Oh snap: A pet store saves a giant tortoise

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Oh snap: A pet store saves a giant tortoise

The owner of Critters & Co. Pet Center recently took in a common snapping turtle.

When Debbie Wilkie learned that an animal capable of biting a finger needed help, she didn’t hesitate.

The owner of Critters & Co. Pet Center recently took in a common snapping turtle, which an Island County road crew discovered while laying down tree debris in an area near Cultus Bay Road. Wilkie’s husband, Nathen, works for the county and immediately knew where to take the free-roaming reptile.

Wilkie had no qualms about caring for the great turtle, even though its long neck, sharp claws and spiky tail make it a fearsome prehistoric-looking predator. Snapping turtles are opportunistic omnivores, meaning they love plant matter but can also eat fish, birds, snakes, and even other turtles.

Gary, as the snapper became known, was probably the pet of someone who got released. Common snapping turtles are considered an invasive species in western Washington and possession is illegal, according to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife website.

“The pet industry is abhorrent,” Wilkie said. “They literally sell little snapping turtles, and you can get them in the mail.”

Wilkie’s pet store in Clinton is a rescue operation that over the years has housed a number of unusual animals, such as a sugar glider, macaw, tegu, and several turtles. Many are beloved former pets who have been abandoned by their owners.

She suspected Gary might be someone’s pet because he was meat to the bone.

“Turtles that are with people are usually overweight,” she said. “He definitely has a little fat.”

When he was found, not only was he hungry and dehydrated, Gary was also suffering from calcium deficiency and an eye infection. Wilkie began feeding him a calcium-rich mixture of fish, chicken heart and vegetables and stood over him to put drops in his infected eye.

Once Gary is healthy again, Wilkie plans to send him to a wildlife rehabilitation sanctuary where he will have enough space to roam. For now, he lives in a water trough-like container about a foot deep and a few feet wide at Wilkie’s house. A small school of goldfish, which serves as both food and entertainment, is the only thing allowed in his pool. His pool is also in a fenced-in kennel, which luckily kept him from running away when he crawled out once.

Wilkie isn’t at all intimidated by the large snapping turtle, which can move at frightening speeds when provoked. She indicated that he had not bitten her yet.

“I’ve been scratched and bitten by the tegus,” she said, referring to a type of large lizard, “but not him yet.”

On the contrary, her squirms just make her laugh. On several occasions, she had to pick him up, which he doesn’t like.

“He was lethargic when we got him,” she said. “He is already much better. Just by being this fiery, I’ll take it.

Gary’s spiky tail has a prehistoric appearance. (Photo courtesy of Debbie Wilkie)

Gary the snapping turtle was found by an Island County road crew earlier this month.  He is cared for by Debbie Wilkie, owner of Critters & Co. Pet Center.  (Photo courtesy of Debbie Wilkie)

Gary the snapping turtle was found by an Island County road crew earlier this month. He is cared for by Debbie Wilkie, owner of Critters & Co. Pet Center. (Photo courtesy of Debbie Wilkie)

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