Turtle delights crowds at North Huntingdon pet store


On a typical day, Sheldon wanders the aisles, inspecting bags of food and occasionally trying to slip outside to bask in the sun outside the Petland store in Norwin Town Square.

Sheldon, however, is not a casual shopper pondering possible purchases and an easy escape.

He is a 20-year-old, 130-pound African spurred tortoise enjoying the run from the pet store along Highway 30 in North Huntingdon.

Sheldon lives in the shop, owned by brothers Ted and Kurt Karcher of North Huntingdon, and is among the items not for sale.

“He’s a pet for us. He has a huge impact on us,” said Ted Karcher.

Sheldon was an adult when they got him about 10 years ago from a breeder in the Phoenix area. They were told the turtle was 10 years old and weighed 56 pounds. But, when they arrived at the Southwest Airlines terminal at Pittsburgh International Airport, they learned that the breeder had underestimated Sheldon’s weight. Snug in its crate, it weighed about 130 pounds. It measures approximately 2½ feet long and 19 inches wide.

Kurt is quick to point out that Sheldon is not your typical pet.

“It’s not a pet for the average person,” Kurt Karcher said.

Anyone considering owning a large tortoise should think twice because they’ll have to dedicate an entire room to it, Ted Karcher said.

As for longevity, Sheldon may well survive the Karchers because a tortoise in captivity could live up to 100 years, Kurt Karcher said.

Sheldon has a special corner at the back of the store where the Karchers feed him and have a heat lamp to keep him warm, even in the summer, as the tortoise’s home environment is the southern part of the Sahara desert in North Africa.

Sometimes he goes on school trips with the Karchers.

“We went to Norwin, Greensburg-Salem and Clairton, as well as preschools,” Kurt Karcher said.

Before covid clamped down on school visitors, Kurt Karcher said they would take Sheldon, a boa constrictor and a macaw on up to two dozen school trips a year.

The Karchers said Sheldon was surprisingly strong.

“He knocked over a locked toilet,” Kurt Karcher said.

He also pulled bags of dog food from the shelves and stepped on them, Kurt Karcher said.

Turtle maintenance is not much. He eats kale and romaine lettuce, Ted Karcher said.

“That’s what it’s costing us in damages,” said Kurt Karcher.

One of the Turtle’s admirers this week was Amber Hutchens of Penn Township and her two young children Ava, 5, and Brees, 3.

“We are here all the time. They love her,” Hutchens said, as the kids patted Sheldon and touched her head as she emerged from under her shell.

Sheldon has many fans who would love to bring him home.

“Once a day someone asks us if they can buy it,” Kurt Karcher said. “Why would we sell it? »

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Tribune-Review. You can contact Joe by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .


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