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Tammy Swift, Published February 22 2009

Cold-blooded creature warms family’s hearts

My husband has an endearingly boyish quality about him.

Always interested in science and nature, he has a way of bringing home “cool things” he’s found by the lake or on the ground.

I feel like Aunt Bea as I discover little rocks or interesting bits of petrified wood tucked away in “Opie’s” jean pockets.

And, on occasion, he will actually bring home something that’s alive.

This happened a few weeks ago, when I came home to find a small, plastic tub on our kitchen table.

“Look inside,” he said, sounding positively pleased with himself. “We have a new pet.”

What would it be? I thought. A fish? A snail? Please, don’t let it be a snake.

I gingerly lifted the lid. There, in an inch of water, sat a baby turtle.

I didn’t know how to react. Part of me was fascinated by the little creature.

But the other part – the Aunt Bea part – was a little irritated. Did we really need another pet? Was it not enough that we share one small house with two high-maintenance dogs and a geriatric cat who needs to have thyroid medication rubbed into his ears twice daily?Still, Irwin was so excited about the whole thing I couldn’t shatter his dreams.

And so the turtle was moved to the only place we had space: the guest bedroom. This room has always been my secret favorite, as it holds all the pink, girly things from my long-ago life of singledom.

But now the wire hat stand and the feminine fabric box edged with alabaster buttons were swept away to make room for an aquarium. A shockingly big aquarium, I thought, for a reptile no larger than a silver dollar.

A filtration system was purchased, as was gravel. We even paid good money (including shipping!) for flat pieces of slate to provide Mr. Turtle with an appropriately exciting environment. (I could just see my rancher dad, who used to curse at the rocks he picked off his farmland, shaking his head at that one.) Debate erupted over what we’d call him. Now Irwin calls him “Buster”; I’ve named him “Fred.”

Everything Fred needs or does seems like a mystery to me. In fact, my turtle knowledge is so limited that I asked Irwin one day if it would ever crawl out of his shell. He laughed so hard he almost popped the buttons off his shirt. “A turtle can’t leave his shell,” he said, gasping for breath. “Where on earth did you get that idea?”

And then I had to admit an embarrassing fact: Everything I knew about turtles came from watching Warner Bros. cartoons.

Yet I’ve kind of taken a shine to the little fella. He doesn’t do much. He sticks his head out extra-far whenever we open the lid to feed him. I can’t even hug him. But he’s cute – and he’s fascinating to watch.

Even the cat loves him. Our normally bored

feline seems to have returned to kittenhood. Tail a’-twitching, he’ll spend hours watching this newcomer – which he surely views as a floating hard-shell taco – crawl and swim.

Dare I say it?

Fred has helped us come out of our shells.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tammy Swift at (701) 241-5525