Rescuers build perfect habitats for turtles and tortoises
for The Fence Post
Traci answers her phone in a small town in eastern Colorado. « I think one of your turtles is out, » said the person on the other end of the line. Traci asks them to hold on a moment while she does a head count. She gets back on the phone. « Nope, all 14 of mine are here. Where are you at? » Another turtle is in need of rescuing and Traci is on her way.
Jesse was her first one, a Russian tortoise. She was given to her by a little 4-year-old girl. Then came Jack. Jack is a Sulcata tortoise. He weighs in at 50 pounds and when he wants to go somewhere that is 50-plus pounds of pressure when you try to hold him back. Jack spent most of his life BT (before Traci) in a basement with a tiny window for sunlight and was fed dogfood. Tortoises are herbivores (meaning they eat plants). Consequently, his beautiful shell is mis-shapen with a big dent in the middle of it.
« They need sunlight and UV lights to transform the food they eat into vitamins and dogfood has way too much protein for tortoises. It is a miracle that he doesn’t have metabolic bone disease. » said Traci, who asked not to have her last name used in this story.
Spike is here because his 9-year-old owner became too involved in sports to care for him. He was crying as he handed Spike over to Traci and told her he knew she would give him a good home.
« Every five to six months I get a text. How’s Spike? Can you send me some pictures? It’s usually after Spike is in bed so I have to dig him up… » Traci said.
When you meet Traci’s husband, Greg, it isn’t long before he artfully maneuvers the conversation to tortoises. Some people’s passion is golf, others are cars. « My passion is tortoises, he said proudly. He wants the best for his tortoises so, he built them a large two-story shed the size of a small house for their habitat. The habitat comes with a bathtub for hydration. They must have « baths » every couple of days to stay hydrated. The habitat has heat, running water and is climate controlled by a pool and fountain in one corner that provides humidity. There is lots of dirt and sand for digging and burrowing and windows and UV lamps for important light sources. Greg recently added a wing he calls the trauma center. In the trauma center, Traci does beak trims and administers antibiotics to sick reptiles. She also mixes turtle chow for 14 turtles and tortoises and weighs and documents their growth each month.
Outside in the summer months the habitats for the box turtles have mounds of dirt to crawl and burrow in with tubing to hide in. It also has a small pond and awnings for shade. The tortoises have a large fenced yard with lots of grass and plenty of shade. In the corner of the yard Greg has taken the topper of a pick-up truck and put it on the ground. There is lots of dirt under it for burrowing and at night they put the tortoises inside and close the lid. They stay safe and tucked in for the night.
When being told the names of the turtles and tortoises you realize that Greg and Traci definitely have a sense of humor. There is Not Dead Fred because he is … you know … not dead. There is Plop, who makes a funny plop, plop sound in the water, and Dash-A-Poo, who poos and then dashes. Some of the box turtles rescued from roadsides are named Freeway, Turn Lane and Semi.
« With Semi, I stopped my car in the middle of the road. There was a semi coming really slow. I got him and got back in my car. The guy in the semi was just laughing. » Traci recalled.
Traci stresses to the public: If you spot a turtle on the roadside please move them away from danger or take them to a rescue. Do not keep them as pets. Traci worked at a turtle rescue and knows how to treat the animals safely.
This passion, as Greg calls it, started for Traci with a Chinese Water dragon named Jupiter. Traci was at a pet store when she saw a store employee holding a sickly lizard. Chinese Water Dragons are supposed to be green and this one was orange because he was so sick. When lizards are stressed they will « glass surf. » They do not understand why they can’t go beyond the glass. As a result of this stress they acquire a condition called mouth rot from bacteria they can not control. Jupiter had mouth rot so bad his jaw bone was exposed.
« I told that boy that lizard was coming home with me and that they were going to give me a huge discount on him. » Traci said. Needless to say, Traci went home with a Chinese Water Dragon that day.
« He was like my soul mate, » she said.
Traci and Greg’s deep affection for these amazing creatures does not come from thin air. Greg and Traci are very compassionate and giving people who both suffer from post traumatic stress disorder. More and more we as a society are becoming familiar with this debilitating condition. It is one that thrives in fear and depression, resentment and regret. Animals help to break these cycles that are perpetuated by trauma. You can’t have PTSD without suffering some kind of trauma. More likely than not it is a life-threatening trauma.
Taking care of these gentle creatures gives Greg and Traci a sense of purpose. In this purpose they find a meaning for their lives and a reason to be a part of something that is greater than they are. It gives them peace and satisfaction. For someone that might ponder life’s harder questions, or to have seen things that no human should have seen, a sense of purpose is huge. It’s a reason to get up and face the day. This is a one of the main benefits that stress animals create for people suffering from PTSD … purpose.
Animals help people with trauma and PTSD deal with depression, anger and fear with measurable impacts. They reduce stress, anxiety, lower blood pressure and boost immune systems. Animals require attention. Someone who suffers from PTSD must put aside recurring thoughts and images, depression and anger to care for the animal. It helps to shift the focus. Animals are accepting and are not prejudiced even though a person with PTSD might perceive themselves as different. Animals can increase Oxytocin levels, which are our bodies natural anti-depressants. These animals don’t need any kind of special training and they can be any kind of animal from a dog to a snake. So, if you hear someone say that someone’s dog is just a dog, or a horse is just a horse, or a tortoise is just a turtle you might want to ask them to think again. ❖
— Hall is a freelance writer from Platteville, Colo., when she’s not writing she is riding her horse in the mountains. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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