If I Could Talk to the Turtles

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An alligator snapping turtle. They will hurt you. Rescue at your own risk!

 “Think of all the things we could discuss 
If we could walk with the animals, talk with the animals,
Grunt and squeak and squawk with the animals,
And they could squeak and squawk and speak and talk to us.”

Lyrics from the theme song to Dr. Doolittle 

Talk to the animals. It’s something many a human strives to do. It’s a tricky undertaking for our species. The first task is to realize that not every creature (or any other creature on earth) thinks and communicates like humans do. And we can be a bit arrogant about it, really. We tend to believe that all creatures do, or should, perceive the world just as we do.

As a professional dog trainer, I can’t count the number of times an owner has presented me with a “problem dog” and, when picked apart, the whole perceived problem centered around miscommunication…on the part of the human. Dogs and other animals communicate very clearly and it’s our job to learn their language and then to work within it to help them understand our language.

sit stay goodThe fun/tricky part is that every type of animal has a different language. I do not interact with my dogs in the same manner as I would visit with my horses. And our sheep, Bob, certainly has a language all his own.

Well, Bob may be in a class all his own. I’m not sure he’s the brightest bulb on the planet. Then again, maybe he’s really a genius among sheep and I’m judging him by my snooty human standards. Maybe. (I don’t think so. Bless his heart.)

Today, if I could wish for the gift of inter-species communication, I would wish for the ability to talk with turtles. Yes, turtles.

I have always loved turtles. When I was a kid, I had a little colony of turtles that I found here and there around an area lake. My patient and wonderful dad even helped me create a nifty habitat for them. They all had names, they even hatched little families. I loved my turtles and I believe I gave them a good life. They were quite friendly. Harriet was my favorite and she would stretch her neck out for a good scratch from any willing human.

I think my turtles and I talked to some extent. Or at least we trusted. We did have a relationship. I would tell you what we talked about, but it was all super top secret. (I was nine or 10…everything was super top secret.)

Boy, could I sure use Harriet’s help as an interpreter right now. We share Tails You Win Farm with a lot of turtles. You’ll find several species of box turtles, red ear sliders, and even feisty alligator snapping turtles. It’s a mini dinosaur paradise around here.

I would love to tell you that we’re all living in peaceful harmony—as we always strive to do with the wildlife that shares our farm—but there’s one ongoing problem. The turtles seem to constantly want to migrate through our fenced dog yard.

Yes, every spring and summer, determined turtles somehow get inside our fence and try to make the trek across the yard. This might be ok if they were stealthy, swift, or traveling only in the cover of night when the canine beasts are busy hogging our bed.

But no. They make their slow-mo mad dash in bright daylight, when the dogs have free access to the yard through their dog door. It’s not much of a chase.


A-one, a-two…CRUNCH…a-threeeee.

To the dogs, turtles are just a fabulous, easy-to-catch, great-smelling, mystery of a toy. Parts that stick out, suddenly tuck away, leaving this wonderful chew toy. It’s a bit like getting to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop. If you’ve seen the owl commercial, you catch my drift here.

While a turtle’s shell will hold up to some extent when the dogs start to “play,” eventually things will go wrong. And trust me, things can go very wrong. Often times the dogs like to bring the turtles in the house, onto our bed, where they can investigate and, eventually, gnaw on their new-found prize. Yep. On our bed. Lovely.

Fortunately, we tend to discover the captive turtles before much damage is done. The dogs are not subtle. The dogs also compete for and guard these special prizes. So there is generally much barking and grumbling and mayhem to cue us in to the turtle’s plight.

Turtle ERNot all turtles are quite so lucky, though. One day I came home to find Jim kneeling in the driveway, diligently working on some project. There were tools and other stuff that generally lives in the dark depths of our garage scattered beside him. (Jim’s super secret stuff.)

“I might need your help with something.”

If you follow along with my stories, you might start recognizing a pattern when Jim utters this phrase.

These words usually mean that Jim has rescued some sort of critter in need of assistance. He’s a man with a very kind heart. If you are an animal in need, you want to cross paths with Jim.

This day, Jim had rescued one of the turtle toys from the jaws of the big guy, Kainan the wolfdog. Just getting the prized turtle away from our most impressive and playful carnivore was a bit of a trick, and this turtle did not escape unscathed.

“Chip” had suffered a puncture in his shell. Not good.

Dr. Jim was swiftly working to clean and repair the breach in Chip’s mobile home fort. Yes, repair.

The clean and disinfect portion of the operation was complete by the time I arrived on the scene. I was there just in time to assist with the repair mission. Jim was already affixing a fancy epoxy patch to Chip’s damaged shell, carefully rebuilding and sealing the damage.

tutle fixedMy job was to keep Chip from getting his front leg stuck in the glue. Delicate work, but someone had to do it. So I sat and held hands with a turtle.

I will tell you that the operation was a complete success, and the following day, after allowing the patch to completely dry and harden overnight, Chip was released to the wild to go tell his tale of alien abduction to the turtle masses. I’m guessing he became some sort of reptilian hero or god.

turtle dangerToday’s rescue was a large red ear slider who had decided to try to get into the dog yard. My husky/malamute mix and her best bud, Kainan, discovered this turtle before he actually made it through the fence. Lucky for him.

Alerted by the incessant, high-pitched (WHY do dogs go up to ear-bleed pitch when really excited?) barking in the yard, quick investigation showed me the near-error in this turtle’s way. This was a big slider too. They would have had great fun at his expense.

As I moved him to safety down by our pond—red ear slider paradise according to the huge population that suns on the shores daily—I had to wonder, for the thousandth time, why every turtle in the area seems to want to make the “dash” through the dog zone. We’ve even had repeat visitors (a little dog nibble on the edge of a shell will identify a turtle for life). I kid you not. We move them away from the dog yard, they come back!

It’s madness, I tell you.

Is this some sort of hazing dare required to join Turtle Alpha Beta? Is our dog yard smack on an ancient and hallowed turtle migration route? Are turtles filming episodes of Reptile Fear Factor in our yard? Or is this the “drink the Kool-Aid” ritual of some crazy turtle cult? I just don’t know.

turtle pond

Moved to the safety of the pond. He’ll live to race the dogs another day.

I do know that if I could have the gift of talking to animals for a day, I’d gather all of the turtles in the area for an important chat about the dangers of trying to interact with dogs in our fenced yard. Good grief turtles, we have fenced them IN to protect them and you. Please stay OUT.

For now, there is peace in the animal kingdom. The dogs are back to stalking and killing Jim’s socks and the turtles are back to…well…whatever turtles do all day.

“If we could talk to the animals, learn their languages
Maybe take an animal degree.
We’d study elephant and eagle, buffalo and beagle,
Alligator, guinea pig, and flea.” 

And turtle. I’d definitely add turtlese to that list.

Tutle and my feet

Nancy, Turtle Whisperer.

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