Love for turtles not shell game

Mariana Greene Modified: July 16, 2009 at 7:41 am •  Published: July 16, 2009
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DALLAS — Rose Schroeder stands outside her back door, having managed to keep the dogs from slipping out, and she bangs the aluminum pie pan with a spoon. Sure enough, as she promised, they come running from all corners of the yard. Well, not running exactly — but moving speedily for a turtle.

It’s time for breakfast, delayed today because of the visitor, who was not keen to show up at 6 a.m. Some of the turtles have given up and ambled back to a moist, cool spot in the garden dirt. The tiniest turtles, a little larger than a bottle cap, are confined in cages so they don’t get stepped on. The turtles that live in water don’t answer the morning call; they are fed separately.

It’s a sight to see: dozens of rescued turtles lumbering toward Schroeder as she offers them chunks of canned dog food, ripe strawberries and bananas.

"My current estimate is 118,” says Schroeder, although it is inconceivable how she administers an accurate count, what with the turtles’ habit of digging under flowerpots and decaying firewood. Not to mention her ability to tell one turtle from another.

Oh, but the turtle lady knows her creatures’ habits. She knows all their hidey holes, just as she knows that turtles have individual personalities and behaviors. "They’re like kids,” says the mother of three, who is a retired Garland, Texas, schoolteacher. "They’re all different.”

Turtle rescuers
This collection began more than 20 years ago when Al Schroeder, a retired computer science instructor at Richland College, brought home a turtle for their son. After that, if the vacationing Schroeders spotted a turtle crossing a rural highway, they often brought the animal home to protect it from being hit by a vehicle. Red-eared sliders, aquatic turtles, move across land when their watery territory gets too crowded. They are seen crossing roads in search of food and water.

"No turtle left behind” is Schroeder’s motto. When the couple move to their retirement home in the Texas Hill Country in a few years, they will relocate the turtles, too. The property’s fence line has been made turtle-proof by dumping river rocks along its perimeter.

Hearty appetites
Turtles open their jaws wide and chomp big chunks out of a strawberry or peeled banana; they eat blueberries whole. One spoonful of canned dog food with a helping of fruit seems to satiate them, and they slowly move away from the feeding area.

Schroeder walks to the back of the yard to feed the six aquatic turtles that live in a plastic, preformed in-ground pond liner. She calls to them, clacks again on the pie tin with a long-handled teaspoon and tells them to line up in orderly fashion.