by Veronica of ScrappyRat
Walter and I grew up side-by-side. I was about 5 when Dad brought him home after finding him as a stray, showing up at the motel where my father had stayed on a business trip.
Though we weren't sure how old he was, it's likely he was about the same age I was... a little guy abandoned by a vacationing family who picked him up on a whim, or perhaps he ran away on his own or was “freed” by a parent who never wanted him in the first place, but had him foisted upon them as a “free gift”.
Many years later, my love for Walter inspired me to adopt another like him. One day at the city animal shelter I ran into a sweet lonely guy who had been completely abandoned when his family moved out and left him behind in the empty apartment, all alone until management finally found him. Here he now was, brought in by animal control, to a shelter that was doing their very best, yet unable to provide for his most basic needs. He didn’t even have the food he needed so he ate like a horse when he arrived here. He still eats like a mad turtle to this very day.
It’s nice to have a constant companion, and today Walter and I still live together. I love that he’s happy to see me and I am forever impressed with his enjoyment of “reading” or, more realistically, inspecting printed matter closely, checking out the various hues. Turtles, you see, have vivid color vision. I’ve had him for over 30 years now and with some luck, we’ll collect social security together !
Walter having a swimmingly time
Turtle sales are illegal in many states and I’m inclined to support making it illegal in all states.
Walter and Jebediah’s stories aren't unusual, aside from the fact that they're still alive. Many more die from the well-intentioned ignorance of the people who buy them or obtain them “free with any purchase” at beachside tourist traps. In most cases, the people who buy them aren’t trying to harm them, they just believe the many myths they're told by the people who sell them. For example...
ONE That turtles won't grow bigger if they are kept in a tiny bowl (nope: females of Walter’s species will grow to the size of dinner plates... no matter what you try to keep them in).
TWO That turtles will be fine in a tiny plastic box with a few inches of water to splash around in (nope: they can't eat outside the water and the water has to be at least as deep as the width of their carapace or they can drown if they fall onto their backs)Turtles actually need, at the minimum, a 55 gallon aquarium with a massive filtration system, heating unit, and reptile lamp once they grow a bit.
THREE People aren't informed that they're making a 20-60 year commitment to that little turtle they're taking home with their beach towels... Still, the most dangerous myth is..
FOUR the belief that you can just release your turtle in a local pond when they’re too much trouble to keep. Sadly, this is not only lethal for the abandoned pet who has never learned to feed himself, find shelter, avoid predators... but even sadder, a turtle can destroy an entire ecosystem by exposing the local wildlife to diseases (such as salmonella) that are commonly found in the overcrowded breeding facilities these animals were purchased from.
What you can do to help
Here are a few things we, as animal lovers, can do to help keep turtles from becoming unwanted pets:
• Don’t buy turtles !
If you think you're fully prepared, educated, and ready to add a turtle to your life... contact a reptile rescue and/or check with your local animal shelter. Lots of turtles are given away when the responsibility for their care becomes overwhelming so opt to adopt a turtle :)
Miami Airport confiscation © USFWS
• In many states, it's illegal to sell turtles at all. Find out if yours is one of these. Selling turtles with a carapace (shell top) size less than 4” long is illegal -nationally-. If you see any place selling turtles smaller than this, report them to the police, animal control and/or the Fish and Wildlife Service !
• Veto shops that do sell them !
If you see turtles for sale or being given away at beach shops or chain pet shops, contact their corporate offices and let them know that you won't be buying anything from their stores as long as they continue selling these animals.