Haven the German Shepherd and Ruby the Red-Eared Slider are friends. You might think a dog and an aquatic turtle wouldn’t have much in common, but you’d be wrong. These two are fiercely independent, have a penchant for treats, and demonstrate the kind of single-minded perseverance that I want to have when I grow up.
In her younger day, Haven competed with the large male shepherds in her world and often won. When she first came to our home at two years old, she didn’t know how to swim. We’d take her and our big guy to a reservoir to swim after a bright orange retriever dummy - a hard plastic tubular object that floated. Within several days, Haven learned to swim fast enough to reach the dummy nose to nose with her buddy. If he got his mouth around the dummy first, she’d slam his head into the water with her dainty paw until he gave it up. She’d then grab it and swim it in. All of this was accompanied by Haven’s resounding Xena: Warrior Princess war cries.
Ruby’s brand of perseverance takes the form of scaling rocks and sprint work in the summertime grass. She has some mysterious attraction to the hot scratchy asphalt of the driveway, and will ignore the cool green grass she’s going through to get there. When she approaches the driveway, I pick her up and set her down in the grass a good distance away. She heads off again, at a faster pace. We do this over and over. Eventually she’ll look over her shoulder/shell, see me coming, and will literally run away from me. That girl can move. Who knew turtles could sprint?
Haven has very definitive ideas about our walks, and every week that passes in this, her old age of 14 years, she becomes more adamant about which direction she will and will not go. I’ve found that verbal coaxing does not work - literally falling as it does on deaf ears. Treats, however, do work, and bribing in this way has convinced her to let me occasionally navigate our strolls. She will also decide that it is time to sit down and she’ll look at me patiently, expectantly, until I pull out a cookie. She has me well-trained.
When I take Ruby out of her tank for her dryland training, she turtle-marches over to where I’m standing and looks up at me, demanding that I return her to her tank immediately if not sooner, and “don’t forget the treat.” Ruby will spend an inordinate amount of time trying for the slice of cucumber on her basking area. Now, she normally can climb up on her basking rock just fine. But when she sees the cucumber she has a panic-attack and frantically climbs in all the wrong places in her desperation to get that cucumber NOW. She’ll get partway up and then do a spectacular backflip into the water - over and over again. Notice the pattern here?
Haven has not ever seen Ruby, as Ruby came on the scene after Haven lost her sight. But Haven can smell her. And Ruby can see Haven from the security of her tank. I’m guessing that in the way animals have, they are aware of one another and have probably picked up on their mutual feistiness.
Here’s why I think they are friends: Haven will lay down near the tank, and rest her head against the glass, right where Ruby’s little head is. If that’s not friendship, I don’t know what is.
Jacqueline Denny, ACC, CHPC, LMT