My daughter's third grade class very much enjoyed caring for the class pet, Kupa the turtle. A red-eared slider turtle to be specific. And while all the kids liked the turtle, my daughter loved him. She became a bit of a red-eared slider expert. She started asking for one. And she has continued asking for a turtle on birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, graduations, funerals and every other major event imaginable. I have resisted.
I tried to put her off one time by asking her to write down how she would care for a turtle. She provided a detailed, two page document with the neatest handwriting she has ever produced, both before and since. I was impressed.
With Christmas now less than two months away (ack!), my tween has gotten a jump start on her holiday wish list and at the top - surprise, surprise - is a pet, preferably a red-eared slider turtle. I will admit that I was close to caving. Very close. Her bonus dad and I discussed it briefly at lunch today kind of close. Persistence counts for something, right? But I have had my concerns. I'm not sure she's responsible enough. And I've worried about the bacteria these slow little dudes can carry.
Unfortunately for my child, after wishing her sweet dreams and saying good night, I hopped on the internet and immediately saw this headline: "Turtle take-back program aims to curb salmonella risk." The CDC announced that 219 people in 34 states have contracted three rare strains of salmonella found in small turtles sold in souvenir shops and at street fairs. As a result, Petco is willing to take back red eared slider turtles and promises to send them to a turtle farm in Louisiana.
The risk of infection is highest among the smallest turtles, and as a result the FDA banned the sale of turtles under 4 inches in 1975. Petco, however, is now accepting turtles of any size. That led me to do some research, especially in light of the fact that we have some health issues in the house that make salmonella particularly not good for our family.
Hand washing is very much needed after handling turtles of any size, and small children often forget to do that. I get that my not-so-small child should be capable of remembering to wash her hands whenever she handles the turtle. That said, I also think that she should be able to write down her math homework each night, and that doesn't always happen.
But the research I've done after the latest scare is what convinced me. The Humane Society of the United States urges on its website, "To protect your health, the earth and the animals, please don't get a turtle for a pet!"
So, it's back to the drawing board for her holiday gift. One that doesn't have any risk of salmonella.