Baby Eastern box turtles for sale
My children found an abandoned baby turtle in our yard and are begging to keep it. Should I let them?
J.H., Virginia Beach
I'm never in favor of keeping wild animals as pets. Your turtle wasn't "abandoned"; it was captured by another species (that would be you) with no expertise in providing the food, shelter, or social environment necessary for its best care. I'm not alone in this opinion — the Humane Society of the United States and most veterinarians agree with me. You should return the turtle to where it was found and release it as soon as possible.
Another problem associated with turtles is that they carry salmonella bacteria, and can infect people who touch them and don't wash their hands afterward. In the 1970s, the FDA banned the sale of baby turtles because a quarter of a million children developed salmonellosis — the same food poisoning you might get from undercooked chicken — directly attributable to contact with turtles. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control recommends that reptiles and amphibians not be kept in homes with children under 5 years old.
Of course, an injured animal presents a different situation, one that might require a brief stint in captivity. Had the turtle in your yard been hurt, I would advise you to take it to a vet who could evaluate the problem, monitor it for a day or two, then release it back into the wild.
If you — or your kids — are determined to own a turtle, buy one that's been born and raised in captivity. (Eastern box and three-toed box turtles both do well as pets.) It'll be used to eating "turtle food" and living in confinement, and won't be as easily stressed as a wild-caught critter. Don't forget, these animals can live 25 to 30 years, so it's a long-term commitment. And always scrub up after handling a turtle.