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True turtle story

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Posted by Alan on November 03, 1998 at 22:37:51:

Our story begins with the acquisition of an ornate box turtle we named Fred. Actually, the kids call him Snapper but that is another story. Anyway, Fred the turtle takes up residence in our back yard within a 64 square foot pen comprised of 8 foot pine boards nailed end to end to form a square. He adjusts well to his new home and digs burrows as he sees fit in and around the large rocks we placed for him. Over time, we become acquainted and Fred soon connects our presence with tasty food. You know the drill, vegetables, fruits and bugs. Lots of bugs. Before long, whenever we appeared, Fred came over looking for something good to eat. This relationship continues with daily visits, water changes and so on for the several years we have had him. Since we live in central Texas, the weather is mild enough to leave Fred out all year long. He hibernates naturally under a pile of peat moss and leaves and is always a treat to see again in the spring.

This past fall, Fred decided to start digging in a little early and, thanks to a very heavy rain, he happened to dig his way out underneath his pen through the loosened soil. Shame on his owners for not securing the boards following a habitat move. If they were paying attention, they would have spent a little extra time securing the boards on top of concrete pavers so as to make the dig out much more time consuming. Fred manages to dig out in less than 24 hours, striking out on his own. We searched high and low for several days and posted signs around our rural neighborhood advising others to be on the lookout for Fred.

Sure, we were sad over the loss, especially because of our negligence. A few of our neighborhood friends questioned our concern over a turtle. They couldn't understand that Fred was more than 'just a turtle'. Fred was our turtle - our outdoor friend who was always glad to see us when we were outside. The first weekend following the posting of the signs, we received two phone calls from folks who had found turtles. Neither of them turned out to be our Fred but we adopted them both (one red eared slider and an ornate box turtle) and continued our watch around the neighborhood as well as posting our signs. Several more weeks passed with no sign of Fred and the signs began to sag and fall off the stop sign poles we placed them on due to more rain. We persisted, knowing that the end of fall was near and our turtle would soon be dug in for the winter. No response, no calls, no signs of Fred. We had all but resigned ourselves to the fact that he was either scooped up by a neighborhood kid, flattened by a car, eaten by a dog, you name it, when the unimagineable happened.

A sweet elderly lady called to say that she had found a box turtle walking down her street that was very friendly and that she remembered seeing our signs a few weeks prior. She said she had to search the neighborhood to find a single remaining sign that revealed our phone number in order to call us. We went to see the turtle and were relieved to discover that it was indeed, Fred. He was none the worse for wear and by picking him up, I could tell he was feeding well on the local wildlife (bugs). He needed a bath and smelled like fish - probably because he was hanging out in a nearby drainage creek following his escape. Fred is back and was found a half mile away from his pen after being AWOL for 5 weeks. Needless to say, the new box is equipped with pavers and Fred even has a roommate as a result of his walkabout and our signs.

The morals of this true story are:

What you sow is what you get. Spend the time to do the job right.

You never really appreciate who or what you have until it has dug out and walked away.

Box turtles are diggers and they want to own the world, if not the neighborhood, no matter how well fed.

You probably don't own enough real estate to keep box turtles happily confined, ever.

If you believe in what you are doing, persist. Even if neighbors think you are loony.

Be careful what you wish for. Posting signs in a neighborhood for lost turtles may result in receiving more than you what you lost.

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