Saving Ella, The Neighborhood Turtle

It is with great anticipation every spring that everyone, young and old, watches and waits for the water to come back into the canal, the ponds adn the creeks.  The children are anxious to spot the fish and the turtles who live in the ponds and to feed the ducks.  So, it comes as no surprise that the children from Acorn Early Learning Centre everyday check out Paterson’s Creek on their way to and from First Avenue School.

At first, she just looked like a large rock in the mud in the bottom of Patterson’s Creek.  Upon closer examination, there were legs, tail and a head.  At first, the turtle seemed to be quite peaceful and happy to us and we always looked forward to seeing her day after day.  After a couple of weeks though, we noticed that she had not moved for many days and began to worry about her.  So we made a plan to help the turlte because we suspected that she would not survive the filling of the canal with no place to crawl up onto to breathe.  Patterson’s Creek is so beautiful with its new stone walls, but not a place for a turtle who wasn’t moving.  The plan required a ladder, a milk crate and our wagon to move the turtle to a muddy bank not far away.

The other detail had to deal with the legality of being in the creek and also taking the turtle to a new home.  I contacted the City of Ottawa and then, a group called “Turtle S.H.E.L.L. Tortue”.  Michelle from Turtleshell quickly made it clear that leaving the turtle one more night might be devastating and even too late.  She convinced me to take action quickly, that very night as this turtle probably hadn’t eatin since last October, was awakened early by the warm weather, was now cold and had no food available for many weeks.  In short, she was probably starving.  That was also when we identified her as a “Snapping Turtle” due to her size, about 14-years-old.  (Snapers can live to be 75 years old).

With a borrowed ladder, Eva’s grandmother’s fishing net, Miss Jen’s rubber boots, the oven mitts from the kitchen, a wet towel in a large container and the support from Cameron, Owen and Mom O’Grady, I proceeded into the pond to save the turlte.  She was so weak that she only moved her toe when I picked her up.  Before I even left the pond, I was on the phone with Michelle who told me what to do.  I shopped for food and syringes and quickly drove home.  I also wrapped her in blankets to warm her up.  Throughout the night and the next morning, I fed her using a syringe.  (You can imagine the difficulty of trying to open the moutn of a snapping turtle when it doesn’t want to).  Although she was very weak, she was finally swallowing on her own by the morning, opening her eyes, and looking a me.

I brought her to Acorn that morning so that the children would know her story and begin to understand their role in our envionment.  Soon, she was named “Ella, The Turtle” by the children.

By that morning, the canal was already filling.  Ella was picked up by a volunteer from Turtle S.H.E.L.L. Tortue and taken to the turtle hospital where she had a little swim, had a little drink and was slowly progressing by the end of that day.  After being fully assessed that night, she was listed in “serious condition.”

It has been a week and a day now since she has been under the great care of Michelle and Suzanne at Turtle Re-Hab.  Although not yet eating on her own and having to be tube fed, she is becoming stronger and stronger.  She has had her first “poop” since her rescue, and it is especially good news that everything is starting to work now.  She will remain in Turtle Rehab for at least a month as she continues to heal.  Suzanne has sent us a picture of Ella in her new surroundings being warmed in blankets.  I would like to thank both Michele and Suzanne for keeping us up-to-date on her progress, and parents and many community members for their support.

Since she is ia “snapping turtle” and now an endangered species (December 2009), there are many strick rules as to where she will be put back.  She is also very territorial by nature.  Because of the rules, she will probably be placed back at Patterson’s Creek or in a nearby and suitable spot given her size.  You can only imagine the crowd who will come to see her off as she is now part of the Acrorn Family.  GO ELLA GO!!!!!

Thought for the Day

We have a chance to help the “snapping turtle species” who may become extinct by the time our children grow into adulthood.  Thank goodness we had his opportunity to address this issue through education of ourselves and our children, care of our environment and Turtle S.H.E.L.L Tortue, a registered Canadian Charitable Organization dedicated to turtles. Their website is

Miss Joanne is director of Acorn Early Learning Centre