I will assume you are an average person with little or no experience with turtles. Would you have ever guessed that a turtle likes to be cuddled or wags his tale when he is happy? Probably not because most people look at turtles as a mindless reptiles that sunbath all day and move extremely slow. This couldn’t be further from the truth!
I grew up with turtles since I was about ten. I remember desperately wanting a cat for some reason, and because of my mum’s life-threatening asthma and allergies there was no compromising on this one. She sold me on the idea of a turtle because it was the closest thing I could get that resembled a dinosaur.
Saying I was “into” dinosaurs at that age was putting it mildly. I became obsessed with the stegosaurus after seeing “The Land Before Time,” and never looked back. At one point I remember my bedroom containing over 300 Stegosauruses including jewelry, clothing, stuffed animals, figurines, hats, books, and posters.
Hell I even took a dinosaur art class at the historical museum in Fort Langley where our final project for the class was constructing a 6 foot tall Paper Mache Tyrannosaur Rex. I also wrote and illustrated my own children’s book called “Morris the Stegosaurus.”
Back then having a baby turtle was effortless, or so we thought until they kept dying. We were rookies and basically just did what the pet stores recommended. Buy the little guy a large turtle dish where you filled it with a few inches of water and fed him once a day.
Nothing was discussed about hygiene, water temperature, heat and light fixtures and proper diet. Let’s just say sadly it took a couple of tries until we figured out what we were doing wrong and some well needed research. Our family vet years ago stressed to me when you get a baby turtle they only have a 5% chance of surviving past 2 years old in captivity.
Fast forward about 8 years and most of the dinosaurs are gone, and have been replaced by three large 30 gallon aquariums in my bedroom. My dinosaur obsession had faded and been replaced by turtles.
At this point I had four turtles. I didn’t count on having that many, it just kind of happened. They were all rescued from a less desirable environment and I wasn’t able to say no. We found “Estrie” at a local pet store by Lougheed Mall in Coquitlam. The poor thing was in a cardboard box with a sign saying $10. Someone found her on the side of a road and it was obvious she had been physically abused by some sick bastard. Someone had attempted to cut through her shell with a saw and she was left with a half in deep scar to prove it. I didn’t think twice about it and took her home. “Ekimmu” was rescued from a pet store and “Hydra and Kresnick” were saved from a home where they were festering in filthy kiddy pool in a backyard and being neglected.
As you can tell I picked rather unusual names for my little green friends. This was totally intentional at the time because my new obsession had shifted from dinosaurs to vampires, which was totally influenced by Anne Rice. Perhaps it was my dark side emerging or just a weird quirk about names that I have. When I meet someone with a specific name it etches itself into my brain. Moving forward whenever I meet a new person with that same name I automatically associate with my initial meeting. I know it sounds strange, but I can’t help it. So this puts limitations on naming pets. Why else would I name my turtles after a Slavic God, a female vampire from Jewish folklore, or one of the oldest vampires from Sumerian folklore?
The reason I had separate tanks is because turtles are very territorial creatures and unless they grow up together they will attack each other defending their area. If you have ever been bitten by a turtle you will understand how vicious they can be. Their jaws actually clamp and don’t let go until they feel like it, so it can be quite painful and can cause a lot of damage. I speak from experience on this one. Hydra was the only spiteful turtle I have ever owned and it took many years and wounds for her to warm up to me.
I moved away from home when I was 19 and my mum to this day still says I left home without my turtles. By this time we only had 3 turtles left because Estrie was stolen from my grandparent’s back yard. I did in fact do this, but I had my reasons. We didn’t have the greatest relationship at that point and just before I moved out, she had to put her two 18 year old dogs down and was devastated. I figured if I left her the turtles, she wouldn’t be as lonely.
About 6 months later my friend Nassim bought me a new baby Red Eared Slider . The little guy was only about 2 weeks old and still had the tooth attached to his mouth. He was the size of a dollar coin and he melted my heart instantly. I couldn’t decide on a name so Nassim actually stepped up to the task and named him Zack, after Zack de la Rocha from the band Rage Against the Machine. At the time we were fans, but he was inspired because Zack used to have a set of marble stairs and suntan at the top for hours. So Zack of the Rock seemed like an appropriate fit.
I frequently let Zack run around the apartment as he enjoyed his freedom and getting stuck under the fridge, behind the couch and any place his tiny little body could squeeze. His curious nature led to his disappearance once for about three months.
I know what you are thinking. How the hell do you lose a turtle for three months and how did he make it to my work that was about 2 kilometers away? Yeah you heard me right! This little guy went for a car ride.
The sneaky bastard was quite clever in my opinion. Nassim used to play bass in a band and they practiced at my work after hours. We figured Zack went to sleep one day in the fuzzy red bass case, got zipped in and went for a ride. Once there he climbed out and wandered behind the television stand undetected the entire time. When I couldn’t find him at home I was convinced our crazy landlord had stolen him, so I gave up searching after a few days, my heart broken. 3 months later my boss’s kid came up to me at work saying he found a turtle in the TV room. My heart skipped a beat and I ran to check it out. Sure enough, tucked into the corner rather discreetly was my lost baby. He was extremely dehydrated, but breathing and alive.
Fast forward to 2004 and Zack decided to go mountain climbing on my backpack one morning and failed. He was half way up and rolled off fracturing his leg in two places instantly. As with most accidents it was a holiday and there were no vets open that would accept a reptile.
I ended up taking him to a bird specialist in Vancouver and $300 later they had x-rayed his leg, and taped it in, immobilizing him. I tell you nothing is sadder than a turtle trying to walk on 3 legs. He had to keep his leg taped in for 8 weeks, which left him barely able to move and miserable. I spent the next 3 nights sleeping on the floor with him to make sure he was okay. In the end he was able to walk again, with a slight limp and he drags his tummy on the carpet so he isn’t the most stealth creature.
By now I am sure you are wondering what is so special about a turtle. Why not just get a dog or a cat? Well straight off I don’t want you to think all turtles are like Zack. He is an exception and is quite domesticated so don’t run out and get one now, just because you think they sound like cool pets. Turtles require a long commitment because in captivity they can live for up to 30 years. Zack will be 19 this August so I have had him over half my life, that’s why I call him my baby. He runs around the house freely just like a dog. He has his own water dish he can climb in and out of as he feels like it. His bed is a heating pad covered with furry material and hand crocheted blankets by my sweet grandma.
He loves to suntan like most turtles, but he also likes to be picked up and cuddled. Yes I said cuddled! He actually wags his little stubby tail when he is happy and content, it is quite comical. He goes to sleep when you put him to bed at night. If I am lucky he doesn’t wake me up in the middle of the night. He loves to get his back scratched, whether you help him out with this task or he uses the worn corner of my dresser when I am not around. He gets a bath once a week with a toothbrush and has his nails trimmed once a month.
He eats people food, not turtle food. His favorites are raw prawns, ham, chicken and cheese. When turtles are little they usually have a strict herbivorous diet and as they get older, their tastes shift into a carnivorous direction. I simply made the mistake of offering the greedy bugger shrimps one day and it was game over from there. He refused to eat his turtle food so like any mum, I caved in and fed him people food ever since. He actually begs for food when he is hungry. How does a turtle beg for food? Well he actually does it a number of ways; he paces back and forth at the bedroom door waiting for me; he actually chews on the bedroom carpet and pulls it out; or he follows you like a crazy person until you get the hint and feed him. Years ago when I lived in a bachelor suite he actually discovered where the fridge was and would park his butt in front of it until you fed him.
So as you can see clearly turtles have personalities just like any other animal. I am not sure if it is just the way I raised him or if I lucked out; may be a bit of both? He also loves to go camping with us each summer, hanging his head out the car window and also hates the vacuum cleaner and runs for his life. I know through the last 19 years Zack has been one of the few constants in my life and he has gone to hell and back with me. He has always been there to cuddle when I come home after a bad day. I love to watch him sleep at night when he rests his head on his hands like a person peeking out from his mountain of blankets. I would have never thought such a small creature could have impacted my life in such a big way.
Friends are the family you choose – Jess C. Scott