Susan and Andy Lechner's pets were a storybook pair: the tortoise and the hare.
Until a few days ago.
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The Lombard couple's dwarf rabbit, Happiness, is safe and sound. But Lance, a 45-pound, 44-year-old African spurred tortoise, has been missing since about 8 p.m. Sunday.
Susan Lechner said she thinks Lance may have crawled under a fence between her backyard and a neighboring apartment complex -- where he could have been taken by someone who found him.
"We don't have a good feeling that we couldn't find him right away," Lechner said Wednesday. "We're pretty sure he might have been stolen."
Lance lives on a diet of hay, grass, clover, dandelions, carrots and other vegetables, so his owners routinely let him graze a few hours a day in their backyard near Route 53 and St. Charles Road.
The Lechners, both 32, were having Father's Day dinner Sunday while Lance was grazing, but once they finished dessert, Lechner said their pet and friend of seven years was nowhere to be found.
Not in his pen in the yard, or under the lilac bushes where he likes to find shade. Not near his favorite garbage bins at the apartment complex. Nowhere.
"We thought we had trained him. He has certain spots that he goes to when he wanders away," Lechner said. "We know the protocol of where to search if he's looking for shade or to burrow down. Normally he's just within our back yard."
Lance has gotten lost away from those hiding spots two other times, but the Lechners were able to track him down relatively easily. With his scaly, slightly "prehistoric-looking" shell, residents of the apartment complex spotted Lance and eventually helped him reunite with his owners, Lechner said. But that wasn't the case this time.
Lechner said she doubts pet shops would take an animal like Lance, a desert tortoise expected to live up to 100 years.
"We were pretty convinced that we had a pet for the rest of our lives," Lechner said.
She and her husband got the animal through a friend who works at a pet shop. Lance's original owner couldn't take care of him anymore, and dropped him off at the pet shop. Even though he was about 20 pounds lighter, the shop wouldn't take the tortoise in, Lechner said.
Over time, the couple became so fond of their tortoise that Andy's band, the Eagles of Lombard, wrote a song about him simply called "Lance."
This year, when Lance wasn't grazing, his owners would keep him in a habitat box in their basement instead of a backyard pen made with tree stumps. Lechner said she and her husband have put up signs about their missing tortoise, hoping to get his picture circulating and bring him back to the outdoor pen, lilac bushes and garbage bins he calls home.
"We want to build up the pen to let him be out there again ... He's gotten too strong. He can get out of it," she said. "But he still kind of recognizes it as home."