By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
TILTON — A snapping turtle is neither a common nor a popular pet, but "Shellhe" has made his home in an aquarium with Chuck Drew, the owner and operator of Camaro Heaven, since he was a hatchling 18 years ago, much to the chagrin of one woman who finds his confinement nothing short of cruel.
Hillarie Goldstein of Franklin has complained that this turtle, "as far as I can tell, he's being tortured." On visiting Camaro Heaven in search of an auto part, she told The Daily Sun, "It had no room to move. All it could do was bob up and down and swim a foot or two in either direction." And she said a friend told her the turtle could not turn around and it "is literally stuck up against the sides of the tank."
Drew said Friday that he is familiar with the lady and dismisses her concerns as exaggerated and misguided. He recalled that "Shellhe," who was christened by one of his children who said the turtle was a "he" and lived in a shell, was among some two dozen hatchlings to emerge near his business, which then operated in Rochester.
"We saved him," Drew said. "That's how we look at it." He said that the turtles hatched near a roadway, where many perished.
"Shellhe" began life the size of a quarter in a five-gallon tank, but now, with his shell measuring about a foot from one end to the other, he has graduated to 70 gallons of filtered water. His shell easily clears both sides of the tank and he smoothly reverses direction. However, Drew said that "the next step is a bigger tank."
Drew said that more than once Conservation Officer Chris Brison of the New Hampshire Fish & Game Department has visited in response to complaints about the treatment of the turtle and has occasionally stopped when in the neighborhood. In New Hampshire there is no prohibition against keeping a snapping turtle as a pet. He said the officer has always found "Shellhe" well fed, living in clean, filtered water and in sound health.
Joe Chase, the shop foreman, said that Brison told him that he doubted the turtle the would fare well in the wild after living his entire life in captivity.
Shellhe is fed every morning, usually by the office staff, who supplement his diet of fish with crab legs. "He eats as well as we do," Chase joked. Drew said if he has good luck fishing he will share his catch with Shellhe.
"He'll eat an 8-inch trout like that," he said.
"Shellhe" the snapping turtle looks out of his 70-gallon tank at Camaro Heaven in Tilton. (Michael Kitch/Laconia Daily Sun)
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