Love for turtles not shell game

Mariana Greene Modified: July 16, 2009 at 7:41 am •  Published: July 16, 2009
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d, by golly, the turtles obey her. They put their little clawed front feet on the edge of the pond liner, their striped heads extended, one turtle next to the other.

She offers the long-handled spoon with a chunk of dog food to them, one by one. The teaspoon is a required tool, she says, to keep her fingers out of snapping range.

Getting exasperated
"The water ones are a lot of trouble. We don’t take water turtles anymore,” she says. "We have too many in that one pond.”

The other pond liner leaks, but it’s where the aquatic turtles go when they misbehave. "They fight over the food,” Schroeder says. "They’ll hold another one down until it drowns. They have to go in there for time-out.”

On cue, one of the turtles drags another, which has a generous lump of food in its mouth, under water. The aggressor holds the other by the skin, about where you would imagine a turtle’s earlobe to be. The turtle flails in the water and eventually lets go of its breakfast.

The food fight is repeated as Schroeder tries to finish mealtime. "They’re just like kids,” she says. "I don’t want to have to whack anybody in front of company, but it looks like I’m gonna have to.”

Earthworm treats
Schroeder’s small backyard is mostly taken up with turtle habitats and an old greenhouse she will no longer enter because she fears snakes are holed up inside. She mows infrequently, for fear of harming a turtle. She maintains ornamental plants along her back walk because the vegetation provides dark places for the turtles and also attracts insects for the turtles to eat. Schroeder is careful to say that she thoroughly washes her hands with antibacterial soap after every turtle interaction, to prevent contracting salmonella. Turtles can carry the germ, so it is not wise to add turtles to a household with infants or small children, the elderly or persons with weak immune systems.

The turtles’ favorite treat is earthworms. Schroeder has stacked tires in a corner of her backyard as a worm bin.

"They love worms. After it rains, the worms come up to the top of the ground. The turtles start running everywhere because they know that.”

Schroeder doesn’t consider her love for turtles unusual. She hints it may be destiny: "My turtle connections started at birth. I was born in a rural farmhouse on the banks of Turtle Creek near Kerrville. I will be buried right up the hill from there in Turtle Creek Cemetery. Maybe I should put a turtle on my tombstone.”