Susan and Andy Lechner of Lombard thought they had lost a friend.
The pet they expected to keep for a lifetime, a 45-pound, 44-year-old African spurred tortoise named Lance, went missing June 17. Despite plenty of media attention, it was six days later and he still hadn't been found.
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With an email Saturday saying a 10-year-old St. Charles girl was "99 percent sure" she had Lance in her empty backyard pool, the Lechners' spirits lifted.
"Right away, I pretty much started shaking," Susan Lechner said.
For good reason. The email was correct; the 10-year-old had been taking care of Lance after her family found him June 17 in the parking lot of a Lombard apartment complex right behind the Lechners' yard, a spot the tortoise frequents for its shady areas between garbage bins. The girl's neighbors saw media coverage of the missing tortoise and helped make the connection that Lance and the 10-year-old's new pet were one and the same, Lechner said.
Even before heading to St. Charles to make sure the pool-bound tortoise truly was Lance, Lechner said she was confident her pet of seven years had been found.
"It was one of those things where we knew without even seeing him," Lechner said. "It was truly like a miracle that this worked out."
With Lance back in their lives, the Lechners made improvements to his outdoor pen to help keep him there. They bought a piece of wood more than double their tortoise's height and secured it along the perimeter of the pen. They added extra wooden stumps to the corners of the enclosure, where Lance has muscled his way through in the past.
"His main tactic is trying to get out of the corners," Lechner said. "We're pretty confident that now we've got that enclosed for him safely."
Lance's owners said they also may work to reinforce a fence between their backyard and the apartment complex where Lance was picked up by the St. Charles family. In the meantime, Lechner said she's keeping a close eye on her tortoise and liking what she sees.
"It's been two days," she said Tuesday afternoon. "He seems to be enjoying himself."