The Block Island Times

A touring turtle hits the local lawns

Sep 09, 2012
Photo by: Kari Curtis "I'm not some kind of turtle weirdo," says Jeff Sherman here with his good friend Pumpkin. "Just a regular guy who wanted to help."

Meet Pumpkin. And meet Jeff Sherman. To meet one is to meet the other, because Sherman and his Eastern box turtle do everything together, including taking their vacations on Block Island.

“He loves to run in the grass across the street,” explained Sherman, indicating the lawn of the Block Island Historical Society as his black and orange turtle regarded the people gathered round him with a sprightly eye.

Pumpkin’s running abilities are something only a father could love. Wikipedia has this to say about his breed: “Box turtles are slow crawlers, extremely long lived, slow to mature, and have relatively few offspring per year. These characteristics, along with a propensity to get hit by cars and agricultural machinery, make all box turtle species particularly susceptible to anthropogenic, or human-induced, mortality. In 2011... the IUCN downgraded its conservation status from Near Threatened to Vulnerable.”

And indeed, nine years ago, Pumpkin was in dire straights. The turtle was in a park in New York state, malnourished and showing signs of having been hit by a pellet gun. A friend found him and brought him to Sherman, a single Manhattanite who already had two water turtles. Sherman nursed him back to health in preparation for releasing him back to the wild, but the turtle had become too tame. “He’s like a little dog,” said Sherman affectionately, as his fearless turtle, despite a ring of strangers, never pulled his neck into his shell in typical turtle fashion. “I call him a turtle hound.”

The nine-year friendship solidified even further when, “last summer,” Sherman relates, “his pet sitter cancelled.” A longstanding guest of the Gables on Dodge Street, Sherman asked his hosts if Pumpkin might accompany him this time. They acquiesced, and so Pumpkin first came to Block Island. Now he and his owner will be seen romping at grassy oases around the island every late summer.

“He’s a chick magnet, obviously,” said Sherman of his companion, who enjoys the view from a handheld mesh carrying case when he’s not in his master’s arms, and is currently obsessed with low-protein dog food. “I wish he loved his veggies,” Sherman sighed, “but he doesn’t.”

Pumpkin used to enjoy getting some sun and meeting the crowds in Central Park until one day a hawk made a dive for him, which Sherman, acting quickly, was able to block. But he hasn’t felt right about taking the turtle there since. Block Island’s gentler skies and equally friendly crowds are now the highlight of the pair’s year.

Pumpkin will likely outlive his owner. Box turtles can live to be 100 years old, Sherman says. He has a plan: “There’s an 8-year-old who is enamoured of him,” Sherman reports. “He will one day play with her grandchildren.

But for now, it’s back to New York, where Pumpkin sleeps between the paws of his two cats, Moose and Mamma Cat, who are also both rescues.

If you see a box turtle and it does not appear to be in distress, leave it alone, Sherman urges. The breed belongs in the wild. “And if you see one crossing the road,” he adds, “just help it.”

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