For the past couple months, my younger son diligently tended to Chomper. He fixed him up with a variety of homes, researched turtles (sometimes obsessively), and plied him with raw liver and oatmeal and lettuce. Although Chomper seemed to be doing just fine — burrowing in the sand, swimming in the water, scampering about and exploring — never once did we see him eat. And then I noticed that he seemed to be getting smaller.
“You should probably set him free,” I said.
My son did not like that idea, not one little bit. So we did more research, learning about special lights and water filtration. He begged to be allowed to buy the necessary equipment, but I said no. “If you want a pet turtle, you need to get set up first and then get a turtle.” Because I wasn’t about to let him spend lots of money on a pet that probably wouldn’t make it.
When my son persisted in digging in his heels — but I wanted a pet turtle! — I turned blunt. “He’s going to die,” I said. “The kind thing to do is to set him free. That’s the only way he’ll stand a chance.”
For several days, my younger son was tearful and sullen, and then, one day last week, he finally agreed to set Chomper free.
We drove over to my parents’ place, my son holding the wriggly (a good sign!) Chomper in his hands the whole way there, and parked the van by the little creek at the foot of their drive.
When my son set Chomper down, the little guy immediately made a beeline for the water. Of course, the current tossed him upside down and carried him off, but my son scooped him back up, found a nice muddy spot along the shore, and set him on a sunny leaf.
While Chomper sunned himself, my son fixed a little shelter out of leaves and twigs. The house finished, Chomper crawled right into it.
We stood there for a bit, watching. My son cried. He agreed that he knew he was doing the right thing, but still, he was so sad.
And then, after a few minutes more, my brave little boy waved good-bye to his pet, and we scrambled back up the creek bank and drove home.