Missing snapper a cautionary tale about keeping wild turtles as pets, animal experts say

Razor, a pet turtle kept by Brockville, Ont., resident Maureen Fennelly, has been missing for almost two months.  (Submitted by Joshua Fennelly - image credit)
Razor, a pet turtle kept by Brockville, Ont., resident Maureen Fennelly, has been missing for almost two months. (Submitted by Joshua Fennelly - image credit)

An eastern Ontario woman says she's devastated by the disappearance of her family's longtime snapping turtle — while wildlife experts say it's a good reminder that keeping wild turtles as pets is illegal and harmful to the overall population.

Maureen Fennelly of Brockville, Ont., has been caring for Razor the turtle for several years, after her son Joshua first came across the quarter-sized baby snapper in 2009 while it was crossing a local road with an injured tail.

"[I] called the SPCA," he said via text. "But they [said] they would just put the turtle down as they do not handle turtle rehabilitation."

Joshua Fennelly named the snapper Razor, after the mutant villain Rahzar from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze.

He brought it home and kept it for eight years, until he got kittens and the turtle moved in with his mother.

"We put him in the bathtub with rocks and then I would feed him with a pair of tweezers," Maureen Fennelly said. "I'd say, 'Good morning, Razor, my baby!' I could actually take my hands and just scratch his neck.

"He never knew how to bite or to snap in any manner because he was so spoon-fed."

Razor had the run of the place, could climb stairs, was taken outside for walks and was shown off to kids during the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.

"If I lay on the couch, he'd actually come over and stick his head up and he wouldn't stop staring at me until I picked him up and I lay him on my chest and he'd actually have a nap with me."

But Razor went missing in early September, she said, while in the care of her ex-partner.

Fennelly said she's since spent day and night searching for him, even wading into one creek until she got a foot infection.

"He meant everything to me," she said. "This has been so devastating."

Maureen Fennelly
Maureen Fennelly

Fennelly has searched a creek and local golf club for Razor, and even developed a foot infection while wading through the water. (Maureen Fennelly/Facebook)

'As close to her as any pet would be'

Joshua Fennelly figures he's spent over $400 on laminated "missing" posters.

"My godkids are devastated as well, because they have seen him their whole life," Joshua said. "They even planned and wanted to take care of him if he outlived me."

Scot Birnie was golfing the 16th hole at the Brockville Country Club on Sept. 13 when he spotted a large turtle on the green and snapped a photo.

He then saw one of the family's posters and contacted the Fennellys to report he'd seen what he believed was Razor.

"It's not every day you see somebody looking for a pet turtle," Birnie said. "But when I called Maureen, you could tell that this turtle is as close to her as any pet would be close to anybody."

The golf club lent her a cart and let her search the grounds, but Razor remained missing.

Razor the domesticated Brockville turtle
Razor the domesticated Brockville turtle

'We would have him in the bathtub when he was little," Fennelly said. (Submitted by Joshua Fennelly)

Close call

Last week, Maureen Fennelly saw a report on social media about an injured turtle in the Brockville area and, based on photos, feared the animal — which ultimately died on Saturday — was Razor.

That didn't turn out to be the case: she visited the Rideau Valley Wildlife Sanctuary in North Gower and concluded the injured turtle was too big and didn't have the right shell.

If Razor is found, Maureen said she's prepared to surrender him.

She said she didn't realize Razor was a snapping turtle until he grew horns at age eight, and she had recently planned to take Razor to a science and education museum in Brockville if they could accommodate him.

"She didn't know that it wasn't legal to keep native wildlife in Ontario as pets, so she didn't deliberately do anything wrong and she wants the best care for him," said Sue Carstairs, the executive and medical director of the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre in Peterborough, Ont.

Fennelly's son Joshua says he's spent over $400 on posters trying to find Razor. (Submitted by Joshua Fennelly)

'Do your research' 

Razor's story is a good opportunity to spotlight issues facing turtles, including the importance of even just one turtle to the overall ecosystem, Carstairs said.

"Not many of them make it in the wild. Not many make it to adulthood and to the age that Razor is. So every adult can be very important," she said.

Even if Razor has been in captivity for 14 years, he could, if in good health, be released back into the wild, Carstairs said — although turtles "need to be released where they came from."

They also need an intact habitat, said Leora Berman, the executive director of Turtle Guardians, an Ontario conservation group.

Turtles begin imprinting their spatial memories at a young age, Berman said, and can't just be released anywhere.

"It's like asking them to learn an entirely new language, and it often results in their demise," Berman said. "They don't know where they are, they don't know where to hibernate, they wander around lost."

So is there a lesson to be learned from Razor's story?

"When you're caring for another life," Berman said, "first of all, do your research."

Razor the domesticated Brockville turtle
Razor the domesticated Brockville turtle

'If I don't find him, then I'm actually going to go into mourning over this turtle,' Maureen Fennelly said. (Submitted by Maureen Fennelly)