missing tortoises in a town the size of Walla Walla is beyond fathoming, said Sara Archer, executive director of Blue Mountain Humane Society.

“This is the first case of even one in the seven-and-a-half years I’ve been here,” she said. “I was shell-shocked.”

Hope is not lost, however.

With warmer weather coming Poppy Marie might reappear, Becky said, speculating the tortoise might be “burrowing under leaves, waiting for the next sunny day.”

Addie is contemplating a different version: “I don’t think we’ll find her right away. I think one of the neighbors will find her eventually. Maybe in a few years. Then she’ll come home.”

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322.

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