By Tom C

We've all seen it. We may not have known about it at the time - probably because we weren't into turtles or knowing the proper care for them - but we've seen it. And the day you see it or the time it hits you what you have seen once you learn what turtles actually need to live long, healthy lives - it turns your stomach. It might be a common, 'mom and pop' pet store, or it might be a large chain, name brand pet store. It doesn't matter. Poor care is poor care.

Some of the most common problems that we see in pet stores are wrong habitats. A Red Ear Slider or Map Turtle in a habitat with a Russian Tortoise. A Desert Tortoise set up in a semi-aquatic habitat. Or maybe they are in close to what is the right habitat, although everything is all wrong somehow. Maybe it's a 7" Cooter in 2" of water. Or a Desert Tortoise being housing on soggy bedding. Another common one that gets you nice and riled up is the habitat size. Yes, you know what I'm talking about. That 6" RES in a 10 gallon tank. Or maybe it's those 25 hatchings in a 10 gallon tank that are crawling all over each other. Let's not forget the 5 large RES in the 20 gallon, stepping all over each other or the turtles that are getting their heads and limbs sucked into the intake tube of a filter.

Then we move on to turtles that have been in the pet trade a while and it shows. Swollen, puffy or red eyes. Severely pyramiding on the shells. Missing limbs. Shellrot. Bubbles from the mouth and nose. Missing nails. Swollen legs. Lethargy. The list goes on.

You try to educate the pet store workers - and sometimes you get to the manager and try to educate them - but they don't listen. They feel they know what they are doing. After all, they ARE the pet store and you are nothing but a customer. What could you possibly know. They are the experts here. But the number one thing that gets turtle keepers riles up and ready to knock the mess out of these pet store people is the care factor. The ones that come right out and tell you that they aren't going to change anything because they don't care. Because the turtles aren't there long enough to have a proper set up. The turtles are there suffering until someone feels enough pity - or is ignorant about their care and condition - and buys them and takes them away from that horrible prison. What's worse is when new keepers take them home and set them up the same way they saw in the pet store. You can't blame them, really, because, after all, they are the experts. They are the pet store. They know what they're doing.....right?

So what do you do? Firebombing the store after rescuing all of the animals won't do anyone any good because you'll be in jail. At least in the United States, they don't allow prisoners to keep pets, especially large, elaborate enclosures with all the proper trimmings. Rescuing the that sounds like a great idea. But...keep in mind: once you purchase the turtle - even though your heart is in the right place - you are supporting that pet store. You are sending them the message that it's ok to keep doing what they are doing because they will get their money and the turtle will be our of their hair. This will allow the cycle to continue. When it comes time to order more turtles, they aren't going to consider that you bought the turtle to rescue it; they are going to think, "Yup...someone bought the turtle, so they must be good sellers....we need to get another one...maybe a few more." And the cycle continues. So if you can't blow the place up and you can't buy the turtle without supporting the pet store...what do you do? Stealing the turtle will only bring about more problems. See prison statement above. So what do you do? Who do you tell?

Everyone. You tell everyone you can. Friends, family, brothers, sisters, roommates, the old lady at the grocery store, teachers, cousins - you name it, you tell them. Granted, you might get some strange looks and a few comments, but that's about all you can do. Spread the word and eventually, somewhere along the lines, it will sink in and it will take a toll. Eventually word will get around and people will know that buying from that particular pet store isn't the way to go. That's the best you can do. sure, there are still going to be people who buy from there...that's because people are lazy, self-centered and worried more about convenience than the welfare of the animals. These are the same types of people that hit themselves in the head with a hammer because it feels good when they stop. You can't do anything about these people and it's best to just move along.

But shouldn't there be a law? Yes, there should. But right now, especially with organizations like the Humane society trying to outlaw all reptiles as pets and with the 4" law hanging over keeper's heads, it's a delicate subject. Cause too much of a stink and turtles will be outlawed altogether. Is that possible? Some say yes, some say no. Who knows. I'd prefer to go the firebomb route and not find out, but I guess I'm just a glutton for punishment.

Animal Control is a good place to start. You might luck out and get someone who cares about reptiles. Most states' laws are centered around warm blooded, cute, cuddly and fuzzy animals and their regulations don't cross over into the care of reptiles. Speaking of which, this also brings about what care is. In some states, even the warm blooded animals aren't required to be taken care of. Think about it. Sure, they are required to give shots....give water...clean up their mess so they don't lie in it. But what about exercising the animals? Treating them when they are sick? Sure, they'll treat Rover if he's losing all his hair or is throwing up, but if he's got other issues, by law in some places, they don't have to. They do it - sometimes - because of sales. No one is going to buy Scruffy if he's bleeding fro his gums. So they treat him and raise the price on the dog to cover the costs. Ah, once again, it's all about money. But when you get into turtles, care is a different animal; no pun intended. Missing claws. Sure, we know that's most likely a dietary issue. You can prove it, but prove it to who? It goes back to the local and state laws. You have no one to prove it to.

Going back to Animal Control. In some states, they are the agency that is charged with investigating animal cruelty. Contact them. Talk with them. See where you get with them. Humane Society. Although their main stance on reptiles is less than chipper, if you happen to get someone that understands what you are telling them and agrees to do something, they can be a very powerful ally. Most pet stores don't want to cross them. alls they need is a spot on the 6 o'clock news with the humane Society blasting them....yeah, REAL good for business. But it doesn't always work out that way. Most of the time, they tell you there's nothing they can do or that they'll 'look into it' and then the fat lady you called hangs up and goes back to eating her Cheetoes and watching Oprah. Wildlife Services or Fish and Game Commission. They are another source and they are law enforcement driven. Get one of these guys or gals to waltz in and mention something and things usually get done in haste....because there is a possible fine involved. There we go, back to money.

In the end, there's not much you can do. Maybe talking to them will change things. Don't give them an attitude because before you learned the proper care, you didn't know any more than they do. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Tell them about the proper care and explain why. Offer suggestions. Give them resources to check out and hopefully they'll listen and make the necessary changes. Don't hold your breath for it, but they might. If they do, then make a note of it. Tell them that you appreciate it and that you'll be more than happy to continue shopping there and tell your friends that they are animal-friendly and care about the animals. If it's a small, single pet store, this will go far. If it's a large chain, they won't really care. The individual that made the changes might care, but the corporate office really couldn't care less what you or I think. By the same token, if they decide not to incorporate proper care in housing their animals, then let them know this too. Let them know that you will be more than happy to spread the word about their diseased animals that are being kept in worse condition than POWs. Let them know you have nick-named their store "Reptiles Concentration Camp". Again, if it is a small store, they might be intimidated. If it's a large chain, they might escort you out and be done with it. Don't get stupid. There's a fine line between making consumer threats and being a threat. Just keep it simple. Tell them you are not going to buy from them anymore and are going to encourage others to not shop there as well. Don't tell the manager that you are going to kick is rear end or key his car. That's just dumb and will end you up in jail or getting fined. Again, this won't help the animals. If you are that fired up, get with a local herp society and stage a protest. Call the media. They love stuff like this.

In closing, there's not much we can do in today's world about pet stores keeping turtles in improper housing and situations. The best avenue of approach is to educate them and if that fails, threaten their sales. Until the laws change and someone gets a clue, that's about all we have.