••KEEP••Lee Pitts Mug
Lee Pitts is an independent columnist for The Atascadero News and Paso Robles Press; you can email them at leepitts@leepittsbooks.com.

I think there wouldn’t be near as many gangs, kids killing kids, or troubled teenagers today if more urban kids had pets.

My best friend in high school didn’t speak a word of French, knew no calculus, and didn’t play on the football team. (Neither did I.) I think I had the potential to be a rebellious bad boy, but I had a wonderful dog who loved me unconditionally and got me through my difficult teenage years.

I had other pets too: steers, lambs, pigs, cows, ducks, rabbits, chickens, and, heaven forbid, even a cat. Our house was filled with pets too, as we always had a canary or a parakeet and the goldfish bowl always had one or two residents, even though we had a hard time keeping the goldfish because we lived in earthquake country, and they kept sloshing out of the bowl. We also had several of those very small turtles that lived in a plastic dish with a palm tree sticking out of it. The tiny turtles didn’t last very long, but they were way more social than the big turtle we had that I saw twice in ten years.

I was inspired to write about turtles because a dear friend recently “adopted” a pet turtle for her cute two-year-old daughter. They went to a “Turtle Rescue Preserve” where there were over 300 turtles of all sizes and ages that people had dropped off or were discovered in places they shouldn’t be… like sitting atop a fence post where they were placed as a sick practical joke.


My friends paid $85 for their turtle, which they optimistically named Buddy, not really knowing if it was a he or a she. (How does one tell?) My friends were immediately drawn to Buddy because of its handicap: someone had painted Buddy’s shell a bright white, probably, so it was easier to find than our turtle was. When my friends go to the lake for the weekend, the mother-in-law visits Buddy twice a day to feed it at home a chilled Romaine/Iceberg lettuce mix.

I was curious about the pet turtle market, so the next time I was in town, I visited a pet store and asked the aggressive salesman if he had anything that would make a nice housewarming gift for Buddy. He showed me several turtle padded beds, leashes that looked exactly like the ones they sold for dogs and turtle houses, which seems redundant. He also suggested “enrichment toys” to foster Buddy’s mental acuity, a pet sounds music CD, and a loofah brush and chamomile and lavender body wash with which my friends should massage Buddy religiously twice a day to remove the paint. I understand some of the white on Buddy’s shell has now faded to a dull grey, probably the primer coat.

Have you seen these purses in which women haul around their small dogs? The salesman showed me a turtle purse for Buddy and also a backpack to haul him because he walks at a slower pace than most humans. The “bio-accessory” backpack could also be turned around so Buddy could see where’s he’s going instead of where he’s been.

No doubt you’ve seen “service dogs” and even “service pot-bellied pigs” in the grocery store, and I feel confident in saying you’ll someday soon see “service turtles.”

When you think about it, turtles have many advantages as pets compared to dogs. They don’t bark, a turtle can breathe through its butt (really), they don’t have to sit next to you in the truck and stick their head out the window, and when they get wet and “shake,” they don’t drench you in water. You don’t have to constantly throw them slobbery tennis balls because no matter how many times you try, the turtle will not retrieve the ball. They can’t be taught hard tricks like rolling over or sitting, but they are unrivaled at playing dead. Veterinary bills are less too because they won’t pull a muscle trying to jump in and out of the truck, and they don’t drink out of the toilet like my dog did, who suffered several concussions from being hit on the head by falling toilet seats.

Turtles also live a long time, and there’s not near the emotional loss when one does die because you probably had no idea where it was anyway.