Dead Turtles

26 Aug 2005

Paul R. Potts

When I came home from work last night, after spending nearly 90 minutes to go 32 miles, I found that the kitchen sink was full of hot water that had backed up from the dishwasher, which was running.

And in the sink were my three turtles, Giblet, Bubba, and Sluggo.


Having undergone some combination of scalding and drowning.

Isaac had been feeding the turtles, at my request, but wandered off to play and left them there, for I-don’t-know-how-long. Grace was busy with the baby.

The backing-up of the dishwasher drainage into the sink happens commonly, and can be fixed by running the disposal or making sure the plug is firmly stuck in place.

It was a bad idea to feed the turtles while the dishwasher was running. And an even worse idea not to keep an eye on them and notice when the water started to back up, and stuff the plug back in, or run the disposal to clear the blockage (the turtles are much too big to go down the drain). Or take them out.

I did not know that the water was hot or that they were dead, and so we yelled for Isaac to come finish feeding them.

This is where it gets weird.

He drained out the water, rinsed them off like he is supposed to, and put them back in the tank. Apparently not noticing, or deciding to not bother to mention to us, that they were dead – two completely limp, and one stiff. Not moving. Eyes closed. Bubba with his mouth open looking like he was in agony.

Which he probably had been.

Isaac has been feeding them for a while now, and has a lot of experience with them now… he knows that they hate being handled, and always try to wriggle their way free. It is not normal for them to have their eyes closed, for Bubba’s neck and limbs to be sticking out stiffly, and for Bubba and Giblet’s heads to be flopping loosely.

It was an accident, but accidents happen a lot less often to the observant and attentive. Isaac’s response was just surreal, but the lesson we are trying to teach him from this is that being an observant person, paying attention, and taking responsibility for the helpless are the most important things we can teach him.

We are not giving Isaac a specific punishment, because this is at least partially an accident, although he felt the need to ground himself for a few days.

A brief eulogy for three turtles:

Turtles aren’t pets in the same sense that cats or dogs are pets. You can’t really train them much. They don’t adjust to being handled; they don’t like it. They are mostly for watching. Graceless and awkward on land, they are remarkably agile in the water. When they are not swimming around looking for food, they either lie on the bottom of the tank or bask on a rock. Occasionally I would even find all three of them stacked up, in order, from largest (Giblet) to smallest (Bubba), but if they saw me move, they would immediately jump back in the water. Oddly, although they are normally very shy, when I practiced my guitar, they would line up and appear to be watching me. Baby Veronica loved to watch them. They are relatively low-maintenance pets; unlike fish, they thrive in plain tap water, and with a large-capacity filter unit with a biological “waterfall” attached, I did not need to change the water very often. Since I am allergic to most furry pets, they were just about the ideal pet for me.

Giblet, a female red-eared slider, was purchased by my brother Brian perhaps seven years ago when she was tiny, about the size of a silver dollar. He kept her for a while, but she was not thriving; her tank did not have a proper heater and tank filtration, and Brian was over-extended with two children and several other pets to cope with. So, I took over Giblet’s care and brought her to Ann Arbor. She grew, and grew, and grew some more, until she was about the size of a dinner plate. Her hobbies were basking, stealing food from the other turtles, and occasionally climbing out of the tank and hiding in obscure corners of our apartment. She bit me on several occasions, once drawing blood. She was mean, and you got the sense that she would eat you if she could, but she did a good job at being a turtle. Turtles can live fifty years or more with proper care. She might have lived several decades more, and she might even have outlived me.

I purchased Sluggo, a male red-eared slider, as a companion to Giblet. She was very small, and I did not want her companion to be large enough to take her head off while they were eating together, so I found the smallest turtle I could find. He was still quite a bit larger than Giblet. Now the tables have turned, and she is much larger. When I got Sluggo, I thought he was young, but it seems that he was the full-grown runt of the litter. He had a parasite and a soft shell. I was able to remove the “slug” (hence his name) and harden up his shell by feeding him turtle mineral supplements, although it remained somewhat distorted as it grew. He improved under my care, but always behaved kind of strangely; he seemed terrified of everything, including his own food. He seemed to have a neurological problem and his claws would sometimes twitch violently. Amazingly, he managed to fertilize Giblet several times, although the eggs always got eaten before we could collect them. He must have had a traumatic childhood, but did come out of his shell, so to speak, under my care. Sluggo did his best at being a turtle. I am glad that I was able to improve his life a little bit.

I purchased Bubba, a yellow musk or mud turtle, to keep Giblet and Sluggo company. He was more friendly, and his was shaped such that it always appeared to have an affable grin on it, hence his name. He had a remarkably long neck, which he could stick out to an absurd length. Instead of basking on the rocks, he enjoyed lying on the bottom of the tank and occasionally extending his neck all the way to the top, where his nostrils would just barely break the surface, to sip some air. He had an interesting hinged plastron. He developed a strange lump on his foot, and I was afraid it was some kind of tumor, but it went away after I put a sulfa antibiotic for turtles in the tank. He was not able to bite nearly as hard as Giblet or Sluggo, and resisted less when being carried to and from his dinner. He seemed a little bit more intelligent, although that is pretty subjective. Bubba was a great turtle. I’ll miss him the most.

We did not bury them; they went into the dumpster. We don’t have a good place to bury them, and I couldn’t bear the idea of having a funeral for pets which are not even mammals. But they will be remembered. This weekend I will be dismantling the tank. I’m not going to replace them.

Creative Commons Licence
This work by Paul R. Potts is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. The CSS framework is stylize.css, Copyright © 2014 by Jack Crawford.

Blog IndexWriting Archive