Sonoma couple, Insta-famous tortoise Ethel the Glamour Tort to appear on 'Good Morning America'
Some people lovingly refer to the city of Sonoma as “Slownoma,” and at least one of the region’s world-famous residents has made this moniker a way of life.
Then again, Ethel the Glamour Tort doesn’t necessarily know how to live at any other speed.
As her name suggests, Ethel is a 4-year-old sulcata tortoise. She has nearly 43,000 followers on her Instagram page, @EtheltheGlamourTort. She’s waited on hand and claw by her owners, Sonoma residents Kacey Kuchinski and Daniel Rodriguez. And next week, Ethel will be a guest of honor on the TV show “Good Morning America” as “Pet of the Week.”
The show airs 7 to 9 a.m. Friday, April 3. According to producers in New York City, Ethel and a handful of other extraordinary pets (and their owners) from around the country will be featured via Skype during the second hour.
Kuchinski and Rodriguez say they are excited about the opportunity.
“Daniel and I are looking forward to it, but Ethel is pretty much totally oblivious,” jokes Kuchinski, a part-time illustrator who also works at Harvest Home & Fat Pilgrim, a home goods store in Sonoma. “We tell her she’s going to be on TV and she doesn’t even respond. So long as we’re getting her food, she doesn’t really care about anything else.”
Kuchinski, 33, and Rodriguez, 34, have no human children, so Ethel is their pride and joy. The duo got Ethel in 2016 as a hatchling from a breeder in Florida. They have raised the tortoise by hand since then.
All three of them are vegetarians.
Ethel’s nickname — the “Glamour Tort” — evolved naturally, after Kuchinski shot some photos of the testudinidae against a backdrop of flowers Rodriguez brought home from his job as service captain at The French Laundry in Yountville.
Kuchinski shared the photos on her professional Instagram and fans went wild. Ethel’s internet persona grew from there.
The tortoise momma started making accessories for shoots. She started with a tiny scarf. Then she made a hat. As Ethel grew, Kuchinski thought it’d be funny to add herself and Rodriguez to the shots, making each photo a family portrait. To make the photos even funnier, she secured the trio different matching outfits for each project. Then she set up Ethel with her own Insta page.
Getting clothes to fit Ethel wasn’t easy. In case you haven’t noticed, the T size at most clothiers is for toddler, not tortoise. When Kuchinski buys the clothes, she purchases an extra outfit in women’s extra small for Ethel and uses the fabric to make tiny frock-style leisurewear.
“I’ve found I need to be flexible with my expectations on the clothing,” she quips. “I’ll have ideas and we’ll start looking for outfits, then we’ll have to improvise.”
One shoot, for instance, was supposed to capture a pajama party, but Kuchinski couldn’t find matching PJs, so she turned it into a family yoga moment instead. The photo has gotten more than 6,500 likes on Instagram.
Other pictures depict the trio on the beach, at the spa and in ugly Christmas sweaters.
Kuchinski and Rodriguez upload new pictures to Ethel’s Instagram page every other Friday, what they call #EthelsFamilyPhotoFriday. Sometimes they shoot at Cornerstone Sonoma. Other times they take pictures at sites around town, such as HopMonk Tavern. Kuchinski arranges all the shots herself by placing her phone in a roll of duct tape and using a remote to control the shutter.
It just so happens that this week is a “Photo Friday,” and this morning Kuchinski and Rodriguez uploaded a picture of the three wearing rubber “gloves” and cleaning the house.
Though Ethel seems like a particularly good sport, experts say most solcatas are extroverted and fun.
Michael Bargeron, executive director of the 400-member California Turtle & Tortoise Society, describes the species as “friendly” and says they become attached to their owners quickly and will do anything for them.
Bargeron is impressed with Ethel’s Instagram oeuvre and says it’s clear Kuchinski and Rodriguez love their tortoise like a human child.
“They seem like wonderful owners who really know how to show a tremendous amount of care and love for the animal,” he says. “(The Instagram project) looks like a lot of harmless fun to me.”
Tim Zahner, executive director of the Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau, agrees.
“(Ethel) is part of our Sonoma jet set,” Zahner says. “She’s easy-going, friendly, and has just the right amount of quirk.”