Steve Karpik and Susan Brown live in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Both have long histories with turtles, not all of it happy.
Susan and her sister Judy were given red-eared sliders as children, and due to lack of education about their proper care, these beautiful creatures died not long after being brought home from the Kresge's in southern Alberta where they were purchased, along with a plastic dish and palm tree and Hartz so-called "turtle food."
Steve's early experience with turtles was somewhat better; the red-eared sliders that he and his brother Jim were given as children flourished in an aquarium with a diet made up of bugs, worms and cat food. After a couple of years the female turtle was found dead in the tank with the male sitting on top of her. The male turtle (named "Turtle") thrived for years, living to well over 30.
Knowing of Steve's deep affection for all turtles, Susan and a friend Peter bought Steve a box turtle for Steve's 27th birthday. While we didn't know it at the time, we now suspect that the turtle was captured from the wild, since she was a mature female with a scarred shell.
Originally named Winnie (after the South African activist Winnie Mandela, and because the turtle resembled a winnebago), her name eventually reverted back simply to "Turtle" when Winnie Mandela fell out of favour for her involvement in several brutal murders.
Having never cared for a box turtle before, it took us some time to learn how to appropriately care for Turtle. The first year we had her she got very sick when the weather turned cool, her eyes swelling shut. We took her in a cooler with a hot water bottle on the subway across the city to the only vet who included reptiles in her practice, and were informed that we were not keeping Turtle warm enough to keep her metabolism going, but she was not cold enough to hibernate. She endured a long course of antibiotic and vitamin shots, and warm baths in V8 juice and beef broth before she made a full recovery. We added a heater to her tank, and monitored her temperature very closely, ensuring that she never again got too cool.
Turtle lived with us for 16 years. She became a constant but subtle presence in our lives, with her lovely brown eyes and beautiful shell. She would take earthworms right from Steve's hand, with the worm wrapping itself around her nose in a futile attempt to escape her strong claws and jaw. She also liked to eat the occasional piece of mango or strawberry.
In June of 2000, Turtle went off her food and started to get very listless. After a few days, we took her to the vet (who coincidently had, in the intervening years, moved to within 500 metres of our house), and the prognosis was very poor. X-rays showed that Turtle's lungs were full of fluid, and she was severely anemic. The vet suspected either an infection, or, more ominously, heart or kidney failure. After six weeks of medical intervention (that included antibiotic and vitamin shots, along with shots of EPO), Turtle finally died.
We were heartbroken. Turtle had been a wise, calm and gentle friend to us for 16 years. We buried her in our back yard under her favourite rock, where she reminds us still of our love for her.
After Turtle's death, we both felt an emptiness in our lives. We would look at her tank, expecting to see her looking back at us. We decided that we would wait a couple of months and then acquire another box turtle.
In August 2000, after doing some research on pet stores, we went to a pet store specializing in various reptiles to buy another box turtle. We were surprised to find that, unlike 16 years ago, pet stores in Canada are forbidden to sell wild captured turtles, and that, as box turtles are difficult to breed, there was a 2-3 year waiting list for hatchlings. We looked at other turtles and tortoises in the store, and finally noticed a small tank with the sign "red foot tortoise" on it, although there was so much moss in the tank we weren't sure that there was a turtle in it at all. We asked a store clerk, and he gently pulled back the moss to reveal the cutest little tortoise we'd ever seen. Born only 6 weeks earlier, she had little red dots on her front legs and on her face, and a beautiful black shell with yellow sunbursts on it. She was very alert, with clear eyes, a dry nose and a hard shell. We both fell in love with this little vulnerable creature. The clerk told us that red foots come from rain forests, and needed warm, moist environments. He also told us that she would need a considerable amount of space when she got older, as she was going to grow to be 18 inches long in adulthood.
We left the store to think about whether we were able to take on the responsibility of looking after a red foot. We scoured the Internet for information, and bought books about the species. We discussed the logistical difficulties of caring for a red foot in Toronto's inhospitable climate. Our small grassy backyard could be turned into a weed and flower filled oasis with some work. Our upstairs 10 x 14 foot living room, currently empty, could (with time, money and creativity) be transformed into a humid and warm tropical environment. We had time on our side, as it would be at least a year before our 36 x 18 inch tank became too small for the hatchling. So we went back to the pet store and purchased the little red foot.
While our research had told us that it is impossible to sex red foots until they grow older, we decided for convenience sake to refer to our new tortoise as she (it felt very inappropriate to refer to her as "it").
It took us some time to name the newest addition to our household. We wanted an appropriately regal name. We finally settled on Basil, because Basil means "kingly", and has a wonderful anachronistic feel to it, like turtles themselves. Also, Basil likes to eat basil (which has a high calcium to phosphorous ratio).
Steve Karpik has a B.Sc. in applied math and physics from York University, an M.Sc. in astrophysics from Queen's University, and a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the University of Waterloo. He currently works as a Senior Scientist, Technology and Computers, at the Ontario Science Centre. He also coaches a competitive women's cycling team. Steve can be contacted at email@example.com.
Susan Brown has a B.A. in sociology from Queen's University, an M.A. in sociology from York University, and a Ph.D. in education from the Ontario Institute in Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto. She worked for three and a half years as the Executive Director of the Toronto Training Board, and is currently a Senior Policy Advisor, Labour Force Development, in the Economic Development Division of the City of Toronto. She is the former president of the Ontario Cycling Association. She has published a book, The Politics of Individualism: Liberalism, Liberal Feminism and Anarchism (Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1993) as well as numerous scholarly and popular articles. Susan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Steve builds web sites as part of his job at the Science Centre. This is the first web site that Susan and Steve built together. More recently, they built a web site, ReevesFineFurniture.com, for a friend who handcrafts fine furniture based on the Arts & Crafts movement that existed in California at the start of the 20th century. We also built a web site for the Scarborough Chess Club.
Steve and Susan have lived together for over 20 years, the last 18 in Toronto, and look forward to many more with Basil, the Red Foot tortoise.