Readers Talk About Their Own Turtle/Reptile Relationships

From time to time I’ll be posting new Turtle Wife stories.
Watch this space for fun short takes!

“My boyfriend and I own three adorable young three-toed box turtles. We love to take them out to the park every Sunday morning. We spread out a blanket and then let them loose, one per person (the odd one out waits his or her turn in the bin we brought them in). The turtles love to wander around in the grass and go for adventures. Of course, we are always following them and keeping them safe from all sorts of things. We all have a great time! The sun does wonders for their happiness and health.” (Posted October, 2002)

— Quinn Renier, Arlington, Texas

“I thought I was alone in the world until I found you. When I met my guy 12 years ago, who knew? First it was two tortoises. Long story short and 12 years later, 31 turtles and growing. Five in ground ponds with spotteds, snappers, diamondbacks, sliders, painteds, musks, razorbacks, pastels (albino red ears; but Ed calls them pastels)...and five box turtles lining up at the porch for tomatoes every morning (along with 3 cats, 2 dogs and one very patient 12 year old boy). Trying to go on any vacation is a nightmare, but we manage on very rare occasions while my guy panics that a filter will fail, ponds will lose their water, wild beasts will carry off the turtles — so now he wants to get one of those computer cameras so he can watch the turtles while we are not at home . . . and I’m sure that he will do it! So imagine being on the French Riviera with your guy and his laptop and he’s staring at the turtles in your own backyard.
     [This individual heard about Turtle Wife from: "You have to ask? You think my guy hasn’t found every Web site with the word ‘turtle’ in it by now?”] (Posted Oct. 2002)

— Judith Womack, Dallas, Texas

“I just wanted to comment on how much I enjoyed reading your book. . . . At times I found myself laughing and crying.  I am basically not a reader but I read the book in two days.  It was just the thing I needed because I work for a vet (and take care of the turtles). . . . Most of the turtles we encounter have been victims of auto accidents, sick, or left with us since the owners found out too late that it is a life-long commitment!  We recently got in a 8.5 lb. slider that was hit by a car. I love caring for them and have 8 here at my house known as ‘Turtle Town.’  I have never had to BUY a turtle.  People just give them to me and so my hubby puts up with it.”

— Patricia White (“Hapy/The Turtle Lady”)
Stringer Animal Hospital South in Anderson, South Carolina

“To a turtle lover, turtles are never ‘just turtles.’  They are extraordinary creatures that hold incredible powers of attraction.  One of the reasons I fell in love with turtles (and continue to be bitten by the love bug) is that turtles make me laugh.  They don’t have to perform any spectacular acrobatic feats — just looking at their funny, adorable faces will bring a smile to my face.  No wonder they are addictive — after all, who can resist happiness?

Turtsie courting a pebble      “Here’s Turtsie, my red-eared slider, doing a little mating dance around a pebble he regards as his ‘girlfriend.’  I have named her ‘Sharon Stone’ (what else!).  There are other pebbles which look similar . . . but he only recognizes this particular one as his woman and is totally fixated on it.  Turtsie is a very patient and affectionate ‘lover.’  I wouldn’t mind him as a suitor. :-)  I’m amazed he hasn’t given up yet.  And he never loses his temper when Sharon Stone doesn’t respond.”

— Corinne Chooi Mei Yoong, Selangor, Malaysia

“We have one turtle — a desert tortoise named Webster.  Of course, he’s hibernating right now so he’s in a box marked ‘Shhhh...tortoise sleeping.’  We expect him to wake up about St. Patrick’s Day.  It’s truly a wonder living with this prehistoric creature, a low maintenance pet who thrives in our back yard.”

— C. Young

“Charlie, our red-eared slider is about 6½" and of course has quite a personality.  For the occasional treat he likes kosher goodies — from a tiny piece of nova to a bit of Hebrew National hot dog.  He is healthy, alert, and we adore him — I call him the Green Prince of our family.”

— L. Squire

“[My wife] Carol is so understanding.  An unexpected call from someone with a sick green iguana or with a question about training often turns into a two-hour discussion about the minutia/joys of green iguanas.  There is a ‘force’ that always causes this to occur just after Carol inserts a video into our player or the Scrabble board has just been set up!”

— David Krughoff

Question: How well can turtles hear?  Answer: Pretty good.
     With their turtle enclosure in their study, our friends Suzanne and Danny can watch her box turtles or their computer screens, as the mood strikes them. And vice versa.
     “My turtles Lenore, Ronald, and June watch Danny work on his computer all the time,” Suzanne said. “One night, the funniest thing happened. Danny and I had theater tickets. We left the house in a hurry and Danny forgot to turn off the computer. When we got home at midnight, I went up to shut it off. I switched on the light and there were eight box turtles lined up in a row. All their heads were up, really alert, and they were facing the computer screen, which was turned away from them! It was running a screensaver program with animal eyes that fade in and out and the sound of crickets.”

Has this happened to you?
     Turtles live all over our friends’ Alex and Sharie’s Westchester apartment. “It takes Alex hours to change the water in his turtle set-ups,” said Sharie, the time? Alex first showed us around. We saw the custom-built 60-gallon tank in the sunroom, another specially-built space for turtles behind the living room couch, and multiple fish tanks in the dining room.
     “Once,” she said, “a baby turtle got trapped in the toilet when Alex poured it out with the dirty water.”
     “You should have seen me,” Alex said. “I took the toilet off its foundation and held it upside down and shook it. We could hear the turtle clanking around in the base of the toilet, but it wouldn’t come out. I shook it and shook it, and finally the turtle fell out.”
     “And it was fine,” Sharie said. “Like nothing ever happened to it.”

Or this?
     I’ve sat through extended discussions of turtles’ bathroom habits and of toddlers’ bathroom habits and you know what? I fail to see how the first dialogue is any stranger than the second.
     I mean, any time a turtle person begins a sentence with, “You’ve got to hear what my turtle Matilda did the day my parents visited . . . ,” you know the story’s gonna involve an embarrassing pee or poop at the exact wrong moment.
     Yet turtle poop is a sure-fire conversation starter among turtle people, especially tortoise owners, whose animals produce large amounts of waste material.
     “When Moses goes, you know it,” says our friend Suzanne of her favorite tortoise.

Food for Thought
     Many our friends feed their turtles some of what they’re having for dinner. Our friend Alex parboils squid for his turtles, and sheepishly admits that he eats half the squid himself. (“One for me, one for the for me....”)
     I’ve heard that small portions of sugar-free gefilte fish are particularly tempting to hatchling box turtles that could die if they don’t begin eating after they’ve exhausted the food from their yolk sacs.

Terrapin Soup?
     Once, our friend Mitch (a turtle husband) got home from work and found a diamondback terrapin sitting in a large pot of water on the stove. For Mitch, this was quite a scare. “I knew if [my wife] Lorri, the New York Turtle and Tortoise Society animal rehabilitator, was planning to cook a turtle for dinner,” Mitch said, “she had definitely gone over the edge.”
     Luckily, Lorri came home soon after and explained that she’d merely run out of tanks; the pot was a temporary measure while she found the terrapin more suitable accommodations.

A Tortoise of Biblical Proportions
     Moses is an adult female yellow-footed tortoise that was found floating down the Connecticut River one January. (Honest!) Moses was in such bad shape that she could hardly hold her head up. She had lost all of her color and was mistaken for a Chaco tortoise. A New York Turtle and Tortoise society member wormed her, gave her antibiotic injections, and tube-fed her.
     Since Moses needed sunlight, which would supply her with enough vitamin D3 to help harden her shell, she was soon spending summers in our friend Suzanne’s backyard.
     Now healthy, she’s got big black liquid eyes, a bumpy nine-inch shell, and light pink coloring. On a visit to Suzanne’s place, I watched Moses eat a strawberry and some green beans. Her beak turned lipstick-pink from the fruit; she looked like a turtle floozy. Then Moses started in on the beans, which she ate in conveyor belt fashion: chew, gulp, chew, gulp, chew, gulp. Moses opened her mouth, her tongue came up, her beak came down, and another bean vanished.

Longer Stories from Turtle Wife Readers

Corinne Chooi Mei Yoong of Selangor, Malaysia, writes:

One of the reasons I like logging onto turtle forums is that I feel “normal” there — LOL!  I don’t know anyone else who loves turtles as much as I do, over here (Malaysia).  You can still buy turtle soup here in some places.  Disgusting!  However, I have a confession — I admit that as a child I had eaten turtle soup — obviously when I didn’t know better :-).  I am sorry to report that it tasted extremely, and I do mean extremely, delicious.
      . . . I may have a turtle convert!  An ex-colleague who is now an art director in an advertising agency has a boss who kept a red-eared slider.  In the East, turtles are kept by some/most people for “feng shui” reasons — i.e., they are supposed to bring its owner “good luck.”
     No one paid any attention to the RES — save to change her water once in a while or feed it.  Well, when I started visiting her, I asked to see this RES and was dismayed to note that he/the boss had kept it in a tiny, bare tank.  The length of her shell was the width of the tank so she could hardly turn around let alone “swim.”  She’d been fed just turtle food sticks all her life.  I brought some boiled prawns for her that she gobbled up immediately!
     Anyway, I gave the boss some care sheets on how to take care of the turtle (whom I named “Maggie,” as she bore an uncanny resemblance to the famous and very beautiful Hong Kong actress, Maggie Cheung!).
     The boss LOVES dogs (even had a portrait of his 5 dogs on the mantelpiece) but didn’t know much about turtles.  I continued to visit and rave about turtles.  I’m happy to report that after several weeks some changes took place — Maggie was moved outdoors / an air-well garden where she could get lots of sunshine and fresh air — she had a new spacious and lovely terracotta garden pot to frolic in . . . and I bought her a log to bask on.
     My art director friend has even taken her for walks in the garden and gives her food treats.  She told me that I have been officially designated as Maggie’s “godmother”!  Just today she e-mailed me and said that she has begun to “fall in love” with Maggie/turtles and may actually now “know” and truly understand how I feel about them :-).  (posted April, 2002)

Julia Quintero-Fernandez, from Gatesville, Texas writes:

     My story starts in 1994 when my sister asked me if I wanted to take home a turtle her dogs had found in her back yard. She intended to give it to our nephew but he did not want it. I took it home, bought a turtle book to learn more about them.
     My husband built it a pen outside in my front yard. I found out it was a male ornate box turtle and named him Rafael. He seemed happy in his roomy home. In 1995 I acquired another turtle. I work as a correctional supervisor at the prison system and a couple of the inmates found a turtle and brought it into the office to show me. I took it home and placed it in the pen. Rafael seemed much happier since it turned out to be a she and I named her Mona Lisa.
     I asked my husband to make the pen bigger and he is sooooo good to me, he agreed. I too was very happy. In 1996 we were hit by a bad storm. I was so concerned about Rafael and Mona Lisa that I went out in the night with a flashlight and brought them in. To my surprise I saw something running very quickly and found four tiny little ones. I started screaming with joy, just like a new mother.
     My husband and teenage kids came running thinking something was wrong. I jumped with joy and just couldn’t stop. My Rafael and Mona Lisa had had babies. The next year they had four more. Eventually Rafael and Mona Lisa escaped from the pen. By this time I had another adult box turtle that my son found. It had been injured by a vehicle. The bottom of its shell was broken across from top to bottom.
     I live in a small town in Texas and we have only one vet. He does not know anything about reptiles. I went and bought a book on first aid on turtles. My friend from work works with animals and has a sanctuary and I turned to her for help. She tried with epoxy but it did not work. I used to have my nails done with acrylic nail structure and paid much attention as to how they were done. I had all the chemicals at home so I decided that if this works on fingernails it may work on this turtle. I tried it and it worked.
     My son insisted I name her Roadkill since she was almost that. I refused and finally agree to call her R.K., short for RoadKill. She is still with me since 1996.
     I told my husband, guess what, the turtles need a bigger pen, and I need you to help me. I moved them to the back yard in a 20’ x 16’ pen. I had my husband put a 4’ fence around it to keep my dogs and grandchildren out.
     Today I have approximately 20 ornate box turtles. I spend many hours just sitting in their pen and watching them come to me to be fed. In 2001 my husband and I went on vacation to New Mexico. He knew I always wanted an African spur tortoise so he bought me one in N.M. I named her Acoma for the Indian reservation we took a tour of.
     She was first placed in a 20 gallon aquarium. Since they grow fast, I asked my husband if he would make her a larger pen. I told him exactly how I wanted it and being a turtle husband he happily did it. She is now in a 27" x 21" box. We used plastiglass for walls since she likes to go to the corner and just stare at me. Next year she will probably occupy one of the guest bedrooms.
     I intend to turn it into Acoma’s bedroom since I am not ready to house her outside. African spurs do not hibernate, so I’ll keep her inside for now. Eventually I will have to move her outside and when I do, my brother will build her a house she can go into. Her house will be built looking like the top of a castle, and it will have a heater for winter. Of course, I buy fresh vegetables just for her. I even went out and bought a mini-food processor just to chop her food. She loves dandelion flowers and leaves.
     I love my turtles — they are God’s innocent little creatures that make me very happy. My boys just don’t understand my love for them, but they too put up with me. I am amazed at how many people are out there caring for turtles.  (Posted 26 March 2002.)

Judith Bachman from Danbury, CT, writes:

     Russian tortoises are really much smarter than they look. A big female I had (now deceased) had learned how to push aside the patio door screen slider and let herself out onto the deck. (Sometimes she would be allowed to roam around the dining room.)
     At first I accused my husband of leaving the screen door partly open and letting the turtles get out, and then we figured out it was the Russian, named Sasha, who was doing it. Not only would the door be open just the width of her shell, we caught her in the act.
     Another of my present Russians also opens the glass sliding door on his cage (it’s probably a snake habitat). I leave both ends open a crack for fresh air ventilation. That is how he first saw the opportunity to try pushing the glass aside. He repeatedly drops the 18 inches to the family room floor.
     The “learned” part of the behavior seems to be that he remembered the best weak spot and how to do it in record time. He just takes his right foot and pushes the edge of the door until he can get his body through. The other Russians in there and the two marginated tortoises haven’t figured it out yet or don’t care.
     Sasha did the screen door the same way — she would use her claw to work the door aside a ways, then take her left paw and give it a swift shove to the left and then take her shell through and out onto the deck. The male box turtle that I’ve had for 10 years (the other turtle that sometimes gets the run of the house) spends all sorts of energy all up and down the length of that door and cannot work it open — although he is wrecking my screen during the warm months.  (Posted 26 March 2002.)

April Kelly of Savannah, GA (soon to be Chambersburg, PA), writes:

     I’m currently engaged and I’m afraid my fiancé is going to run into the turtle husband category. I, much like Allen, have kept turtles since childhood. I currently have three adult eastern box turtles, two baby eastern box turtles, a red-footed tortoise, and a Russian tortoise. I rescued a sulcata from a client that couldn’t afford to treat it at the vet clinic where I work. I had him for about two years. Unfortunately he passed away last month. My fiancé’s first encounter with how much I love my turtles was at this time.

     He asked what I was going to do with the body, and I politely told him that “Torty” was going to be wrapped in kitchen towels and placed in a small box. It would then be placed in the freezer until I returned to Pennsylvania where a small ceremonial burial will take place in my parents’ backyard in a location near the rest of the “family members” (family pets) of years gone by. He hesitated to agree with me on this but as my eyes filled with tears, he soon understood how much not just Torty but all my pets mean to me.

     I can’t wait to get my book and allow him to read it . . . I have forwarded the address of this site for his perusal . . . hopefully he won’t change his mind and want the ring back??!! I doubt that will happen because he called me at work one day to let me know that he had "Wilbur" (the red-footed tortoise) out and they were “playing.” My coworkers found this somewhat odd, but I consider it normal turtle lover activity!!

Hobby Stories from Turtle Wife Readers

Paul, from Chester Springs, Pennsylvania writes:

     I belong to a motorcycle club called the Herd Of Turtles. The fact that all we have in common is the word Turtle, I hope, does not detract from my Turtle related "antic."

     I convinced my wife to take a ride with me on my Harley, a Harley Davidson Fat Boy. The bikes name, though not politically correct, hopefully doesn’t imply to a turtle lover an unattractive motorcycle. It is a beauty. I don’t know the Latin name for fat boy as most motorcycle club members that I know prefer foul language rather than a fancy dead one. I digress.

     Before my wife got on the back of my bike, I warned her to keep her feet on the foot pegs while riding. I warned that if she rested her foot on a tail pipe she could suffer serious burns. She seemed to understand, feet on the pegs not on the pipes. Pegs good — pipes bad.

     Not long into our ride I smelled rubber burning. I looked back for a moment and saw what appeared to be cool blue flames coming from my bike. The good news was my bike was not on fire. The bad news was that my wife’s sneaker was. I had to make a quick decision: (1) pull over and extinguish her foot, (2) tell her that her foot was on fire before we pull over — just to see how she reacts under pressure and test my emergency riding skills, or (3) do nothing and enjoy the cool blue flames coming from the back of my Fat Boy.

     I chose #1. You’re thinking that I made a wise decision at this point. You would be correct, I did. My wife was very impressed with my calm demeanor as I pulled over, dismounted, removed my helmet and informed her that her foot was on fire and she better start rolling on the ground. Fortunately, I recalled burning people rolling on the ground in a film I saw in third grade concerning fire safety. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that the burning rubber from her sneaker was making a real mess of my shiny chrome pipes. This, I am ashamed to admit, is what really motivated me to make decision #1. Blue flames coming from the back of my bike on a warm 4th of July evening would have added a festive, patriotic flare to our ride that evening. Watching my wife roll on the ground to extinguish her foot flames some how made our brief ride complete and would have made my third grade teacher proud!

Reader feedback

  “Confessions of a Turtle Wife . . . is the touching tale of a marriage challenged by turtles.”

— Steve Dale, The San Diego Union-Tribune

  “I LOVED THIS BOOK! You don’t have to know a thing about turtles or even care about them, but I guarantee by the time you finish this hilarious, educational, and positively charming book, you’ll realize it’s not about turtles after all. It’s a cosmic New York love story — a guy obsessed with chelonians and the woman who falls in love with him . . . and his turtles. Knowing ultimatums do not work, Salzberg never says, "It’s me or the turtles." It’s a sidelong glance at how to find true happiness by accepting what cannot be changed, and, a very funny one, at that.”

— Elaine Stundell, Freelance Journalist, NYC

  “Your book is my life!”

— Sharon Stearns, Rockland County, NY

  “Easy, intelligent and entertaining reading!”

— Judith Bachman, Danbury, CT

  “I want to thank you for writing such a wonderful book!”

— April Kelly, Savannah, GA/Chambersburg, PA

  “I’ve just about finished your book. . . . I think it is a truly wonderful love story.”

— Paul Gillam, Herd of Turtles Motorcycle Club

  “It was a lot of fun being taken into your turtle world. It was a fascinating learning experience too. And I was touched at the end when you became (or acknowledged you already were) a true turtle person. It is a good book with something to teach about the bonds of marriage and the bonds between humans and animals.”

— Margaret Stetler, Bayside, New York

  “At the present time I own seven box turtles who live in pens outside. This time last year I also had (in addition to the box turtles) seven adult tortoises, three tortoise babies, six box turtle babies and four red ear sliders! Had my hands full. I’m going to make my husband read the book so he doesn’t think I’m the only crazy person around! We’ve only been married five months so he’s still trying very hard to accept my turtles. He’s doing a fantastic job though.”

— Mary Lee Manley, Orange Park, Florida

  Confessions of a Turtle Wife is . . . funnier than funny! My husband and I can really put ourselves in your place. You could have written the book about us with the turtles in the bathtub, the scent of fresh poop and giving up half your counter tops for the turtles. We haven’t taken a non-turtle related vacation in 5 years. Thank you for making us feel normal in a very un-normal world.

— Lori Green, Director, Turtle Homes

  In our marriage, I am the one (wife) with the turtles (and other reptiles) and my husband has moved from indifference to quiet love for my critters…. The book is funny and so true! It is a wonderful account of the ups, downs, laughs and tears of turtle ownership. I give this five stars for the humor, and for bringing turtles to the rest of the world.

— Valerie Haecky

  I’ve never known anyone’s husband who was obsessed with turtles. It’s interesting and funny all at the same time. And what this world needs is more interesting and funny!”
— Beth G.