This is a true story.
Once upon a time back in the Eighties when I was still a wee young thing and we lived in Cape Town, South Africa, we became aware one day that the dog was having a ball with an unidentified object out in the garden. She'd nose the thing, shove it forwards, paw it backwards, take it into her mouth as well as she was able and toss it into the air, bounce around it, paw it again, whine at it, pounce, paw, whine...
We finally went out to have a a look, and discovered a tiny tortoise shell. It more or less fit into the palm of my father's hand,it was that tiny, and it was on its back in the middle of the lawn. We didn't know if it was really occupied (by a living occupant, that is) or not, but we removed it from the somewhat miffed dog and placed it on some newspaper in the bath, together with some lettuce leaves. And left it for a while, visiting occasionally to see if the situation had changed any.
THings remained uninteresting for at least another couple of hours. And then, very tentatively, these delicate little armour-plated legs emerged from the legholes, followed by a very long neck which bore a head wearing a myopically bewildered expression... and a bright red spot where its nose ought to have been. It poked at the lettuce, found it acceptable, and sat there chewing quietly for a while.
I of course immediately dubbed it Rudolph the Red Nosed Tortoise, and Rudolph remained our guest for a day or so there in the bathroom. It was really tiny, too tiny to have happened by accident out there in the garden, it must have been someone's lost pet - but inquiries produced no hits, and so eventually we released it back into the garden where it developed this curious love-hate relationship with the dog. The dog realised that it couldn't really hurt it, nor did it want to - but it did occasionally leave poor Rudolph, after a bout of catch-as-catch-can fun and games, lying on his back in the middle of the lawn waving his feet about in a pathetic manner and saying (if it could only speak) "ALl RIGHT already, this isn't funny any more, would someone please turn me over...?"
If Rudolph wasn't in evidence, all we had to do was ask the dog, "Where's Rudolph?" - and she'd go rooting through the garden until she returned in triumph with Rudolph (inside his shell) carried proudly in her jaws.
Rudolph disappeared one day, and no amount of searching by the dog could turn the tortoise up. He must have wandered out of the garden, or maybe decided to simply go home. I don't know. We missed the little creature fiercely for a while, not least the dog, who searched mournfully for its playmate for months after he was gone.
He remains a warm memory in our hearts.
God bless you, little beastie, wherever you are or may have been. You brought a little light into the lives you touched, and you live in our memory.
Merry Christmas, all.