HAMDEN, Conn. - Slow and steady doesn't just win you the race. If you're Diane Petrillo Greene, the Tortoise Lady, it also gets you on national TV. Greene, who has been rescuing exotic tortoises and turtles for decades, will be featured at 9:30 p.m. Saturday on the Nat Geo Wild channel's "Spoiled Rotten Pets" TV show. She's even having a viewing party at Hamden's Side Street Grille.
"I think they're adorable," Greene, who works as a psychiatric nurse for the state Department of Mental Health, said of her 17 shell-covered pets. "They don't have the capacity to form a facial expression, but they do. They know who feeds them. They were on this planet before we were, and they're still here."
A film crew from "Spoiled Rotten Pets" spent the day with Greene and her menagerie last year. Cameras rolled as Greene hosted a Sunday brunch in her tranquil back yard; they also followed Greene on her regular excursion to the North Haven Agway with Petey, a 20-year-old leopard tortoise. "He accompanies me to lots of places," Greene said. "I take him to All Pets Club. He likes to look at the fish there."
This is not some casual dalliance with the tortoise and turtle kingdom. It is a deep and fulfilling commitment.
As she grew older, her dad used to joke that she'd never find a man until she gave her tortoises the heave-ho. He'll be in the TV segment, too, along with Greene's boyfriend.
"It was fun," Greene said of being on camera. "They were looking for people who spoil their pets. I think some of the other ones in the series are a duck and potbellied pigs.
Greene is a long-standing member of the New York Turtle and Tortoise Society, an international, nonprofit organization. Through that group, she has helped take in any number of animals whose owners have abandoned or abused them. That's in addition to the often brutal conditions some animals endure when they are brought to the U.S. from distant places around the world.
Among Greene's current crop are three leopard tortoises, four Hingebacks, three Jordanian Spur-Thighs, a Turkish Spur-Thigh and a pair of Russian tortoises named Fat Betty and Norman.
"Oh, the boys are getting ready to rumble," Greene said, stepping onto the porch that she remodeled into a turtle and tortoise habitat. She pointed to a pair of tortoises that were staring each other down, just inches apart. "They've been fighting all winter," Greene explained.
This room was specially insulated and outfitted with heat lamps and other lighting to make the animals comfortable. Greene buys sterilized cypress mulch from Seattle for them to walk upon, and the room is filled with plants, rocks and pieces of tree bark. In warm weather, she takes them outside to roam in enclosed pens.
She feeds them escarole, chicory, dandelions, tomatoes and corn on the cob, which they devour.
In a way, this weekend's TV appearance is something of a victory for Greene. Back in the 1990s, she tried to interest the folks at David Letterman's TV show in her tortoises. "They thought we were crazy," Greene said.