Monthly Archives: January 2018

The Great Turtle Release

The weather had warmed and it was time for all the rescued turtles who came through the cold stunning without secondary issues to go back to the sea. As always, the turtle release became a grand show for the public, an opportunity to encourage love of turtles and do a little education. The release was advertised by various means and by the time we arrived with Jack Rudloe, the line into the park was long. We spent 35 minutes in line. We were ahead of the turtles and a good thing we were. I was also grateful we drove in the same vehicle as Jack because by the time we got there, there was no parking left but space reserved for Gulf Specimen Marine Lab staff and guests. It was a huge relief when the vehicles from GSML and Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission finally got in, escorted by park staff down the wrong side of the highway. Other staff and volunteers had arrived ahead of us and set up. There was also a huge and impatient crowd. Traffic meant the turtles had arrived almost an hour late.

 

Dick and I were among those honoured with releasing a turtle. Somewhere in the mix was our own rescue turtle #36. The honourees were gloved and lined up and and each of us were given instructions to carry the turtle to the water and watch and make sure the turtle actually swam away. It was so exciting! The vehicle were emptied and then turtle after turtle was delivered to the FWC staff to be carefully ticked off the roster and then handed off to the honourees. There was no time to find #36. We got the turtle we got. I didn’t care. I know #36 was in there somewhere.

Two turtles went ahead of us. Dick got his turtle first and then I got mine. Dick went first. His turtle swam off sideways into the crowd before heading out to sea. I had to wait while the other turtles left the beach as each turtle had to go one at a time. During the wait I posed the turtle for his admirers in the crowd.

My turtle didn’t want anything to do with being a celebrity and as soon as he hit the water, he was gone like a shot. I was so happy! How exciting to be blessed with a chance to release a wild thing back to the wild.

Many more turtles followed. Some were big turtles. One special great big turtle had been a “guest” at GSML at the last cold stunning. FWC found her tag when they checked everyone for new tags. That really gave the staff a big high and measuring and weighing her meant all kinds of new data on turtle growth.

 

Smiles all around and everyone who was on the permit got to release at least one turtle.

And then it was over and the crowd dispersed and a few of us hung back. The volunteers took down everything and then folks paused for a few more pictures and a few more interviews with the press were in order. And finally we left and went to celebrate with dinner at a local bar. It was a very fine day for turtles. GSML released a video linked below. Dick can be seen in the video. I am there too but only in a drone shot. Just as the last turtle left the non waterproof drone dunked in the water and was fried. GSML was talking about a new drone that was water proof but they still had this one and so it wasn’t really time to spend the money…..  Poor drone sat smoking on a picnic table as the crowds departed. Maybe it is time to buy that waterproof one that can take of and land on the sea.

This will be one of my favourite memories of all time!

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Our Fred Crosses the Bridge

Fred

There are dogs and then there are those dogs who have so much character and life that they make an indelible impression on your life and you never will forget them. Fred was such a dog. We got Fred when he was one year old. Our dog Trusty got out and somehow Fred got free and they were both playing in our yard. Fred had been living down the alley tied up outside and he cried and barked constantly. This had been going on for a week or so. Fred’s then owner came by later that day and reported he was not a dog person. He had been at a party out in the country and Fred had been tied up and was barking and the owner said Fred was a huge nuisance and he planned on shooting him. This man decided that was wrong and had taken Fred home with him but he was no dog person and worked long hours and Fred was clearly unhappy tied in his back yard. We agreed to let Fred stay with us until a proper home could be found for him. I was thinking maybe a week.

Fred’s rescuer then backtracked Fred’s history and found Fred had had several one month or less “homes” until he was traced back to the formal adoption by a woman who had taken him from the Winnipeg Humane Society. She was still his formal legal owner but she immediately passed on all of Fred’s assorted original paperwork and a transfer of ownership document. It was quite a bundle. We found out Fred’s official birthday was exactly one week after our Trusty’s. We also found out he had originally come from some place in the USA and was supposedly a purebred Australian Shepherd with AKA papers which was of course utterly preposterous. There is some Aussie in there but he’s no purebred. He had been purchased from a pet shop and then somehow ended up as a puppy running loose on a northern first nations reserve. He was rescued from the reserve as a four month old puppy the day before dog shoot day. Going through his paperwork we discovered Fred had been passed through at least nine owners before coming to us. We took him to our vet. Our vet told Fred that he was one very lucky dog to have landed where he did. We contacted the Winnipeg Humane Society and they were more than happy to have Fred officially transferred to us. It was then we realized Fred had become our dog.

Fred was a delightful fellow but he had no manners. He as too old for puppy class but we started him in obedience classes and he completed all three obedience levels easily. We found he was a food driven dog and would do anything to get treats. Treats were far more important to him than affection and praise. Unlike Trusty he had no interest in agility. This whole leash and behaving thing as strictly about treats.

Fred soon settled right into our household as if he had always been around. We had only one bump. When he first came into the house and spotted one of our then three cats and he charged. I grabbed him and gave him supreme hell and told him in our house cats were part of the pack. I won’t ever forget his face. I’m sure he was thinking “Oh please, it’s a cat. You don’t seriously expect me to treat a cat like a pack member!” However in spite of Fred’s obvious bewilderment of our love of cats he immediately decided the cats were part and parcel of the package and he had an obligation to protect them. He never chased one of our cats even again but he would take joyous delight in chasing strange cats. If any dog or other animal pestered our cats he would ferociously charge out to defend them. His attitude was if he had put up with these damn cats, he was going to make sure no one else was going to get any pleasure or joy out of chasing them either.

Fred had one major behaviour issue. He loved to go roaming. Every chance he would get he would take off and go exploring the area. He had an invariably good sense of direction and he never seemed to get lost. He was also expert at making friends. We put a tag on him with his name and address and our phone number and it also had the name and make of our trailer and that he was from Canada. He would take off and there was no catching him. Eventually he would wander back or someone would contact us to come get him. One time we found him bumming cheese dorritos in a bar. Another time we found him perfectly at home at a family gathering after making off with some spareribs from their barbecue. Once he got away at a music festival and he was “arrested” by security when they caught him helping himself to their hot dogs. Another time Fred was returned riding in a golf cart, after he went visiting a golf course next to our campground. Once we got called by the City of Winnipeg Animal control to report Fred was waiting by the door for them when they arrived to work expecting his free ride home. Fred’s galavants were a constant source of amusement and aggravation. He was the absolute master of sneaking out of a partially closed gate or dashing away at an opportune moment. He pulled this stunt at least once a week. His last run was a few days before his death and he only got a few blocks from home before I caught him. He could no longer outrun me or go far.

Fred’s favourite  thing to do, besides eating, was chasing a ball. He loved the ball. As a young dog my husband would throw the ball with a ball thrower 40 times to wear him out. Over the years the number dropped. In his last few months he could no longer chase the ball because his hips got injured. He would carry the ball instead and if we were at a beach he could fetch the ball as long as he had to swim to it. He loved to swim. He loved going in the canoe too, but he preferred swimming beside the canoe as often as he could.

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Fred playing with two boys he befriended in Georgia. Fred would later save the younger one from drowning and be rewarded with a whole steak. Fred loved kids.

Fred once saved a four year old boy from drowning. We were staying at a campground on a river in Georgia and I was out walking him. A little boy got in over his head and was being carried away. He was floating at his hairline. We adults didn’t notice but Fred did. He charged and tore the leash out of my hand, leaped from a wall into the water and raced to the child going like a motor boat. As soon as he got to the child, the little boy pulled himself up gasping and Fred turned and swam back to the child’s father who was now on his way out. Fred took the child straight to him and met him halfway. That evening the grateful father stopped by with a barbecued steak that was so big it hung over the plate. He asked for permission to give it to Fred. I, of course, gave it to him and a bewildered but delighted Fred had a few moments of heavenly happiness wolfing down this huge steak.

Fred also intervened on four occasions when human predators were out to mug us. He was the sweetest dog and loved everyone but on those four occasions he was transformed into a snarling growling killer dog ready to kill for us. I don’t know if Fred would have actually attacked but the four possible muggers didn’t want to take the chance and left us alone and went searching for easier prey.

Fred and Trusty were inseparable buddies for eleven years. Fred was hubby dearest’s dog and Trusty was mine. The two dog played together, slept together, cuddled together and rarely had even a doggy scrap where one or the other growled and snapped. There were two exceptions. Fred got first dibs on any food unless we forced the situation. Trusty got first dibs on sleeping location. Other than that they were perfect together.

Fred loved kids. Visiting kids meant food and fun. He would play endlessly with them. In addition to ball, one of his favourite games was to try to snatch the water coming out of the hose. He was often totally soaked while kids laughed and laughed as he played with the hose. He never got upset with or snapped at a child. If they got mean or hurt him he would simply shake them off and leave.

At the age of eleven Fred developed a funny black lump on his foot. We took him to the vet and the vet checked him and found several more lumps and bumps. We decided to just remove the lump on his foot since it was interfering with his ability to walk but otherwise do nothing. As time passed the lumps and bumps grew and proliferated but Fred was still happy and enjoying life so we did nothing.

When Trusty passed I was worried Fred would mourn. He didn’t seem to. Dogs live in the moment anyway but Fred even more so than most dogs. When we got the new puppy, Misty, Fred fell head over heels in love and instantly began mentoring her. When he figured out if she went out to do her business they both got treats he made her housebreaking his personal mission and she didn’t have an accident after the first week. He played with her constantly, slept with her cuddled to him, and adored her as much as he had Trusty. He also stole her puppy chow every chance he got.

A week ago Fred started whimpering when he jumped up the stairs into the trailer. He started scratching his belly a lot. He also seemed to be having trouble getting into a comfortable sleeping position. Two nights ago something dramatically changed and it was clear he was in terrible pain. He was awake all night and even the pain killer we had for his occasional back trouble did nothing. He kept looking at me with his big eyes begging me to do something. We took him to a vet that day, one here our friends used and the vet agreed it was time. One of the lumps and bumps had caused his liver to enlarge and it was pressing on his diaphragm and Fred was suffering horribly. I was with Fred when he departed. He was frightened, the pain was bad and he didn’t like the vets handling him so he struggled. I went to him and I held his head and looked into his eyes and talked to him, calming him enough for the vet and the tech to do their thing. As the drug took effect, his eyes filled with relief and gratitude. They said “You did it, you made the pain go away. I knew you would. Thank you.” And then Old Fred was gone.

 

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I am a fan of Lacy J Dalton and my favourite song of hers is Old Dog Blue. Fred knew it was about him and he would come over and put his head on my knee and give me doggy love eyes. I called him Old Fred even when he was a young dog.

When I get to heaven first thing I’ll do is shout

“Hey, Old Fred!”

If there are no dogs in heaven I don’t want to go.

 

Afterword: About a week later I had a vivid dream. I was outside and Fred suddenly came running up, happy, full of life, and young and healthy. I was astonished and said “Fred! What are you doing back here? You’re dead!” Even as I gave him a pat and a greeting, an angel came flying/running to us. “I’m so sorry, I just turned my back for a second and he got away on me.” She snapped on the leash and led Fred off with me laughing. Yup Fred would do that.

Turtle Rescue

We do get involved in some crazy things, no doubt about it. There was a mass turtle stranding in our area of the panhandle in Florida where we were staying. The last time this happened was in 2010. All the sea turtle people around Florida were out seeking cold stunned turtles due to the bizarre cold weather from the polar vortex. The turtles get too cold and then end up unable to move, floating on the surface. Many drown when they can no longer move enough to even lift their heads up to take a breath. Some end up washed up like debris on the shore where certain death awaits. If the cold doesn’t kill them, predators or dehydration will. Any turtle that could be found would be brought in and warmed and saved to be released when the cold spell passed.

A call went out for folks who could walk the beaches to look for stranded turtles. We were among those who answered the call. Here we are, with other volunteers and staff from Gulf Specimen Marine Lab, getting our marching orders from Cypress Rudloe and “how to help a cold stunned turtle” safety information.IMG_0965

We then drove off to Appalachacola with our crew to meet Captain Ron and his Mrs, Cynthia, of Dream On Charters at the boat dock there. I really appreciated my long johns and Canadian style layering as we raced across the gulf to a small island called Cape St George Island Wildlife Preserve. Hubby dearest and I were assigned the northern side of the island an area with some white sand beaches and lots of muddy tide flats. We were given a folding wagon to transport any turtles we found.

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The day was cool to start but we were warmed by the sun. We had been told to especially check the grass and debris at the high tide line. Our trip was set to coincide with the low tide. We were also told to watch the surf but there isn’t a lot of surf on the inside (mainland side) of the island where the water is shallow and filled with the kind of grass beds green sea turtles love to graze in.

The island is a preserve so there was no one else beyond our team on it and we saw no signs of human life. The island is hardly deserted though as we found bear scat and coyote tracks. We didn’t see any of those.

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We arrived far too late for this poor little turtle. But them a miracle happened! We saw a flipper moving weakly in the air above a clump of seaweed.

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We found one poor turtle barely able to move from the cold. We carefully moved the turtle into the transport wagon and continued looking for more survivors.

In total we walked 10 kilometres (or six miles). We only found one living turtle but we were so happy to be able to save even one. As we walked, we kept the turtle in the sunshine as much as possible to help warm him. The more we walked the warmer he got and he began moving around. If only it had been warmer we could have let him go right then and there instead of lugging him around but the water was only 45F and he needed to be brought in for a vet check and full warming at GSML. Finally, when we had gone 5 kilometres in one direction we hit an inlet where the water was too deep to continue on. We contacted our team’s fearless leader and discovered the boat could not come in close so we would have to return to our starting point for pick up. I tried not to have a good cry and only just succeeded. Then we started back. By now the tide was coming in and the flats were getting wetter and the ground softer. We went as fast as we could to get off the rapidly vanishing tide flats and back to more solid beaches. We had a rest for a bit once we were back on the stable beach and then we continued our slog. Whenever I wanted to stop I looked at the little turtle and carried on.

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Finally, taking turns with the wagon and encouraging each other and breaking for water and snacks, we got back to our starting point. We had company as we waited for the boat.

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The heron is kind of a family symbol often appearing at significant and important events in my husband’s life. We only half jokingly refer to the Great Blue as his totem so we took the presence of one at the landing area to be a sign of karmic approval. Now that we were safe and secure and just had to wait for the boat, we felt a lot better. It also helped that we didn’t have to walk anymore. After about a 30 minute wait our ride back to the mainland came. I passed our turtle guest up to Captain Ron and we all felt great pride that we had succeeded. By the time the boat arrived the little turtle had warmed enough to flap and struggle. That made us all feel better. The turtle then went into an insulated box and since the sun was rapidly setting, he got covered with an insulated blanket.

Rescued Green Transfered to the boat.

As if to confirm karmic blessings we were escorted all the way back to the mainland by several dolphins who put on a fine show for us, playing in our wake and giving us dolphin laughs. I enjoyed the show a lot. Dolphins

When we arrived at the dock we were delighted to pass custody of the sea turtle to one of our team members, Brian, and let him take the turtle back to the lab. Hubby Dearest and I went for pizza on St George Island before heading home. We were REALLY hungry and REALLY sore and REALLY tired. Neither one of us have walked 10 kilometres in a long time. But we were so happy and we felt so good. It had been a grand adventure and so worth it!

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The next morning I got to the lab to check on “our” green sea turtle and I arrived at the lab just in time to see the turtle go into the tank and swim about, fully recovered. The turtle was designated #36 (of 48 rescues). He or she (you can’t tell at this age) got a clean bill of health from the vet yesterday. As soon as it has warmed up enough to be safe for the little turtle to go back to the sea, it will be released.

And we saved him!