What do Abby, Jasper, Tonka, Jack, Mickey, Herman, Lilly, Opus, Cookie, Fettuccini, Thunder, Baby and Sweet Pea all have in common? They are all turtles of various breeds, which live in a retro-fitted, climate-controlled garage belonging to long-time Pawling residents Chris and Steve Martin. This amazing turtle condo complex was lovingly built by Steve, a guy who designs and installs human climate control systems for a living, and his wife, a vet tech assistant with a longstanding love for these unique critters.
When I pulled into the driveway of the Martin home, I was met by Chris, who was in the yard, supervising the playtime of several of her charges. Three of these beauties were in their playpen enjoying grass time, while four more were frolicking in their plastic toddler-size swimming pool. Chris explained that she takes them out (on a rotating basis so everyone gets a turn) every day that weather permits, all the while naming the various breeds, discussing their individual needs, and regaling this writer with stunning statistics of eventual size and weight, explaining that several baseball and grapefruit size turtles will grow to be two hundred and fifty pounders!!!
The Martins are licensed, by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, Division of Fish and Wildlife and Marine Resources, to work with endangered and threatened turtle species for educational exhibit purposes. They are currently applying for special permission to care for and breed Bog Turtles, which are near extinction.
Aside from those turtles that Chris considers pets (like Mickey, who has been living with her for the past eighteen years), she is often called upon to rescue and care for injured turtles which she then nurses back to health and releases into appropriate and safe natural habitats, avoiding, when possible, those ponds and marshes that are subject to nearby automobile traffic.
One such rescue is Sweet Pea, a bread plate-size painted turtle that Chris found on West Dover Road. Apparently, Sweet Pea was struck by a car while crossing the road, causing injury to the back of her shell. Chris picked her up, brought her home, and with Steve’s help, used a special epoxy to fix the shell. Then she took Sweet Pea to the Pawling Animal Clinic, where Chris works, to have an x-ray taken. Sweet Pea, it turns out, is pregnant. She is presently living in a specially prepared nesting box, and although she hasn’t laid her six eggs yet, Chris reports that she has been an excellent patient.
Cookie is an Eastern Painted turtle that was left in a box on Chris’ doorstep when he was no bigger than…well, a small cookie, and had been inadvertently run over by a lawn mower. Now the size of a CD, he was one of the happy guys swimming vigorously in the baby pool in the front yard when I arrived.
There is a Red Ear Slider that needed stitches; Opus, a Wood Turtle missing a foot; Baby, who is fist-sized and will eventually grow larger than a basketball; and Thunder, who was found at Thunder Ridge. They all live peacefully in Chris’ turtle hospital and rescue center. Many of them share a spacious tank with a friend or two, and most enjoy social contact with humans and each other. Chris demonstrated how one little guy actually does a happy dance when she tickles the back of his shell, and Steve told me that when it’s feeding time, they all come to the front of their tanks to greet Chris as she prepares delicious meals of bugs, earthworms, fresh fish and turtle food pellets. They are each given a calcium supplement, as well, in order to promote healthy shells.
All in all, it’s a good life for the turtles that have found their way to Chris Martin and her turtle sanctuary. She is knowledgeable about their care, loving in her approach, and committed to giving second chances to those that can be released back into the wild. And for those who she feels can’t make it on their own…well, there is always a place for one more at Chris and Steve Martin’s Turtle Condo and Spa!!!