Our pet turtle, a cautionary tale

Two weeks ago we found a turtle.

Or, rather, it found us. Judging by the way it swam right up to where we were standing on the bank, and by the way it fit perfectly in the palm of my hand, we immediately knew we were destined to keep this turtle.

When my kids ask for another pet, I always tell them that once they can take care of a box of markers, then I’ll consider it. All they have to do is put the lids back on their markers and put them back in the box.

I said that two months ago and it still hasn’t happened.

But then an adorable little turtle swam into our lives and what other choice did I have?

We created a little turtle habitat in a Rubbermaid box, complete with moss, rocks, a sand hill, a slide made from part of a gourd, and a turtle-sized flag. We had a great time planning and creating this habitat, and the fun we had discovering nature and adventuring together solidified my decision to keep the turtle forever. (Or until it got too big for our makeshift aquarium.)

After some extensive research/quick Googling, I determined that we had a Northern Red-bellied Cooter, so we named him Cooter.

OOPS. I mean we named HER Turdy. Mary Virginia insisted that the turtle was a girl, and the kids kept calling the turtle Turdy. And I would correct them, “You mean Cooter?”

And that is how I learned that I am controlling about turtle names.

Also from my Google searching I learned that, to thrive in captivity, turtles would likely appreciate a slide, but they really need a heat lamp and UV light. Since we didn’t want our turtle to starve, be cold, or get seasonal affective disorder, Tom and I decided to become proper turtle owners and get a small tank with all the appropriate turtle luxuries.

I went to a pet store the next day and asked an employee for a turtle aquarium. Gushing, I explained that we were the new owners of an adorable baby aquatic turtle.

The lady pointed at some sort of 3,000-gallon hippopotamus tank, “You’re going to need this. Do you have a vehicle large enough to get this home?”

“Oh, nonononononononononononono,” I said.  “We just need a small tank! We’re going to love this turtle until it gets big, then we’re going to release it back to the wild. Then we might get a frog.”

She very quickly explained that my plan was actually illegal. It’s illegal to catch a turtle, love it, and then release it. Because while we are loving it, it will forget how to be a turtle and think it is a Krieger. Then when we release it back to the wild where there is no Netflix, it will die.

I sort of rolled my eyes because, are you kidding me? Turtles forget how to be turtles THAT QUICKLY? Isn’t having a shell on your back sort of a unique experience?

Maybe she sensed my hesitance, because then she said, “Listen. You don’t want a turtle. Turtles are disgusting, they carry bacteria, and they spread salmonella. I’ve gotten salmonella from a turtle, Jessica over in dog toys has gotten salmonella from a turtle. You have little kids. They will get salmonella from your turtle.”



“But!” she continued. “Guinea pigs make great pets!”

That afternoon I explained to the kids that we couldn’t keep the turtle. Since I know my kids well enough to know that they DO NOT CARE about bacteria, I explained to them that Cooter-Turdy would be happiest in the pond with her family, learning how to eat snails and hide from the neighborhood heron.

The kids were sad, but they seemed to understand.

I let everyone see Cooter-Turdy one last time, all the while hovering over them with hand sanitizer.

Then we walked to the pond, where we shared stories about Cooter-Turdy, and then released her. We stood on the bank and watched until she was completely out of sight.

I asked the kids how they felt watching Cooter-Turdy swim away. David said, “I feel sad that Turdy’s gone, but I’m happy because he’s happy.”

That’s when I decided that our foray as turtle owners was a success.

We played at the pond for a while, the kids climbed trees and tried to find Cooter-Turdy. When it was time to make dinner we walked home, where the kids ran inside and drew pictures of Cooter, and forgot to put the lids back on their markers.



  1. Lindsey April 23, 2018

    Love this! We bought a turtle at a flea market once (probably illegally) and found out the same info you did once we got home! We started out with a 10-gallon tank and then upgraded to a 200-gallon one about 2 years later. We loved our turtle, but he was notorious for escaping! We finally had to pass him on to a new home right before Hannah was born.

  2. karen April 24, 2018

    Life in the wild is rough, but with no Netflix it’s impossible. What a great article!

  3. Gayle Ann April 24, 2018

    I knew about salmonella. It is illegal for pet stores to sell them in NJ. A woman in a cross stitch group had 2. Her daughter purchased them while living in dorm, in another state, because she wanted a pet, and the dorm didn’t permit dogs. They , and grew, and grew. She had them about 15 years when I met her. She had to get 2 large tanks, because she had a male and female, and they fought. They then needed their own room because the tanks were so large. They also stink. She asked a friend to watch them while on vacation, and the friend almost had a mental breakdown. They are a lot of work, and, again, they STINK. She found a rescue group, but they had no openings, but she was on a waiting list. I stopped going to the group, but I assume she eventually took them to the rescue.

    As to other pets, if you go the dog route, consider an older dog. I know there is an active Golden rescue in your area. Dogs from breed rescues come spayed/neutered, up to date on shots, and evaluated, so they know if the dogs should be placed with cats, kids, other dogs, etc. They know basic obedience, are housebroken, and beyond the chewing stage. They are a much better fit than a puppy. When the dog is older, then get a puppy, as the older dog trains the puppy. We adopted an 18 month old dog who was neglected by its last owner (we are her 6th owners). No one ever spent time with her. Our then 7 year old ignored her for about 2 weeks, and then he decided that since she appeared to be staying, he would need to take her in hand. The younger dog follows the older one everywhere, and it makes training easier.

    I’m not a fan of guinea pigs and hamsters for kids. Kids want to handle them, and can crush them. They also tend to escape while being handled, or if the door isn’t properly latched. They also are lot of work. But, full disclosure, I’m a dog person, specifically Goldens.

    You are lucky had good clerk. Someone else might have gone for the sale, and not provided you with good information. Send a message about her on the company website.

    In NJ, it is also illegal to feed the birds at the park, and any wild animal, other than the backyard bird feeder. I know because someone yelled at us for feeding ducks after we moved here. I’m surprised we are allowed to breathe. I expect to receive a notice any day that there will be a tax on it.


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