When emergency arises, call for the turtle patrol

Thursday, May 12, 2005

May 12, 2005

Dear Patty,

For nearly 20 years DC's mother kept a turtle in the family's downstairs bathtub. Jacques summered in a plastic swimming pool behind the house, stirring only occasionally to eat frozen fish bits. On her birthday and for Christmas, DC's mother often receives jewelry and paperweights in the shape of a turtle, even though Jacques is now basking in turtle heaven.

DC loves turtles, too. She takes the hymn "All Things Bright and Beautiful" to heart. "All creatures great and small/All things wise and wonderful:/The Lord God made them all."

She pulls over to help whenever she sees a turtle trying to cross a highway or street. She is so adamant about this that she has me doing it, even when she's not in the car.

So it was not really surprising when she flung open the back door yesterday morning and announced that there were turtles to rescue. She was supposed to be on her way to Southern Illinois University to work on grades. The look in her eye said that could wait.

Instead she grabbed a snow shovel off the back porch and told me to follow.

We drove to the highway that leads to the new bridge that crosses the Mississippi River. Two turtles were in the middle of the road. One was hightailing it north toward the median. The other was motionless.

There is no shoulder on the approach to the bridge, so we pulled our cars onto the sidewalk. DC took the shovel and headed for the turtle that wasn't moving. I dashed for the other one to prevent some semi from turning it into a stain.

The turtles probably came up to the highway from the river, but the concrete median in the center of the road would prevent any turtle or and lots of animals from getting across. The state transportation department has created a turtle trap.

DC's turtle, much bigger than mine, had been hit. Part of its shell was smashed and torn away, some of its internal organs were showing, and blood was on the pavement. DC scooped the turtle up into the shovel and placed both in the back of her pickup truck. My undamaged turtle was destined for a new back yard in our neighborhood.

Once back home DC called the biology department at the local university. The secretary told her the professor who knows the most about turtles was in class. DC told her this was a turtle emergency. I couldn't have said that with a straight face. DC was crying.

The secretary found the turtle expert, and soon DC was learning how to care for a smashed turtle. She wrapped it in cellophane to keep its innards in. Miraculously to me, the turtle started moving around.

When DC took the turtle to our veterinarian later on she was told they repair smashed turtle shells all the time.

At the veterinarian's office, an elderly man and a biker in the waiting room inquired about DC's turtle. Both told her they stop to help turtles, too. The three of them made a pact to patrol the approach to the bridge. Every decent city needs a turtle rescue squad.

Love, Sam

Sam Blackwell is managing editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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