You might be thinking this is a safety initiative being championed by this guy:
Source: @joeyessex instagram
Sorry. Not quite.
Meet Joey Essex, or should I say the late Joey Essex. An eight year old spur thighed tortoise.
We were brought together in a beautiful union on my thirtieth birthday. (You know that moment in the lady in the tramp when the lady is gifted a puppy with a bow, a bit like that. But this living gift was a bit less fluffy and slobbery – more scaly and well, slow). It was love at first sight.
We were destined to see out our days together. He would be passed down to the girls and maybe even outlive us all.
Joey had a good life roaming free in our garden. Each autumn he would bury himself before we managed to hibernate him, clever boy. The highlight of the first warm days of spring would be discovering a little ball of mud wandering around the garden. We would give him a warm bath and his familiar face would emerge, ready to gobble up some greens.
Joey came from humble beginnings, a pet shop in Basildon (hence the name, in case you were wondering). He became part of our family and was a very much loved pet, despite his apparent lack of cuddliness. We took our role as tortoise-parents seriously; researching the right food stuffs for him, and even admitting him to tortoise-hospital when he went off his food, for nursing back to health.
And so, it was with great sorrow our story takes a sad turn. For as nature lovers, our garden did, and does, feature a small wildlife pond. Often quizzed over whether we would fill it in, we ruled out that option in favour of attracting frogs, newts, dragonflies and insects to the garden. We did install a safety net, pegged into the earth and ensured our young daughter was never unaccompanied in the garden. We kept the back door locked and were reassured by the fact she was too small to be able to open the door unaided. It was always a topic of conversation, and although we googled the options for pond covers, fences and meshes, we procrastinated on the actual installation.
And then, one late summer’s day, we noticed Joey was missing. Unconvinced he had wandered off, we wondered if he had gone into early hibernation? Relatively unconcerned, we were sure he’d turn up, as he always did.
He did turn up, two weeks later. He had drowned in our pond. (Or, as the story is told by Tigs…”He got drunk in our pond”).
In hindsight, that net had not been substantial enough to stop Joey coming to an untimely demise. After all, a ten year old tortoise is heavy, and over time the net had become weathered, worn and saggy. The guilt was a heavy burden, and we were devastated that we could have prevented the tragedy. We also felt this was a stark warning to the dangers to our children, that we perhaps hadn’t taken seriously enough.
But Joeys life was not in vain. This story taught us that ponds are a lethal hazard if left unguarded effectively. We installed a robust stainless steel grid over the pond within weeks, and had it secured in place.
We can’t turn back time and bring back Joey Essex. But we can let Joeys legacy live on. If you have a garden pond with no safeguarding, and you have small children, grandchildren, pets or passing tortoises, let’s put that right. Get the ball rolling this week. Don’t put it off.
This summer, let’s make our garden ponds totally safe for visitors, residents and passers by. Let’s make our ponds reem.