Friday, March 27, 2009

My first turtle

I'm sometimes asked why it is that I keep turtles - they're unusual pets in this country and most people are only familiar with them in the abstract. How did I end up keeping turtles?

It was actually a total coincidence. I had no plans to get a pet - I theoretically wanted a pet, since I love animals, but I had no actual plans to get one. Partly since I didn't know what kind of pet that would be ... I'm a dog person, and I had a dog for over twelve years, but since I'm also rather allergic to dogs, getting another one isn't something I see myself doing ... for that reason as well as others. Beyond the thought that puppies are adorable and it's a shame that I can't have one, I hadn't really formed a lot of coherent thoughts on the subject.

Then one day - this was in the summer of 2005, in early June, I think - I came home from work and saw a note taped to the front door of the building: Turtles given away or something like that. There was a cell phone number too. I was immediately interested and thought about it all the way upstairs to my 4th floor apartment ... and then I decided to go downstairs again and call that number. :-) It turned out to be my next door neighbor's, and he was on the lawn in front of the building with his girlfriend, a friend from work and the two turtles. I had had visions of tiny little cuties no bigger than my hand ... so seeing what was actually there was kind of a shock ... these weren't tiny little anythings. :-) But I was fascinated. I talked to my neighbor and got the back story ... what he was doing with the turtles and where they'd come from. He couldn't keep them as he had a very needy dog who wouldn't accept other pets ... but he hadn't been able to leave them where they were, either.

What had happened was that these two guys, my neighbor and his friend, who were both carpenters, had been working on a house, or a building, where a number of people lived, among them a couple of drug addicts who had several neglected animals. Two of these were the red eared sliders that he now had with him. They had been living, if that's the word I want, in a tub of water that was opaque with filth, in a space so small that only one of them could turn around at a time. The job my neighbor was there to do took a week and a half ... and on the last day, when he realized that these animals had not been fed once in all that time, he decided to do the right thing and just took them with him. Just loaded the tub in the car with all his other stuff and drove off. He knew he couldn't keep the turtles, but even if he had to have them put to sleep, that would be better than the situation they were in. I agreed, completely.

So ... there were these two turtles. Supposedly one male and one female. None of us knew much about turtles and we assumed that the bigger one would be the male. Duh. :-) Egg layers, anyone ... ? :-D They had found one guy online who wanted a female of this species (the RES is very easily identifiable) so he was going to take the little one. o_O But who could take the big guy? It was a big specimen in my eyes, almost 9 inches shell length. And how do you even take care of an animal like that?? I didn't know anything about turtles. It would be crazy of me to try. But I just couldn't walk away.

And that's how Dino, as I named him, ended up with me that summer. Of course, he was really a she, but it took some time to figure that out. Even the vet told me he was a male. But that's what you get when you make reptiles illegal - vets who don't know shit about them. :-( I've always thought about him as a he, though, since that's how I and my friends got to know him. He was just amazing. I never knew turtles were like that - so active and agile, so curious and interested in their surroundings. And he was so trusting ... ! Even after the way he'd been treated, he had no fear or distrust of humans. He'd only been with me three days before he climbed into my lap of his own free will. (That took Raphael six weeks. :-) It was sad to see the condition he was in ... even I could tell from his carapace that he hadn't been well cared for throughout his life (he was an adult, I was told that he was probably about 15 years old) and of course he was weak from starvation. When I first got him he couldn't walk - his legs were too weak to carry his weight. But he still got around ... he lay on his plastron and pushed himself along with his feet. :-)

OK, I could go on till the cows come home, so I'll stop myself there ... but he really was a wonderful turtle. So much personality and so confident and trusting. But the situation became a problem. I couldn't get a proper aquarium setup for him in the apartment I had then ... problems developed that I didn't know how to solve, and I eventually started to feel that I couldn't keep him. To make a long story short, I found a place for him to live until I could get a new apartment (which I was hoping to do soon anyway, not actually because of him :-) and then I'd be able to bring him back home. This place was a small zoo, and I assumed that since they had authorization, that must mean that they knew how to care for their animals. Silly me. :-( They certainly didn't know how to care for turtles. :-(

I took Dino there in August, and I brought him back home again - to my new home, with a huge new aquarium ready and waiting - in February. I had been looking forward to that so much. But it was nothing like I had expected. He had been cared for so badly in his temporary home that he was very sick when he came back to me. Wrong food, wrong temperature, wrong enclosure ... you name it. The vet - a good reptile vet this time - did what she could. I tried. But he only got to be home with me for a month.

These pictures are all from the summer of 2005.

Here he is in the feeding tub ... it used to be for washing clothes, but because of Dino it became for eating. :-) He's eating ReptoMin (pelleted turtle food) and cucumber. He loved cucumber, it was his favorite, he was crazy about it. So much so that when I got Raphael, I was quite surprised to discover that he thinks it's totally gross. :-D But they're individuals too, just like us. :-)

Looking up at me from the white plastic IKEA tub that he lived in that summer. Hello! :-)

Out and about ... during a walk on a friend's lawn. But pausing to have his picture taken. :-)

I had to bring him up to the cabin with me that summer ... I know, crazy, but I couldn't leave him at home. He hated the trip, but he loved the whole fish ... !!! that he got when we finally got there.

My favorite picture of him ever. He's sleeping in the sun, just a couple of days after I got him. I took him along on a picnic with some friends, thinking he could enjoy the sunlight and wander around on the grass. But he just slept like this for probably five hours. And that's freaky ... I didn't know it then, but I certainly do now. I've never seen any other turtle do anything like this, or even heard of it. Turtles are diurnal, they sleep when it's dark. Light means awake. Heat means more activity. He must have been so worn out to be able to sleep in the sun. At the time I figured he was probably tired from doing so much digestion all of a sudden. :-) That was probably a big part of it. But he also had got no exercise for who knows how long, and I let him walk around almost as much as he wanted. Fun, but exhausting. :-)

He died three years ago today. I still miss him.


Paz said...

sad storey, amazing how stupid people can be (as in the druggies)

Margo said...

I really enjoyed reading that and seeing the photos, I'm sorry to hear that he died :(

Anne Ida said...

What a great tribute to a one of a kind turtle! He really was something! I feel my lips twitch thinking of him on the way into the fridge, having him along at Kalvøya and so on :o) Still have that pic on him on my phone - so sad he's gone:(

Leisha Camden said...

Thanks, guys. He really was a special little critter. I'm so sorry still that he had to go through so much hardship in his life, and didn't get the chance to have a really good life after all that. :-( But he achieved something - he made me a turtle person :-D and changed my life in some ways. My special little guy ... :-)

KAS said...

Late to the party, but seriously, Dino? He was a star!

Leisha Camden said...

He was, wasn't he? :-) I don't think any of us who knew him will ever forget him. :-)