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June 11, 2014

Tail of a Hit Turtle or Setting Off a Rant

Not a Frankie Tortoise Tail.  It's about the tail of a hit box turtle. It's a tail about how to set Leann off!

Neighbor knocked on my door before eight this morning.  At least I was dressed.  It was Dennis who walks his dogs in the neighborhood and up the main street.  He hands me a plastic container with two turtle eggs inside.  He came across a turtle that was run over and he was able to recover two intact eggs.  I praise him for his kindness.  I ask if the turtle was dead.  He said yes.  I ask if he knows what kind of a turtle it is and he says box turtle.

A person with some broad range experience with turtles knows something many people don't know:  turtles don't die that easy.  It's the first thing I think when he says its dead.  The eggs are in remarkable good shape.  I ask where the hit turtle is. 

After a description of the turtle's location I again praise my neighbor for his quick response and action.  I return inside and look for shoes, several rags and a plastic bag.  I have not showered, combed my hair or brushed my teeth but it is not the priority here:  the turtle is the priority.

I walk out of our neighborhood and about a hundred feet down the busy main road I see a very squashed turtle.  I curse automobile drivers.  When I get to the near flattened turtle I shutter when I notice her head is up.  Around her is about 12 separate pieces of shell barely held together by tissue, a leg attached by a single ligament, a scapula protruding through lung and muscle tissue, and lots of blood.  I need to get her out of the road. A shovel would be helpful but that is not how a turtle lover would handle this. 

I put my hand in the side of the plastic bag.  I spread my hand as wide as I can and place this over the top of the turtle.  As careful as possible I slide my other hand under the carapace (actually in one piece) and then gently turn over the whole bloody mess in tact, pull the rest of the plastic bag over her top and again, turn her gently right side up. 

After I check to see that I have left no pieces of her behind I move off the road where I can examine her in safety.  Now covered by the bag except her front end, head and a dangling foot, I look for signs of life.  I look at one eye and there is no movement when I touch it.  Just to be sure I touch the second eye to see if it moves.

My heart just dropped as she blinks when I touch her eye.  She is alive.  I move quickly for home.

There is no recovery for this turtle but there is no reason for her to continue to suffer as she slowly dies.  Euthanasia is called for, as humane as possible.  All the way home I consider the fastest and most humane action I can take.  Now would be kindest, 30 minutes if we are lucky, one hour if I have to search for help.

I decide that if I cannot get her humanely euthanize within an hour I must, for her sake and not mine, euthanize her myself.  There are two things I can do if I have to that will instantly/within moments kill her.  I've never had to take these options in all my years but this may be necessary.  That internal decision took 10 seconds.  A serious turtle/reptile keeper understand this and is prepared to take emergency action.  It's not pleasant, but it is for the turtle's sake.

Not wanting to do emergency euthanasia I move to the next option.  The closest places to me who could euthanize this turtle is a small animal veterinarian clinic and a wildlife center.  The clinic opens at 7:00 am so they are available.  There is a chance they would turn me away but this is my cats veterinarian and I could direct them as to the proper way to euthanize a turtle and would assist them in the procedure.  

The wildlife center probably has the ability to do an emergency euthanasia even without a veterinarian on site.  Although I have tried to warm the center to me with donations and offer of help they seem unreceptive to my gestures.  Recently I was told they don't have a volunteer position for me (?????).  Why they could not use a highly skilled reptile person to clean cages is beyond me.  

I call and find that the staff is there and the center is open.  For the turtle this is the very best option. 

Still not showered, teeth not brushed, and with only one cup of coffee in me I head off to wildlife center's location.

When I get there one person directs me immediately to the reptile room.  Just as quick a second staff member stops me and ask why I am there and then tells me to fill out an animal intake form.  In my hand I am holding a plastic bag with a dying turtle inside.  I tell her to call the staff in charge. 

The reptile keeper comes to the front.  They recognize me.  I show them the turtle and ask if they can do an emergency euthanasia.  I am assured that they can do an injection.  

Now here comes the rant.

I ask to stay with the turtle.  Staff says no.  I cannot go in the back until I complete a two day volunteer orientation course.

Since the day I got my first reptile I have insisted in attending my animals in all medical procedures.  X-rays, injections, examinations, surgeries, deaths, every single time.  Once I took a tokay to a veterinarian for a parasite check and the vet picked up the tokay cage and started to leave the room.  I asked what they were doing and he said he was taking it back for examination and fecal check.

I should have let him take the tokay.  Within second there would be screaming and yelling and people dashing out of the room.  I told him that I had to be present for the examine and treatment.  He said that wasn't possible.  I got up, took the tokay from him and left.  

Frankie's veterinarian in Birmingham was one of the most skilled turtle doctors I have ever met.  He was smart enough to want me in the room in case Frankie ever went ballistic.  Like when Frankie got his first x-ray.  The x-ray technician said they could handle Frankie.  We insisted on at least walking Frankie to the x-ray room.  We put Frankie on the x-ray table and at the request of the technician we left the room.  Three minutes later he asked if we would come in and help settle down Frankie and get him in position.  I grabbed the lead apron and gear.  Technician said I would not be staying for the actual x-ray.  I said, "You wanna bet on that?"  Three minutes later I was putting on all the safety gear and keeping Frankie quiet so we could get the x-ray.

It's not that I am just skilled at reptile medical procedures, or know how to handle numerous reptile species, or that blood and guts don't bother me, or that I am the calmest person in the room during an emergency, it's the combination that makes me a really terrific person to have around to make the veterinarian's job easier. 

What is most important to me is I am the compassionate, responsible advocate who represents that reptile, that living being's interests.  When I picked up that hit turtle on the road I made unspoken promise that from that moment on I would see that it's interest came first.

It just burns me that a anyone thinks I need a two day course about wildlife, that I am overqualified to teach, just to see that a dying turtle meets it's final moments, compassionately and lovingly.

Advocacy.  Fighting for our animals.  Caring for our reptiles.  Soothing Frankie when he is somewhere unfamiliar.  Making sure a dying turtle isn't set on a table for 30 minutes while the staff mops the floor.  Making sure an idiot doctor doesn't put his hand in a tokay cage forcing the mishandled tokay to bite the bloody crap out of the doctor.  

Rant complete.  We now return you to your regular Frankie Tortoise Tails.


  1. AnonymousJune 11, 2014

    I hope the turtle didn't suffer a second longer than necessary.Bless you for your compassion and caring, Leann.

  2. AnonymousJune 11, 2014

    oh WOW! did you win out and accompany the turtle to the very end? Are you going to attempt to save the eggs? I would be the same way. I stay with my animals be it box turtle, snake Sulcata or fuzzy beast.

  3. Ginger in OhioJune 11, 2014

    Leann, God is smiling down at you for what you did. Because of you, that little unnamed boxie didn't die alone on the road and knew the compassion of a human during her final hours.

  4. Pat DeBruceJune 12, 2014

    I appreciate your passion, compassion and love of all God's creatures. Thank you.

  5. I too was told there was no volunteer position for me at our local wildlife rehab. I just showed up one day, and they pretended like it was suddenly fine. I cleaned cages, fed baby squirrels, and after a month they offered me a job. I had been 12 years working as a vet tech by then. at the time, i would have taken the position, had I not taken another with reptile rescue at another location. But I am now glad, as I have taken in box turtles in an attempt to save their lives, and had them euthanize them because they felt there wasn't anyone who would care for a captive box turtle with one leg missing, though I had the facilities and offered. Alas. So many paths and they all seem wrong. Wildlife has got to be the hardest thing to care for, our rules and understandings have nothing to do with a box turtles rules and understandings.