11/22/13 — Look who came to town ... and brought friends

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Look who came to town ... and brought friends

By Matt Caulder
Published in News on November 22, 2013 1:46 PM

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Franklin, a 60-year-old African spurred tortoise, crawls along the edge of Spence Avenue Thursday with his owner, Randy Gallagher, at his side, keeping Franklin from inching his way into the road.


Kristina Harris leans down to kiss Franklin after learning that kissing a tortoise on the head was good luck. Franklin's owner, Randy Gallagher, rescues reptiles like Franklin after their owners can no longer care for them.

Randy Gallagher might have looked strange on the side of Spence Avenue in front of Walmart next to a 300-pound tortoise Thursday, but he didn't care.

He and his sidekicks -- six all total -- attracted quite a bit of attention from shoppers and passers-by alike. It is something that Gallagher, an animal rescuer, is used to -- it is what happens when your best friend has a shell.

African land tortoise Gentle Ben is just one of the many animals Gallagher is caring for at his Sunset Beach home.

He did not even pay attention to those who made unkind comments about "turtle soup."

Nothing cracks the mood of "The Turtleman" as he totes his 50-year-old companion around to collect donations for his home rescue operation for "anything without fur."

Gallagher has collected more than 200 snakes and about 50 turtles and tortoises at his Sunset Beach home since he began rescuing four years ago.

He loves his animals as much as anyone who opens their home to a dog or cat -- especially his tortoise buddy, Ben.

"He is a pet to me," he said. "He's been with me for years."

Seven days a week Gallagher rides around to different areas of the state letting people see Ben and telling people about his rescue operation. He uses the donations he receives to care for the animals, many of whom have come from homes that could no longer take care of them.

"I ain't trying to get rich or anything," he said. "I'm just retired now and I'm trying to keep them fed without pulling all my money out of the bank."

Gallagher and his wife have come to see Ben as a grandchild of sorts around their home and try to help any other reptiles they can.

"You have a dog you bury him," he said. "You have a turtle, he keeps on going."

And go Ben did on Thursday, walking around in the grass along Spence Avenue, delighting most people, visiting with those who stopped and even getting a few kisses.

Gallagher can be contacted at 843-241-6311 for donations or, as he says, "Just look for The Turtleman."