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New digs for an unreleasable turtle

WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital Director Raelynn Farnsworth and Gabe Logsdon, 2, look on as Bruce discovers every corner of her new tank, Friday morning in the hospital lobby. Gabe’s grandmother, Ginny Logsdon (’84 DVM) donated the money to purchase the new aquarium.

A turtle that was illegally taken from the wild and can no longer be released now has a home in the lobby at Washington State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital for what could be the next 20 years.

The turtle is Bruce, a native western painted turtle that was captured as a juvenile to be a pet and later brought to WSU’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital after her capturer was unable to properly care for the reptile.

After five years in captivity, Bruce is now unreleasable.

“When we spoke with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, they were not keen on this turtle being released because who knows what it was exposed to while in captivity,” said Dr. Marcie Logsdon, a WSU exotics veterinarian. “As wildlife rehabilitators, we focus a lot on individual animals, but the health of the larger population always has to be kept in mind.” 

After consulting with WDFW the decision was made to keep Bruce as an educational ambassador at WSU where she could enjoy a comfortable life and help her species by increasing public awareness of the issues facing turtles in this area.

For the past year, Bruce, named by her capturer who was unaware of her sex, has spent her days inside a roughly 2-foot-by-3-foot tank at WSU. That changed last week, when the turtle received a gift from a fellow Coug alumna and veterinarian.

“The story just grabbed at me,” said Dr. Ginny Logsdon (’84 DVM), Marcie’s mother. “That turtle has a job to do – to educate people – and she’s not doing that in the exotics ward where no one sees her.”

So, Ginny, a mostly retired house call veterinarian in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley, set a goal for herself and the turtle she’d never met.

For every patient she saw, she put $15 away, and sometimes, she just put it all away.

She also took on extra calls.

The cost of the custom-built, 139-gallon aquarium and stand by Custom Aquariums, equipped with its own filtration system, was just over $5,300.

“It took nine months,” she said. “It’s been a long couple years with everything going on, and this was a fun goal for me to concentrate on.” 

For the 1.5-pound turtle and the clients in the lobby, the tank is energizing.

“She has a lot of fun swimming; she’s laid back; she doesn’t seem to mind people and she is fairly active in her enclosure,” Marcie said. “She has always brightened everyone’s day around her. I think that is especially true now.”

The larger enclosure, now visible in the hospital, is a great opportunity to educate the public on wildlife and it allows Bruce to do her job as an educational ambassador for the hospital. Her educational mission is two-fold: her display focuses on the importance of not kidnapping healthy wildlife and on the harm of releasing non-native species such as pet store turtles into the wild where they can have negative impacts on native populations.

The enclosure will also allow her to show off her beautiful salmon-colored underside western painted turtles feature.

Originally, WSU veterinarians said whoever donates to the enclosure would get to suggest names for the young reptile that could live another two decades.

“You know, I know she’s a girl, but I kind of like Bruce,” Ginny said. “And that’s what I’ve been referring to her for all these months.”

WSU veterinarians remind the public that taking wildlife captive is illegal.

“We love Bruce, but she is an unfortunate reminder that wildlife should always be left in their natural habitat,” Marcie said. “Even in cases of suspected injured or orphaned wildlife, always seek help from a local wildlife agent or veterinarian before intervening – call first.”

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