Susan Tellem, executive director of American Tortoise Rescue

by | May 17, 2023

Susan Tellem–executive director of American Tortoise Rescue (ATR), a nonprofit established in 1990 for the protection of all species of turtles and tortoises—recalls that she began helping animals in cat rescue. Some years later, she recounts, she and her husband experienced a revelatory moment while eating out—and decided to go vegetarian—and not long after they brought home two box turtles, naming the pair Peggy Sue. Tellem says that wanting to be responsible caretakers prompted them to undertake research on turtles, from which they learned there were no turtle rescues in the U.S. It wasn’t long before they launched ATR, located then and now in Malibu, and not long after that, she remembers, they received “a flood of turtles and tortoises.” She describes the earliest days of ATR, when they were figuring out—often on the fly–how to function as a rescue, a time when folks who needed help with turtles or tortoises (or to re-home them) would often ship the animals to Tellem. (That practice has been discontinued.) Tellem offers a brief session of “Turtle & Tortoise 101,” explaining that the most fundamental difference between the two is in their diets: turtles are carnivores, while tortoises are vegetarian. Not coincidentally, the interview was scheduled to land on the eve of “World Turtle Day,” held on May 23, and now, Tellem notes, in its 23rd year. “World Turtle Day” was created by ATR (on her birthday, so easy to remember), to cultivate respect for–and knowledge about–some of the world’s oldest creatures. Tellem’s longtime profession has been running a public relations firm, so she was uniquely equipped to promote “World Turtle Day,” building an event that’s truly gone global, with turtle aficionados across countless countries gathering to “shellebrate” the day with educational events, parties, fundraisers, and more. She fields a few listener questions, including wondering about whether to move a turtle crossing a road. Answer: generally, if it’s not in danger of getting hit by a car, let it be; however, if the animal is at risk, go ahead and move it—in the direction it was walking. (,,

ALSO: I spoke briefly with Kendra Conze, the owner of Health Mutt, a natural pet market and dog wash in Seminole Heights that was slated to hold a Pet Fest on the May 20 & 21 weekend, featuring a variety of elements, including adoptable animals, local pet vendors, a raffle, food, and beer. Conze provides a short overview of Health Mutt, what it sells and specializes in. She describes the thinking that led to organizing this inaugural Pet Fest, outlining the rescues participating in the event by bringing adoptable animals, the local pet vendors who will be present, along with food trucks—and plenty of beer available, thanks to the adjacent (and related) brewery, Common Dialect. (,,



COMEDY CORNER: Martha Kelly’s “Horses Hate That We Ride Them”

MUSIC: Rebekah Pulley’s “Talking Animals Theme,” instrumentals

NAME THAT ANIMAL TUNE:  Steely Dan’s “Black Cow”


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Otis McGarr
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