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Oklahoma State University veterinarians reunite Moore first grade class with lost pet turtle

by Silas Allen Modified: July 4, 2013 at 12:00 pm •  Published: July 3, 2013

For several days after a tornado leveled her classroom, first-grade teacher Sarah Tauscher found pieces of a glass terrarium amid the rubble of her school.

Tauscher, a first-grade teacher at Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, recognized the terrarium as the one that had held Franklin, her class' pet turtle. But considering the shape her classroom was in, she assumed the turtle was either dead or long gone.

“My whole class had pretty much caved in on top of itself,” she said. “I just assumed he was gone.”

Franklin became Tauscher's class' pet when a fifth grader brought the turtle to school in his pocket. That student's teacher had planned to return Franklin to the creek behind the school, but Tauscher asked if she could keep the turtle in her classroom.

After the tornado, when any of Tauscher's students asked about Franklin, she told them the turtle had probably crawled back to the same creek. But after a few weeks had passed, Tauscher noticed a picture of a turtle a friend posted on Facebook.

The turtle was small, just a little bigger than a half dollar. It looked like Franklin.

The turtle in the picture had been found in Moore, and veterinarians at Oklahoma State University's Center for Veterinary Health Sciences were looking after it until they could find its owner.

So Tauscher called OSU's veterinary hospital, where she spoke with Jill Murray, a registered veterinary technician. Tauscher described Franklin, and Murray told her the turtle at the hospital sounded like a match.

“I said ‘I'm pretty sure I have your turtle,'” Murray said. “I was so happy to talk to her.”

A boy who lived across the street from Plaza Towers had found the turtle in his yard and brought him to a veterinary triage center OSU operated in Moore in the days after the tornado. Franklin is a red-eared slider, a kind of turtle that is native to Oklahoma but is also commonly sold in pet stores.

The turtle seemed to be well cared for, Murray said, so the veterinarians thought it was probably someone's pet. They also determined something Tauscher's class hadn't known: although the turtle is still too young to know for sure, Franklin is probably female.

Without knowing who owned the turtle or whether it had a name, the veterinarians gave her a name they thought was appropriate — Hope.

On Wednesday, Murray and a group of others from OSU's veterinary school returned Hope to the class. Students from Tauscher's class gathered under a tent near the site where Plaza Towers stood. Now that debris is cleared, the site is an empty lot surrounded by a chain-link fence covered in messages, stuffed animals and T-shirts left by well-wishers from around the world.

Kali Branson, one of Tauscher's students, said she thought the turtle had died until she saw her Wednesday. As she watched the turtle crawl around in a carrier cage Wednesday afternoon, Kali called her by both names, Franklin and Hope, still deciding which fit best.

Hope was shy when Tauscher first brought her into the classroom, Kali said, but she warmed up to the class after a while. Kali said she's happy Hope survived the storm.

Tauscher was pleased as well. She'll be teaching first grade at Oak Ridge Elementary School in the fall, and Hope will be coming with her. She'll have a new, bigger terrarium, courtesy of OSU.

“It's a positive story out of all of this mess,” Tauscher said.

“It's amazing that this teeny little turtle made it out.”

by Silas Allen
General Assignment/Breaking News Reporter
Silas Allen is a news reporter for The Oklahoman. He is a Missouri native and a 2008 graduate of the University of Missouri.
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