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Dust off those glasses, because that’s not Tony Hawk you’re seeing.

Thanks to four Washington State University mechanical engineering students, a disabled turtle in the Tri-Cities has a new mobility device that helps him slide around.

Mitty, a gopher tortoise from Northwest Tortoise in Kennewick, Wash., has been finding crawling, sliding and sliding easier in recent weeks thanks to a new skateboard-like contraption attached to his shell.

“With the daily therapy and the things we’ve been working on, he’ll be pretty mobile in the spring. He’s already made tremendous progress,” said Therese Meyer, Minty’s owner and founder of the nonprofit Northwest Tortoise.

1--MAIN--Mobile Minty Torsoise Skateboard 2022
Minty, a gopher tortoise, stretches and moves its legs while sitting atop a mobile device recently designed and built by a group of WSU engineering students for the injured reptile. The tortoise is being cared for by Therese Meyer of Northwest Tortoise, a non-profit rescue organization based in Kennewick. Bob Brody [email protected]

Last week he seemed more interested in eating strawberries and fending off pet cats than diving. Its slowness is attributed to seasonal frostbite, similar to hibernation but for reptiles.

“Some days he goes down to the hall, others not. It just depends on how strong he feels,” Meyer said. “He only has about two, three minutes of stamina.”

Minty, who is probably between 29 and 43 years old, suffers from a condition called metabolic bone disease, which is caused by malnutrition.

Years of poor diet caused her shell to collapse and fracture her spine, making it difficult to crawl without any support underneath her. Groffer tortoises can typically live past 100, but Minty’s life expectancy is likely a fraction of that because of her condition.

She was surrendered about three years ago to Turtles of the Northwest, the region’s only non-profit rescue and shelter that serves sick and abandoned turtles.

To help him walk, Meyer taped a small piece of Styrofoam under him to support his weight.

Mint Turtle Foam WSU student.jpg
WSU engineering students Sprout Stokes, left, and Andrew Zapata document the underside of Minty’s gopher tortoise for future reference while designing and building a mobile device for the tortoise. Therese Meyer of Turtle Northwest hopes to find a better method than double-sided tape and a piece of foam to help the 26-year-old turtle get around. Bob Brody [email protected]

In October, WSU students from the Richland branch campus began the process of designing attachable prostheses as part of a capstone undergraduate project. Sprout Stokes, Abdullah Alsheri, Andrew Zapata and Emma Waldrup are the students involved.

The team created five 3D-printed, plastic prototypes for Minty to try out;

The young turtle eventually found the prototype wheel most comfortable with spokes. It provides him with a range of motion as well as the ability to move backwards.

“I think this method is very interesting and it works,” Meyer said. “I think (the students) did a lot with it. They are all hardworking and very receptive to feedback and different ideas.”

Terese Meyer Minty Mobile skateboard 2022.jpg
Therese Meyer attaches a mobile device recently designed and created by a group of WSU engineering students to a gopher tortoise that helps the injured reptile gain strength and move around on its own. Bob Brody [email protected]

The final iteration of the preferred design cost the students about $50 to design, print and build, though it includes specifications from three prototypes and can be made for different stages of Minty’s recovery or for other animals. Meyer said he’s looking forward to seeing how it holds up on concrete and lawn.

Doug Reed, a project engineer for Washington River Production Solutions and a WSU adjunct professor who served as their consultant, said the finished product is “functional and cost-effective.”

“We all look forward to seeing the positive impact their hard work will have on Minty’s quality of life,” he said in a written statement.

Northwest Tortoise Nonprofit

Northwest Tortoise is in an unremarkable home on a cul-de-sac in Kennewick. It is the only organization of its kind in the Pacific Northwest and is not open to the public.

A rotating assortment of hundreds of turtles occupies the backyard, restocked by Meyer, a Tri-Cities native whose life is devoted to these curious creatures.

With its dry, dry summers, the Tri-Cities is one of the best places in the US for turtle sanctuaries. They can live outside for nine months of the year.

In winter, the reptiles currently hibernate in sheds equipped with lamps and hay beds.

All donations to the non-profit organization help provide quality care for the turtles and help them rehome abandoned animals.

Meyer’s website provides information.

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WSU engineering students Sprout Stokes, left, and Andrew Zapata work together using digital calipers to get accurate measurements of a gopher tortoise’s shell as student Emma Waldrup records them in a notebook for later reference when designing and building a mobile device for the tortoise. . Bob Brody [email protected]

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Eric Rosen is a civic accountability reporter who joined the Tri-City Herald in February 2022. She previously worked for the Daily Chronicle in Lewis County, covering education, county government and the Legislature. He graduated from Central Washington University in 2018.

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