Rehab Turtles, and Memories of Snuggles

            Yesterday at a meeting I met a kid who was about to enter rehab and needed someone to take care of his pet turtles while he was away.  He sounded frightened and miserable.  He said that he didn’t want to surrender them to the ASPCA because he knew he’d never see them again. 
       I immediately had compassion for the guy.  I love my pets very much and I can’t imagine the distress I would feel if I was in his position.  I’d never be able to forgive myself if I had to abandon my animals to an uncertain fate.  I decided that I would help if I could. 
      I approached him and asked him what sort of turtles he owned.  Red-eared Sliders, he said.  How big are they? I asked.  He told me that they were babies. 
      “Did you buy them on the street or something?” I asked, because it’s illegal to buy or sell baby turtles in this state (and most states). 
      Long story short: the turtles have had an unhappy babyhood.

     The kid dropped them off at my apartment last night.  I’ve never taken care of turtles this young, but I don’t anticipate any problems.  I set them up with a lamp to provide them with light and heat.  It’s not an optimal habitat, but believe me, compared to the place they were living before, they’re staying in a suite at the Four Seasons.   
      My father had a red-eared slider once.  Named it Snuggles.  He “rescued” it from the Mexican kids down the hall, who had plucked poor, unsuspecting Snuggles from a rock by a river in California.  Poor, poor Snuggles–basking, half asleep in the sunshine, only to be seized by yelling children and taken forever from his river home…
    It was the beginning of Snuggle’s long nightmare.  

    When my father saw him, Snuggles had been living in a plastic bucket for 2 weeks in the kids’ living room.  He couldn’t get out of the water, which basically means that he hadn’t been able to sleep for two weeks.  Dad tried to explain to them that the turtle needed something above the water line on which to rest, but Dad’s Spanish was inadequate for the task at hand and the kids didn’t speak English.  

              My father emancipated Snuggles from the bucket by paying the kids with two big bags of Spicy Cheetoes.  Dad carried the turtle back to his apartment, where the hapless creature (the turtle, not my father) was to spend the next (and presumably, the last) two years of his life. 
            For the most part, Snuggles was set loose to cavort around the carpeted floor of the apartment as if he was a kitten instead of an undomesticated, aquatic reptile.  To be fair, “cavort” is the wrong word… “struggle” is more apt.  I mean, evolution did not have carpet in mind while optimizing Snuggle’s physiology.  

         The visual scenario could be quite jarring, given its improbability—a guest could be seated on the couch in the living room, say, and then a dark green turtle would appear in the room and crawl slowly across it with no particular destination apparently in mind. 

            “Is that a TURTLE, there?” a guest might ask, sounding amazed and faintly incredulous, as if they were inquiring about the appearance of a unicorn or a leprechaun.  

            Not that there were many guests in my father’s household. 

            Once or twice a week, Dad would fill up the bathtub or the kitchen sink and put Snuggles in the water so that he could swim around and soak himself.  Snuggles was fed with bits of shrimp, raw hamburger, carrot sticks, and  real pet food reptile pellets when I purchased them in a frenzy of pity. 
            Once, Snuggles went missing for 9 weeks.  After looking around the apartment, Dad thought for certain that Snuggles has shuffled right out the front door, since it was left open in the hot desert sunshine!  We looked on the stairs and the apartment grounds, but no luck.  Everyone assumed that Snuggles was gone…
            …but Snuggles was FOUND in a navy blue bag in the back of a linen closet.  Dad found him while digging around for a bike tire pump.  Apparently, Snuggles crawled into the bag and couldn’t find his way out.  When Dad found him, he was pretty light (weighed less) and was not very responsive…
            Snuggles revived, and drank water and ate, but Dad swore that Snuggles was never the same as he was prior to being trapped in the closet.  Dad suspected that Snuggles was brain-damaged from dehydration. 
           I think Dad was probably right.
            Now, years after the fact, I can appreciate what a perfect analogy Snuggles’ relationship with my father was to mine:
            It beat a plastic bucket.    

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