2017 Year in Review: Tina Updike, Rehabilitation Volunteer

It’s time to look back on 2017! Check our blog between Christmas and New Year’s for a variety of stories and memories of 2017 from the staff and volunteers of the Wildlife Center of Virginia.

In thinking back on 2017, which marked my fifth year volunteering at the Wildlife Center in the Rehabilitation area, my most memorable experience involved rescuing a sick turtle, following along with its treatment, and then being able to release it back to the wild ... the very essence of what the Wildlife Center’s mission is!

My story actually begins in September 2016, when I was looking out my kitchen window and saw our “resident” Box Turtle walking down from the woods towards our side yard.  I have seen this Box Turtle, going about its own business, off and on over many years.  However, this time was different.  As I watched, I saw that after the turtle took a few steps, it stopped and rubbed its eyes and nose with its front foot.  I’d never seen this turtle do that before.  I got my binoculars and took a closer look.  The turtle’s eyes and nose were wet and running, like it had a cold!  From my years volunteering at the WCV and helping to care for the turtles, I had learned about mycoplasmosis, which is an upper respiratory tract disease that will impact the sinuses and nasal area of a turtle. Oh my goodness, I knew I had to take the turtle to the WCV.  I got a box, put a small towel in it, and went outside to rescue the turtle.  When I brought it into the garage, I heard the turtle sneeze and gurgle when breathing.

Arriving at the WCV, the front-desk coordinator listened to my story, then gave me paperwork to fill out regarding the details of the turtle’s rescue, while she took the box with the turtle in it to the vet staff for evaluation.  The turtle was given patient #16-2025, signifying the year 2016 and that this was the 2025th admittance. 

The turtle would have to be tested for mycoplasmosis.  I learned that if the turtle tested positive, it would be treated and housed in the Isolation area, so as not to infect the other turtle patients.  The test came back positive and a 30-day course of antibiotics was prescribed.  This also meant the length of the treatment would keep the turtle at the WCV over winter, as the last date for release was October 1st.  I was sorry the turtle would have to be in captivity that long, but very grateful that it could be treated and released in the spring of 2017.  Only “red staff” rehabilitators can care for the animals in Isolation, so I did not get to see #16-2025, who became known as “Tina’s Turtle,” but I was able to keep tabs on her treatment and recovery. The Vet staff had determined that the turtle is female.

At the end of April, it was time to start acclimating the patient turtles to the outside for their release in May.  A Box Turtle must be released back to their rescue site, as they have small territories and know where to find food and shelter only in that area. A turtle that had mycoplasmosis has to acclimate for a longer period of time to make sure the symptoms will not return once back outside.  At the end of May, Brie Hasham, the Wildlife Rehabilitator, notified me that #16-2025 was ready for release.  After my volunteer shift, I drove the turtle back home.  I wondered how she would react after being away for almost nine months.  I put her in the exact spot where I had picked her up in September.  She didn’t “box up” but had her head out, listening and looking.  I backed away and left her there.  When I came back 15 minutes later to check on her, she was gone!  I walked all around the house … no sign of her … a completely successful release!!


I wondered if I would see her again.  She only made a few appearances over the years, but to my surprise, one week after her release, I looked out the dining room window and there she was in the backyard.  She was walking through the grass at a good clip for a Box Turtle, looking great.  I went outside with my camera to get a few pictures.  She meandered over to the mulch bed, sat in the sun for a while, then moved up the hill and buried her head in a pile of leaves, probably looking for worms.  I have not seen her since, but I know she is fine.  This “treat and release” story illustrates the ultimate goal of the WCV ... it is the reward for all the hard work and long hours put in by the Vet Staff and Rehabilitation Team members.  I am blessed to be part of this organization!


Check out all of our year-in-review posts!