I am in an intense love/hate relationship with a turtle. Yes, you heard me correctly—a freaking turtle! Did I invite such a creature into my home to become a part of my family? I did not. Did I walk into a pet store and happen upon a cute little critter swimming happily in his tank and fall instantly in love? No, although that would be an interesting start to a story. I just happened to be in the right (wrong?) frame of mind when a friend came in and asked if the library would be interested in taking a turtle off her hands and have him as our library pet. I hemmed and hawed for about a month before finally succumbing to my own personal pressure. Why was there no one to really explain to me what owning a turtle would be like? I was entirely too impetuous.
Before I get too far into the story of my love/hate affair let me go back about five months before the turtle came into my life. I feel that if you know the back story, you will understand better how this relationship came to be. For the last three years we have had a wonderful woman from 4-H come out and help set up an incubator with eggs so that families in the neighborhood could see how baby chickens develop and are born. This program has been so popular at my branch that it is an automatic tick on the schedule—a month I don’t have to worry about planning anything too major. Everything is supplied to me and I just do programs explaining how eggs get fertilized and various things like that. We have had some of the damn cutest chicks born at our branch and it is always bunches of fun for everyone at the library.
Unfortunately, we had a terrible year with our chicks this time. Only nine of the eighteen eggs were viable and we began to hope that we would get at least five chicks out of this batch. But for some reason our humidifier kept messing up and I just don’t think the eggs got off to a very good start.
Well, we got our five chicks to hatch over a couple of days, but one died right away and the other was not very strong. Our third chick also died and then we saw a really strong fourth chick emerge. He was ready to take over the whole damn world. We named him Spock because he was born on the day Leonard Nimoy died and it seemed fitting. I posted pictures all over Twitter about little Spock. Then I went to lunch and by the time I came back he was dead.
I was emotionally compromised and didn’t really want to have anything else to do with the rest of the eggs. But, I had to figure out how to dispose of three baby chicks. The trash didn’t seem right and I wasn’t going to go outside and bury them on library property. I ended up finding small boxes that had held children’s scissors and putting the tissue wrapped bodies inside and THEN putting them in the trash can. It was a little too much to ask of anyone. Our last baby chick was born but was very, very frail.
Our 4-H rep, Amy, had given me very detailed instructions on how to take care of chicks and I thought I did pretty well, except for one thing—keeping their little chick butts clean. I never understood how important it was to their health and, quite frankly, it was a disgusting job that I just didn’t do very well. I believe that at least two of the chicks died from being clogged up. The third was just really weak and I am pretty sure it’s because of all the problems we had with the incubator. He just wasn’t strong enough to survive. Especially after Spock died I was done with the whole crappy (pardon the pun) experience.
When it was time for the two little chicks to go back to the farm where the eggs came from, I had to explain to Amy that we only had the two and why I thought the others died. She was pretty damn cool about the whole thing, which I really appreciated. Then we saw how fucked up the incubator was probably from the very first day we got it. I had been adding more and more water to the machine to keep the humidity up, but the stupid thing never seemed to get filled.
We found out that instead of just filling the little chamber inside that was supposed to be used for humidity water, our machine somehow had a seam inside that was not fused together correctly and I had basically just been adding water to the entire inside of the machine for weeks. She had to help me lug the thing to the kitchen sink where we discovered about two gallons of water instead of what was really needed, which was about two cups!
As she went to put the incubator away in her car, I started to get all of the equipment from the brooder box (where the surviving chicks lived with food, water and heat) together. When she came back to move the chicks, she noticed that our weakest little guy was almost dead. I have never in my life seen someone get so emotional over a little animal before. She had me grab her some wet paper towels and she began cleaning that little chick’s ass like nothing I had ever seen before. I suddenly realized that I killed the chicks. Me. No one and nothing else. I didn’t even come close to cleaning the chicks that had died as well as Amy was cleaning this one little dude.
I kept thinking that she was going to stop cleaning, but she never did and I was surprised by how much poop was attached to his little behind. He must have gone into shock because she started whispering to me, “He’s not going to make it. He’s not going to make it.” I couldn’t even see anymore because my eyes were so wet. She finished cleaning his feathers and then started rubbing his little chest. “Come on, baby. Come on.” More rubbing, more talking. “Come on. Come on, little guy.” I looked over and saw that she was crying too. As a last resort she took the little chick and dunked his head in his water bowl. I swear it was a miracle because that little guy started shaking his head and drinking the water right away.
Amy quickly gathered the two chicks and got ready to leave. I apologized over and over again for not taking proper care of the chicks. She assured me that it was okay and that anything could have caused the other chicks to die, but I don’t think she believed anything she was saying. She was just too nice to let me know. I decided then and there that I was not going to have eggs and baby chicks in the library ever again. I just knew that I wouldn’t be able to handle it. Everyone would understand.
Or so I thought. The next week was as torturous of a working experience as I have ever had. Continuous questioning of “Where are the chicks?” and “Aww, they’re gone already?” made my head pound and my pleasant working disposition fly out the window. I guess I knew that people loved the chicks, but I didn’t know how much. It was a real quandary for me: Do I get eggs again next year or do I take a break like I really feel I need?
Content to put the matter off as long as I possibly could, I began to realize that I was going to have to look seriously into getting a library pet. Two, three and four months after the baby chick debacle and people were still asking about them. I had to get a pet if only to keep people from talking about our disastrous experience.
Snakes were out of the question, as were birds. I thought about a ferret but didn’t think we would have enough room to provide it with a big enough home. Various people dissuaded me from purchasing any kind of rodent type animal and I was really at a loss. Until one night I woke up completely convinced that the library needed a hedgehog. I know next to nothing about hedgehogs but for some reason it seemed like that would be the way to go…
© DRB 2016
photo: © DRB 2015