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Preschool’s pet tortoise beaten, stabbed but is recovering

A police officer feeds a strawberry to a giant tortoise.
San Jose Officer S. Nail heard Michelangelo had a big appetite, so she brought him a basket of veggies as he recovers at ArchVet animal hospital in San Jose.
(San Jose Police Department)

The 70-year-old pet tortoise of a preschool class in San Jose who was brutally beaten and impaled by an attacker over the weekend is on the road to recovery, thanks to volunteer efforts by a local veterinarian.

The 65-pound African sulcata tortoise named Michelangelo, after the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle” character, was found Saturday morning after a break-in at Play ‘N’ Learn Preschool. The giant reptile had a blunt piece of wood and glass embedded in his shell.

“There was a lot of damage,” said San Jose police Sgt. Christian Camarillo. “It was pretty horrific.”

Michelangelo was rushed into surgery at ArchVet Animal Hospital after the attack, where Dr. Tal Solomon outfitted the tortoise with a special mechanism that is slowly lifting his shell, which is lined with living tissue on the inside.

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Once it’s aligned with the surface, they’ll seal the shell with a strong epoxy glue as it continues to heal, said Solomon, who has been overseeing Michelangelo’s treatment for free.

When preschool director Yvonne Co was told of the attack on her school’s beloved pet, she burst into tears.

“Because I care for this little guy too,” Co said, adding that she bought vegetables for the gentle giant every week.

The tortoise has been at the preschool for about a year, and young students frequently played with him, sometimes riding his back, Co said. Occasionally, they’d sit out in the picnic area and have lunch with him.

By Tuesday morning, Michelangelo was in stable condition and roaming around the veterinarian’s office. His young preschool friends know the animal “has an ‘owie’ ” and is getting the help he needs, Co said.

Police have arrested a man in connection with the attack, authorities said. It’s believed that George Robles, whom police described as homeless, first broke into the preschool on Wednesday and then returned Saturday, when he assaulted the tortoise, Camarillo said. He was taken into custody after fleeing the scene.

“Abuse of a defenseless animal is intolerable and must be addressed,” acting Police Chief Dave Tindall said in a statement. “This underscores the need for continued collaboration with our mental health professionals.”

Robles was placed on a 72-hour emergency mental health evaluation, according to the San Jose Police Department, but he was later released from jail under circumstances that were not immediately clear.

Preschool staff then discovered Robles back on campus Monday morning before he fled again, authorities said. A crisis intervention team dispatched by San Jose police found and arrested Robles without incident a few hours later.

He is accused of felony animal abuse as well as multiple burglaries and vandalism, Camarillo said. Police say he caused roughly $1,800 in damage to the preschool building and children’s play equipment.

It will take up to two months before Michelangelo is well enough to leave the animal hospital, Solomon said, and he won’t be able to take children for any rides on his back for at least six months.

“Hopefully he will return to us,” Co said. “He’s on the road to recovery right now, and it seems like everything’s going very well.”

The injury apparently hasn’t affected Michelangelo’s appetite. On Tuesday morning, Solomon was at Costco buying bushels of lettuce and other vegetables for the tortoise to eat.

He’s also starting to come out of his shell — literally and figuratively.

Initially shaken, Michelangelo is now letting people pet him and even greets other “patients” at the hospital.

“He’s such a cool tortoise, considering all that’s happened to him,” Solomon said.


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