Saturday, May 30, 2015

Love & Turtles

Our pet turtle went from this ...
Three years ago in mid-May, Jason and I took our first vacation together as a couple. We drove down to Seacrest Beach, just east of Seaside along the Florida Gulf Coast and settled into a little condo right on the ocean for three nights. It was one of those romantic weekends that seals the deal, so to speak.

One evening, as the sun set and splashed golden radiance across the clouds, we sat in the sand and said our "I love you's" for the first time. It's one of those moments that I keep int the jewel box of my mind and take out when things are difficult, which sometimes, of course, they are ... because life, by it's nature, is difficult. It was a sweet moment. A moment captured on the waves and air and light and carried off into the four corners of the world on the relentless tide. Ah ... new love!

The weekend progressed and the disparate narratives of our lives began to weave together. Like many couples high on the first blush of true love, we sealed our commitment to each other with ... a pet. Some might choose a dog or cat (that came later), but our first co-parenting effort was, in fact, a turtle.

... to this, in three years!
On Sunday, as we departed the beach, we made one last stop at at surf shop to buy a souvenir for my (then 10 year old) son, Jack. I was considering a new boogie board or a t-shirt, but at the store's entrance was a large aquarium tank teaming with bright green tiny turtles. They were Yellow-Bellied Sliders, aquatic turtles, indigenous to the Southeast.

Jason and I were captivated by the little guys. We watched in delight as a store clerk fed small nuggets of turtle chow to them as they rose to the surface with their mouth agape like babies birds.

Ten minutes later we were on the road, heading back to Birmingham with a tiny green turtle approximately 2 inches in diameter. Our love was now complete.

Jack was delighted by his new pet. We purchased a 10 gallon tank, and a installed a rock for the turtle. When we plied him with his food, he rose to the surface and snapped it from our fingers. We named him Jaws.

Eighteen months later, Jaws, the miniscule amphibious turtle, had outgrown his 10 gallon tank. By now, we had added a basking lamp, a water heater and a filter pump. We were in deep with Jaws when we learned the truth: this tiny turtle would keep growing and — with a lifespan of 30 years in captivity— he would probably outlive us (well, at least me). But he was our turtle, so we bought a 30 gallon tank. Jaws continued to grow.  Now, with a shell of more than 8 inches in diameter, a quick google produced the reason: Jaws was actually Jaws-ina. Female Yellow Belly Sliders can reach 11-inches.

Happy turtle.
As much as we liked our dear turtle, we realized we could not continue to keep her once she outgrew the 30 gallon tank. We live in an urban area. Building a pond in our backyard was not a possibility and the maintenance of her tank was an almost weekly affair (you cannot litter-box-train a turtle.)

Turtles are cold-blooded creatures who hibernate in the cool months when in the wild. Since Jaws was allowed to grow year-round, she was already nearly full-size at the tender age of 2. Even in the larger tank, she seemed bored. She basked on her rock most of the day, and snapped up her turtle chow in the morning and night, still taking the sticks from our fingers. Her biggest fan was our cat, Pip, who learned that turtle chow was more delicious that her own kibble. She would cry until we fed Jaws — no doubt adding to her turtle girth. Pip the Cat was an enabler of the highest order.

We watched Jawsina grow through another winter and vowed that we must find her a new home once the weather warmed. Surely there was a nice pond nearby that could accommodate a healthy turtle! But this proved not so easy.

The only ponds near us were at the Botanical Gardens, which already had its share of turtles and didn't exactly smile on people freeing their pets in the pool. I called the zoo but got no response. Thankfully, the compassionate souls at Ed's Pet World offered to take our Jawsy and let her live in the pond they've created in their store for just that purpose. They sell turtles (and snakes and exotic birds and even hedgehogs) and apparently we weren't the first family to have a critter outgrow his/her second tank.

Three years after our love inspired the adoption of a little green turtle, our love inspired the freeing of a rather large one. I suppose that's the nature of true love. It grows and you tend it and sometimes you have to expand yourself in ways you didn't expect and open your heart to make room for it all.
It was a bittersweet day when Jack, Jason and I surrendered our beloved Jawsina to Ed's Pet World. But she will be much happier there. Ed's is like a half-way-house for turtles who need to make the transition from household pet back into their natural habitat. They get acclimated in a pool where they can cavort with other turtles and learn to eat things other that turtle chow. Eventually, Jawsina will be adopted by someone who has a private pond. Maybe she'll even find turtle love and have a family of her own. I hope so.


  1. Turtles and love. How Buddhist of you. Thanks for my morning meditation.
    Sat Nam