The Story of Petey the Box Turtle

Petey the box turtle pet

This Petey, the box turtle’s true story. It’s a story about courage, love and death. All baby box turtles come into the world with very slim chances to survive. Most die during the very first winter of their hatching. Some are frozen to death, others starve, drown, or become prey to animals. Petey beat the odds with the care of his owners. Their attention, patience and love gave Petey a few more months of life and every day to a box turtle is an eternity.

Here’s how it began, as told by Petey’s kind owners:

In early July 1996, we saw a beautiful, bright yellow, wild, eastern box turtle laying eggs. We protected the nest site and on September 27, 1996, when we thought the eggs would have hatched, we gently uncovered the nest expecting to see empty shells. We were very sad thinking the eggs had died and opened one to see if they had been fertilized eggs. I KNOW WE SHOULDN’T HAVE TOUCHED THE NEST – AND NEVER WILL DO THAT AGAIN! Inside the egg we opened was a tiny, sweet little baby turtle with the egg yolk still attached. We certainly couldn’t put it back, so we promised to give it good care and as happy a life as possible. Petey was just a little bigger than my thumbnail.

box turtle baby petey
Petey as a box turtle baby

We named him “Petey.” My dog’s vet didn’t know anything about baby box turtles. I was panicking. I was so afraid that we had taken Petey’s life before he had a chance. After calls to many vets and a call to the Phila. Zoo reptile curator, we found a vet who had experience with box turtles.

With the exotic pet vet’s help, we raised Petey. We read everything the vet suggested, went to the library and researched. We tried to educate ourselves as best we could. We were diligent in keeping his aquarium clean with fresh water. And he had a soaking in warm water once or twice a day. We even took Petey to the vet twice for “wellness checkups.”

Petey the three-toed box turtle and the dog
Everyone in the family loved Petey.

Petey was the cutest little creature I’ve ever seen – with a definite personality, curiosity and enjoyment of “people attention.” During the 18 months we were blessed with Petey, he made friends with all of our guests and family members. Everyone marveled at how beautiful and friendly he was. For exercise, we let him have “walk-abouts” through our family room and dining room/kitchen areas. The hardwood floor throughout those rooms made it easy to keep clean, and he liked roaming. He loved hiding under the leaves of potted plants on the floor, or under end tables, etc.

Petey was very inquisitive. When it was time to put him back in his aquarium, I would call him, and 80% of the time, he would come out from under wherever he was so that he could see me. Every morning when I came down the stairs into the room where Petey lived, he would watch me come all the way down the stairs. Or he would watch me vacuum, or water plants. He even liked to be held in front of our fish tank to watch fish swimming by. Petey loved checking out everyone’s feet. He would nudge us with his nose, then go on his way. My husband, Harry, even trained Petey to come to him for food by snapping his fingers. Petey would stick out his neck and charge toward Harry from across the room.

Petey loved to be held and to have his front legs petted, or his head and neck gently stroked. He would look directly at me when I talked to him, and if something frightened him and he retreated into his shell, he would come out as soon as he heard my voice.

Petey the box turtle pet

During Petey’s first summer, he lived in an outdoor, protected pen on warm days, and always came inside at night.

We loved Petey so much and believe that he was happy too. The sad part of the story is that Petey died suddenly. After an illness that took his life in only two days. He was almost 18 months old. We are feeling a little better now, but we devoted so much time every day to him, we definitely miss him. I wish I had a clock I could turn back so we could save him – he was such a little miracle. We were lucky to have such a sweet little turtle creature in our lives – even if the time was too short.

What you should take away from Petey’s early passing

The owners observed these symptoms just before Petey died and wants to share them with other box turtle owners. No one will ever be able to tell for certain what caused Petey’s death, but it’s hope that by knowing these symptoms another owner and box turtle will be spared the pain.

I would like to caution turtle owners that any changes in their pet’s habits could be a sign of possible trouble. We reviewed some of the things Petey did during the few days before he died that were unusual, but at the time did not recognize them as serious problems. We were about to take Petey to the vet if he wouldn’t be back to normal in the next day. Sadly, we didn’t have another day.

He regurgitated his food two days before he died, which he had never done before. He refused food and was very agitated for two days before he died. It was as if he was constantly wanting to run. In the future, any abnormal behavior will send us immediately to the vet office. If your pet box turtle is showing some unusual behavior, you should bring it to the vet for a check-up. You can find information on box turtle health information and common box turtle dieseases in this post.

The Story of Petey the Box Turtle
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