I had my box turtle, Raph, for almost six years now. I never had a problem with her until a couple of months ago. Whenever I would put her back into her terrarium, she would twitch. Her arms, legs, and head, would snap around and she would ran in circles often banging into the side of her tank. One night I put her back in her tank and she twitched for a half hour.
Normally I let her roam around my office for a few hours, especially when the weather is warmer. She loves the freedom of being outside of her tank and I love to have the company while I work or even while I just relax and watch TV.
I would love to have her wandering the room all day every day if I could, but she is in fact a turtle and not a dog or cat. She needs to confinement of her tank and needs the heat from her lamp. So, in the winter, she can’t be out of her tank all day. In the summer, it’s easier, but I have the air conditioner on for myself. She can only be out for a certain amount of time.
Needless to say, I felt bad when Raph began twitching every time I put her back inside her tank. For the first day or two I thought it might have been because she didn’t want to be in there.
The third day, I thought maybe some bugs had gotten into her bark. Sometimes the bugs can crawl into her shell and make her itchy. I cleaned her tank every other month and it was due to be cleaned anyway, so that’s exactly what I did.
But that didn’t help.
I Googled everything that I could possibly think of—her diet, her lighting, the flooring of her terrarium, and more. I even looked up a list of diseases box turtles could get. None of the symptoms for any of the illnesses involved twitching. Other than the twitching, Raph was still eating and she was still pretty active and energetic. She just didn’t like her tank for whatever reason.
After a week of this, I finally decided to call the vet. The problem was, I didn’t know any vets that would care for turtles.
I called the vet right up the street from me. It was my dog’s vet and we had been going to them for as long as I could remember. I didn’t think they took care of turtles, but I thought I would ask.
“Hello, I wondering if you guys cared for turtles?” I asked as soon as male picked up the phone.
“No.” he said.
“Oh,” I replied awkwardly. “Well, do you have any references of any vets in the area that do?”
“I have one number, I think. Hold on.”
The man walked away from the phone. I waited for a moment or two tapping my fingers on my desk. I had a pen and notepad paper at the ready.
“Okay, here’s the number.” The man rattled off seven numbers and I wrote them down as fast as he said them.
“Um, what’s the place called? Where is it?” I asked. A number wasn’t going to give me too much information.
“Oh, that’s the wildlife place. They’ll just come by and get rid of it for you.”
My jaw dropped. “She’s not a wild turtle, she’s my pet!”
“Oh.” The guy cleared his throat. “Then I don’t think I can help you.”
I sighed. “Thanks anyway.” And I hung up the phone.
I crossed out the number the man had just given me and looked up the nearest animal hospital, which also happened to be just a couple streets down from my house.
“Hi, do you guys take care of turtles?” I asked.
“Um…” the woman on the other end elongated her response. I wasn’t sure where this was going to go. “I know the hospital in Andover does, I think.”
She knows, but she thinks? I wasn’t sure that made any sense. She gave me the number for the other hospital anyway and I wrote it down.
“What’s wrong with your turtle?” she asked.
I explained everything that was going on, assuming they may take Raph. Why else would she ask?
“Does she normally act like that?”
I furrowed my brows hesitating to respond. Was that a serious question? Did I hear her wrong? “No?” I replied. Why would I be calling the vet if she was acting normally?
“Oh…” the woman sounded as though she pitied me. “Well, if she’s not acting normal, then I would say something is wrong.”
“Thank you for your time, goodbye.” I hung up the phone.
I crossed that vet off the list. I figured I might as well try the other vet the woman suggested. I only had one other option, but it was the emergency vet and I knew it was pretty expensive.
My mother was at work, so I gave her a quick call. “If I’m able to make an appointment with this other vet, can I make it for this afternoon so you can come with me?”
I didn’t like going to the vet on my own to begin with. I would if I had to, but I avoided it if I could. Plus, I didn’t know where this other vet was. And I didn’t have any sense of direction, especially if I was going to have a turtle riding shotgun.
My mom agreed, but told me to try the emergency vet first anyway. We had been there before and it was closer, despite the cost. So I did.
An automated voice picked up and I nearly fell asleep listening to the monotone voice. I waited until he got all the way to number seven. I pushed the button relieved to finally hear a real person.
Except I heard hold music. And it was loud.
I took the phone away from ear which felt as though it had just attended a rock concert. I waited a few moments as I doodled on my notepad. I sighed in annoyance. I had already been on the phone for an hour trying to find a suitable vet for my turtle.
Then the music stopped.
I assumed the song was switching over, but the music never played again. I slowly brought my cell phone back up to my ear and I could have sworn I heard Minnie Mouse on the other end of the phone.
“Oh, hi.” I cleared my throat. The receptionist has such a soft, squeaky voice that I had to turn the volume up on my phone. “Do you guys take care of turtles?”
“Our sister vet does!” the woman responded perky. “But we do have one doctor here who is willing to see turtles.”
“Oh, perfect!” I exclaimed.
I explained what was going on and made an appointment for Raph that afternoon in just a couple of hours. I called my mother back at work and told her we were going to the emergency vet at four-o’clock that afternoon.
As soon as I hung up the phone with my mom, Minnie Mouse was calling me back.
“The doctor had an emergency. So can we do tomorrow at three-o’clock?” she asked.
“Sure, that’s fine.” I crossed out the time on my notepad and wrote the following down. “So Wednesday at three.”
I looked up from my paper and stared blankly at nothing. “But… You just said tomorrow?”
“I meant Thursday.”
“Today is Tuesday, right?” I checked my calendar on the corner of my desk.
“Yes. It’s been a long week, hasn’t it?” she giggled.
“Uh, right. So we’ll see you Thursday at three-o’clock?” I repeated just to double check again.
“Yes!” I could tell she was smiling on the other end.
After I hung up the phone with her, I called my mom back and told her we would be going on Thursday instead.
So when Thursday came, my mom and I arrived at the emergency vet. I explained to the receptionist that I was there for my turtle, Raph. The woman looked at her computer and sighed.
“Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but… You have an appointment, it’s just not here.”
My mom and I both stared at her blankly. That was the vet I called on the phone the other day, right?
“It looks like your appointment is at our sister vet, which is twenty minutes from here.” She explained.
Minnie Mouse mentioned their sister vet cared for turtles, but she didn’t specifically say the appointment was at that vet.
The receptionist was very nice and understood the miscommunication. She called the other vet and explained what happened. They couldn’t find the doctor, but the woman told us to go anyway. If the vet wasn’t able to see us, she would call my cell phone and we would just turn around and go right home.
So mom and I ran back to the car. We ended up making it to the other vet 25 minutes late to the appointment. It worked out well because her appointment after us arrived early. So we ended up just switching appointments.
The doctor was still able to see us and we were with her for 45 minutes.
Even though I had Raph for about six years, I learned a lot about her that day. I never had any problems with her and she was my first turtle. I thought I was doing pretty well, but apparently I was doing everything wrong.
In the end, I had to completely re-do everything in Raph’s tank. She now has three different lights—two for the day and one at night—and she has turf instead of bark. She’s a lot happier in her tank as she’s getting the nutrients from the lights that she hasn’t gotten for so many years. Her diet was fixed up and she had medicine for her shell.
Turtles are a lot harder to take care of than I thought. Even though I had been doing almost everything wrong for all those years, Raph was and still is very happy. She was always energetic, she always came out of her log to see me when I walked through the door, and she’s always had a good little personality on her.
I love her unconditionally, hold her a lot, and interact with her as much as I can.
I must be doing something right.