RECENTLY, while heading from Dover to South Berwick, I had one of those stop-everything, change-of-plans moments. Before reaching the Maine border, there is a pond on the left. As I came around a slight bend, I saw a small snapping turtle starting to cross the road toward the pond. I swerved around her and then pulled off. As I shut my car door and headed toward her to expedite the turtle’s trip across the road, the next vehicle hit her.
The truck had noticed the turtle last minute and swerved so it just barely hit, but the impact was enough to toss the turtle in the air. She landed on her back. As I ran down to her, her mouth was gaped wide open and nothing was moving. I was so discouraged that this turtle was hit just seconds from a safe trip to the other side.
I picked her up (carefully …) to be certain she was dead. Her limbs were limp, her head was hanging out a bit and her eyes were closed. But just before I put her on the ground in a grassy, shaded spot on the side of the road to give her a peaceful place of permanent rest, I pushed on a hind foot to see if there was a reaction. Her foot pushed back! I checked the other one. That one pushed back, too!
I carried the turtle to my car. After wrapping her in a towel with her head and front legs sticking out, I put the turtle on the passenger’s seat beside my handbag and headed for the Center for Wildlife in York.
The center on Mountain Road near Mount Agamenticus has been on my radar for many years. They do amazing work given their makeshift facility, a warren of small buildings where they do their animal care and animal enclosures mimicking natural habitats. CFW is currently in the midst of a capital campaign to build a new facility, on which construction has begun. I have visited several times and have seen a few of their educational programs starring one of their non-releasable ambassador animals, like Henry the porcupine (who is adorable).
Between my career in book publishing and my current career in fundraising, I considered becoming a wildlife rehabilitator and doing an internship at CFW. Since that didn’t happen, I’ve chosen the CFW as an organization I support as much as I can because I believe so strongly in their work and the professionalism with which they operate. But I had never brought an animal to them before this snapping turtle.
I called ahead to tell them I was bringing the turtle in. Around halfway there, I looked over to see the snapper walking across the seat to the other side of my handbag. I pulled off the road and got a cloth grocery bag out of the back seat, wrapped her back up in the towel, put her in the bag, and tied the handles shut. As I continued on my way, I called the CFW and told them that my pal was moving around and asked if they thought I should just bring her back to where I found her or still bring her to them. They thought checking her out was best. As I drove there, I was surprised by how stinky the turtle was.
Admission was quick. The person who took her in determined the snapper — maybe 5 inches across — was 3-5 years old. They gave me my towel and bag back and a card that gave me the patient number (R-95-19, the 95th reptile admission of 2019) so I could call and check on her status if I wanted. I called the next morning and learned that she seemed to be pretty much back to normal. They were going to test her swimming capabilities and then she would be ready to be released. They welcomed me to come get her and release her myself at the spot where I found her if I wanted to. I did want to.
The next morning I arrived with a little crate with a towel in it and again, it took just moments to get the turtle. They are organized and have lots of things to do so they are quite efficient. They also made the additional adjustment of draping a towel over the crate door.
I drove to the spot I found her, opened the crate and encouraged her out. She didn’t seem inclined to move much while I was there so I went back to my car and watched. Within minutes she had walked across the grass, under the fence, and when I left was walking along the fence line toward the big pond where I suspect she had been headed when she got hit. I was so happy with my turtle rescue/release and hope this young snapper lives a long life to tell her great-great grandchildren magical stories about her alien abduction.
Cheryl Kimball is a freelance writer who lives north of Rochester. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.