DEARBORN, MI—Dennis Frye, 31, an unmarried lawn-care-supply wholesaler and home-turtle enthusiast, took special time out Monday, as he does every day, to enjoy quality care, feeding and maintenance of his pet turtle Sheldon.
"Who's a little shell-head? Who? Who?" asked Frye, visibly enthused by the turtle's presence. Sheldon, a common box turtle acquired by Frye at Winston's World Of Exciting Fish & Pets in downtown Dearborn as a "birthday present" for himself in 1995, did not appear to respond.
The animal has been Frye's sole domestic companion for three years.
Lovingly replenishing Sheldon's lettuce supply and refilling his special personalized food-pellet distribution device, Frye removed the squat, near-immobile animal from his tank for his daily bathtub swim in several inches of lukewarm water. Frye then cleaned the droppings from Sheldon's aquarium habitat, rinsing out the bed of multi-colored pebbles and placing fresh pebbles where necessary, pausing periodically to "check in on" the turtle with queries like, "How ya doin' there, lil' buddy?"; "You doin' okay in there?" and "Havin' fun just swimmin' around?"
Before returning Sheldon to his tank, Frye also engaged the animal in several minutes of spirited "play," which largely consisted of Frye picking up Sheldon and setting him down in various spots, then watching him crawl feebly in a vain attempt to escape his human captor.
"Each evening, during turtle-time, if Sheldon has been an especially well-behaved little guy that day, I give him his favorite 'special occasion' treat—a chunk of leafy iceberg lettuce covered in yummy fish oil," Frye told reporters. "He always crunches down on it with such gusto, I almost feel like I'm getting a special treat, too."
Feeding the tiny reptile a lovingly prepared slice of lettuce, Frye watched as Sheldon slowly chewed and swallowed each mouthful. "Look at him!" Frye whispered gleefully. "He's chewing it!"
"He loves it! Look at him smiling!" he added.
According to herpetologists, not only is the facial musculature of the box turtle incapable of forming a smile, but the chances of Sheldon actually experiencing feelings of joy are almost nil.
"Reptilian creatures like Sheldon do not experience emotions the way many people think they do," said Dr. Stanley Hargrove of the San Diego Zoo. "Turtles lack the nurturing and bonding capacities of more highly developed creatures and are thus incapable of feelings of affection."
Hargrove also noted that Sheldon's "play" behavior is not really play at all, but rather escape instinct in action. "Sheldon, like any animal forced to live in a small glass tank, is consumed with a desire to get away," he said. "Of course, since this is a pet turtle we're talking about, there is very little Sheldon can do to act on this desire other than basically crawling to the side of his tank and looking out."
Hargrove said the turtle's relative helplessness is rendered all the more pitiable by his inability to communicate his dissatisfaction to his human owner.
"Sometimes, when Sheldon is really feeling wild, he likes to wear his special 'Super-Turtle' sweater," said Frye, forcing the animal into a novelty pet-clothing item. Frye grinned as he pulled the small garment, complete with an iron-on "ST" logo and miniature cape, over the turtle's shell.
"Doesn't he look cute?" said Frye, picking up the turtle to "fly" him around the room "like a little superhero." Sheldon reacted in the same manner he always does when held: by withdrawing into his shell as a natural defense mechanism against predators.
"I love Sheldon, my little turtle friend," Frye said. "It's so nice to have someone around the house as company."
Added Frye: "I believe it's really important for all of God's creatures, whether turtles or humans, to feel loved."