When Debbie Wilkie heard that an animal with the capability to bite a finger off was in need of some assistance, she didn’t hesitate.
The Critters & Co. Pet Center owner recently took over the care of a common snapping turtle, which an Island County road crew discovered while dropping off tree debris in an area near Cultus Bay Road. Wilkie’s husband, Nathen, works for the county and immediately knew where to take the loose reptile.
Wilkie had no qualms about nursing the large turtle back to health, even though its long neck, sharp claws and spiky tail make him a fearsome, prehistoric-looking predator. Snapping turtles are opportunistic omnivores, meaning they enjoy vegetable matter but they also can eat fish, birds, snakes and even other turtles.
Gary, as the snapper has come to be known, was likely someone’s pet who was set free. Common snapping turtles are considered to be an invasive species in Western Washington and are illegal to own, according to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife website.
“The pet industry is obnoxious,” 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 been home to a number of unusual animals, such as a sugar glider, a macaw, a tegu and multiple tortoises. Many are formerly beloved pets that have been surrendered by their owners.
She suspected Gary may have been somebody’s pet because he had some meat to his bones.
“Turtles that are in with people are usually overweight,” she said. “He’s definitely got some fat.”
When found, not only was he hungry and dehydrated, but Gary also had a calcium deficiency and an eye infection. Wilkie started feeding him a calcium-rich blended mix of fish, chicken heart and veggies and has been standing over him to put drops into his infected eye.
Once Gary is healthy again, Wilkie plans to send him to a wildlife rehabilitation sanctuary where he’ll have proper space to roam. For now, he lives in a trough-like container of water about a foot deep and a few feet wide at Wilkie’s home. A small school of goldfish, which serve dual purposes of food and entertainment, are the only things allowed in his pool. His pool is also in a fenced-in kennel, which fortunately stopped him from running away when he crawled out once.
Wilkie is not at all intimidated by the large snapping turtle, which can move with frightening speed when provoked. She reported that he has not yet bitten her.
“I’ve been scratched and bit by tegus,” she said, referring to a type of large lizard, “but not him yet.”
Rather, his squirming just makes her laugh. On several occasions, she has had to pick him up, which he doesn’t like.