Northwest Wanderings is a column by photographer Alan Berner exploring places and communities throughout the Pacific Northwest.

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“Very few people have interacted intimately with a tortoise,” says Jim Ferron.

By that, he means having one as a long-term pet.

His tortoise is Cha Cha.

Like turtles, they are reptiles from the order Testudines. But tortoises are land-based while turtles live in or around water.

Cha Cha is a 13-year-old leopard tortoise — a strict vegetarian.

Ferron will alternatively refer to his pet as either “he” or “she.”

He doesn’t know his pet’s sex.

But he does know what it likes.

“He-she approaches family and friends for attention much like a cat by walking up and rubbing against a leg.”

Cha Cha loves greens of all sorts, “especially Southern greens, with an occasional toe nibble. Strawberries are the favorite treat.”

Having a tortoise as a pet is not like having a dog or a cat.

Cha Cha is a 13-year-old leopard tortoise, who lives on a boat with his owner Jim Ferron and likes to go for walks along South Lake Union. (Alan Berner / The Seattle Times)

“She can go three or four weeks not really noticing me, or ignoring people altogether, unless she needs water or a green leaf.”

So, it’s a different kind of companionship. Low maintenance.

Even in the tight spaces of the boat Ferron lives aboard, Cha Cha might just park face-first in a corner and take a nap.

And be prepared for a lifetime pet. Cha Cha can easily live another 40 to 80 years.

He-she does like to get out and about, going for walks along South Lake Union.

Ferron says, “She can be fast when she’s really determined.”

This is relative, as the top recorded speed of a tortoise is about 5 mph.

It’s that determination that led to the tortoise’s victory over the hare in the Aesop’s fable.

The race is not always to the swift.