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Help! Can I Keep My Turtles in Tennessee?


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#1 cervoned1

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Posted 19 June 2009 - 01:45 AM

About 6 weeks ago my husband found a tiny hatchling red eared slider caught in our pool skimmer basket. We had no idea how long he had been frantically swimming against the current to try to keep from drowning. This was on our private property, inside a fenced enclosure, so we did not "capture a turtle from the wild." I have a home full of rescued cats and a poodle, so I am accustomed to taking in homeless stray animals and caring for them. I wasn't sure what to do with the little guy so I put him in a tub of water and offered him some tuna, which he ate immediately. Later that same day, another even smaller RES showed up in our yard, so we brought him in also. I immediately started to research care for turtles while trying to decide what to do with the little darlings. I am not a kid. My husband and I are in our 50's and both responsible animal lovers and caregivers for them. I had two baby turtles when I was a young child but have had no experience with raising turtles as an adult. There is a lake nearby our home and a creek that runs behind our property that goes to the lake. We thought about taking them down to the creek, but were afraid they would be immediately eaten by predators. Our area is overrun with geese and ducks, which we are constantly chasing out of our swimming pool. There are foxes and even an occasional coyote seen in our yard, not to mention neighbors' dogs and cats who are allowed to run loose, despite the local leash laws. We went to a nearby pet shop and found turtle hatchling food, treats, a temporary container for them and from then on I went crazy. I researched and read everything I could find on red eared slider turtles before making the commitment to permanently adopt them. I love the "Ninja Turtles" from the cartoons and so I named them Leo and Mikey. Since then I have spent hundreds on supplies and equipment for providing a proper habitat for them to grow in. Leo, the smaller one had dark spots on his shell when we found him. I soaked him in Sulfa dip for a week and gave him special vitamin supplements, "dry-docked" him except for short periods in the water for feeding. Kept him basking under a UV light for 8-10 hours a day until his shell healed. I guess I may have taken a little too good of care of him as he is now about one and a half times bigger than Mikey! As you can probably tell by now, I am totally attached to these babies and they are already bonded to me. They immediately swim to me when they hear or see me come near. Mikey wants me to hand feed him every time and swims to me to pick him up! I put my hand in the water, he swims over, climbs into my palm and waits for me to lift him up a few inches above the water. Sometimes he will just sit there, but usually he dives/jumps off into the water. Immediately, he swims back and pokes his little head up to look for me and splashes around vertically in the water until I reach in and pick him up again. I started clapping and talking to him like to a little kid, just being silly at first, but he started responding to my voice and swimming around all excited, jumping up in the water towards me! My friends just can't believe what they see. I could write a book about these little guys, or gals can't tell yet ... they may be Leona and Mikayla! :rolleyes:

:( Now for the BAD part and my request for advise: My regular vet only sees dogs and cats, so I was checking around to find a reptile vet in my area, as is recommended by every source I have read. I wanted to be prepared in case any illness should develop that I couldn't treat myself, such as one needing antibiotics or other prescription medications. I was told of one, which happens to be one I go to to purchase a special cat food that my vet doesn't carry. So while picking up a bag of cat food, I asked the receptionist about my turtles. To my complete horror, she told me if I were to bring them in they would have to keep them because of the Tennessee state laws regarding owning turtles! I couldn't believe what she was telling me. I had read about the 4" ruling for selling turtles, but nothing about it being illegal to "own" them. She said she would not report me or anything but I have been worried sick ever since finding this out. It took quite a bit of searching to find an official government site to verify this but apparently because they are "native wildlife" in TN, they are not supposed to be taken from the wild. I didn't take them from a public park, just rescued them from my pool area in my own back yard. And for their own safety, did not take them down to the creek. They are already so dependent and attached to me, I don't see how they could survive on their own now. Has anyone else had this type of problem? Any advise, especially what to do if they were to need vet care? They wouldn't be getting any kind of medication if they were living in the creek, but I had already made my commitment to their care as part of our family!

Just look at their photos ... Could you give them up?

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#2 fluffie

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Posted 19 June 2009 - 02:21 AM

Even tho its not good to take them from the wild it looks like they are already dependent on you and you love them very much. Im not encouraging anyone to break the law but i think it would be best for them if you took care of them and not metion how you found if any one asks me ill say i was there when the fairy droped them of in your lounge [:secret] . They are so cute i dont think id be able to let them go either .

#3 Roger3

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Posted 19 June 2009 - 11:09 AM

Since you are will to take care of it, keep it.


Plus there is already way too many red ear sliders "in the wild".


Where I live they have taken over. The red ear slider as either pushed out or destroyed most of the natural species of water turtles. The cooters and maps are almost gone.

#4 cervoned1

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Posted 19 June 2009 - 12:16 PM

Since you are will to take care of it, keep it.


Plus there is already way too many red ear sliders "in the wild".


Where I live they have taken over. The red ear slider as either pushed out or destroyed most of the natural species of water turtles. The cooters and maps are almost gone.


Thanks for your encouragement! The law makes no sense to me. My back yard is full of bunny rabbits yet you can buy those at any local pet store. So what would be the difference with turtles? They wouldn't survive a day if I took them down to the lake. They would simply be an easy lunch for another animal or bird. My biggest concern is with being able to get proper vet care for them if and when needed, but I may have found a way around that hopefully! ;) I love my babies and hope to have them for many years to come!

#5 cervoned1

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Posted 19 June 2009 - 12:32 PM

Even tho its not good to take them from the wild it looks like they are already dependent on you and you love them very much. Im not encouraging anyone to break the law but i think it would be best for them if you took care of them and not metion how you found if any one asks me ill say i was there when the fairy droped them of in your lounge [:secret] . They are so cute i dont think id be able to let them go either .


The way I look at it, they moved in with me. Finding them in a private fenced-in backyard, one inside my swimming pool skimmer basket, isn't like I set out to trap them or something like that. I can see the law if I had taken them from a public park or forest, but these were in a residential neighborhood on my own personal property. Other neighbors have bird houses where one particular bird stays, builds a nest and lives there permanently. They would be dead if my husband had not found them when he did. We had a poor little baby bunny get trapped the same way who was not so lucky. My husband worried about that for months after finding it drowned. But you know now that you mention it ... I do remember seeing some fairy dust on their shells!!! [:turtle] [:turtle]

#6 TurtleHugz

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Posted 19 June 2009 - 01:33 PM

They are so very cute! I don't know what'd I'd do in your situation, but maybe ask the receptionist at the vet office if (hypothetically speaking of course) you happened to have a couple of turtles that were on your property and they got sick and someone demanded they be confiscated, what would those persons do with said turtles?

As for if they get sick, I don't know what I'd do.

Best of luck with your new babies!

#7 turtlefanatic

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Posted 19 June 2009 - 03:41 PM

Just look at those sweet little faces! I can understand why you can't bring yourself to let them go.

From what I've found on the internet, it looks like the law was written to stop the depletion of wild turtle populations. The red eared slider is considered to be an "invasive species" in many parts of the U.S.; and in some areas, RES's have even been trapped and euthanized in an effort to reduce their numbers. :o I understand the intent of the law; however, I can't imagine that the people who drafted it would object to a couple of RES babies being adopted as pets.

It sounds like you're going to be conscientious, loving turtle owners. Mama Slider must have known that you'd take good care of her babies when she dug her nest nearby! (Keep your eyes open for more, since female RES's can lay as many as 20 eggs in one clutch!) Those two little darlings are very lucky to have found such a good home. I vote that you keep them and enjoy them!

#8 Samsonite

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Posted 19 June 2009 - 08:08 PM

I've actually discussed similar issues with Tn animal laws with my ex in the past. He owned a quaker parrot that I'm now stuck with (its mean), because he moved to Tn, and they are an invading species and illegal in that state.

One option we considered to avoid the "getting caught during a medical emergency" issue, is to check state laws for bordering states. If the bordering state nearest to you allows RES as pets, you could always go to a reptile vet there in case of emergency, and treat small stuff yourself. You'd probably want to tell them either you live in that state, or that you are only babysitting them for your son/daughter who actually owns them in some other state the rest of the time...

ps, they are adorable! nice save from the evil pool gadget! :)

#9 frankiesue71

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Posted 19 June 2009 - 09:06 PM

Could you tell the vet that someone gave them to you, or you adopted them? If you go on Petfinder.com, there are always RES for adoption on there. How would they be able to tell if they were "wild", or not?

P.S. The kind of bunnies they sell in pet stores aren't technically the same kind of bunnies you see in your yard....they're domesticated breeds.....Here in Illinois, it's illegal to keep any kind of wild animal you find, catch, rescue, etc. Of course they would have to prove you got it from the wild. Since RES are captive-bred and found in the wild, I don't know how they would do that. The bunnies would be a different story, you don't see the backyard kind ( I don't know the scientific name for them..) being purposely bred by humans-not like they need any help with that! ;)

I think if you just acted like you got your guys/gals from some source other than outside, you'd be fine. You are obviously willing and able to take care of them! I'm sure they'd lead a happy life with you, I can tell they've won you over with their charm... :D

#10 cervoned1

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Posted 20 June 2009 - 11:53 AM

They are so very cute! I don't know what'd I'd do in your situation, but maybe ask the receptionist at the vet office if (hypothetically speaking of course) you happened to have a couple of turtles that were on your property and they got sick and someone demanded they be confiscated, what would those persons do with said turtles?

As for if they get sick, I don't know what I'd do.

Best of luck with your new babies!


The first vet office that I spoke to was the one that said they would have to keep them. She said they would have to turn them into a Wildlife Organization who would return them to a wild habitat. That was what was so stupid sounding to me because they were never in a "wild habitat" to begin with. They were most likely hatched around my swimming pool area. The weeds had gotten thick in my landscaping, inside my privacy fence. There is room for small animals to crawl under the fence in places, so Mama RES probably laid her eggs right in my yard and then walked back down to the creek. These little guys don't need to be in the wild, especially since I have already been caring for them and spoiling them for nearly two months. I still feel like I did that right thing to rescue them and care for them. We searched the area thoroughly after finding these two, but never saw any more. My guess is they were probably eaten. I have walked down by the lake inlet, but didn't see any turtles around there either. Thanks for your input, it helps hearing from other turtle owners since I am a "new" mommy! ... And want to be a really good one!

#11 cervoned1

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Posted 20 June 2009 - 12:40 PM

Just look at those sweet little faces! I can understand why you can't bring yourself to let them go.

From what I've found on the internet, it looks like the law was written to stop the depletion of wild turtle populations. The red eared slider is considered to be an "invasive species" in many parts of the U.S.; and in some areas, RES's have even been trapped and euthanized in an effort to reduce their numbers. :o I understand the intent of the law; however, I can't imagine that the people who drafted it would object to a couple of RES babies being adopted as pets.

It sounds like you're going to be conscientious, loving turtle owners. Mama Slider must have known that you'd take good care of her babies when she dug her nest nearby! (Keep your eyes open for more, since female RES's can lay as many as 20 eggs in one clutch!) Those two little darlings are very lucky to have found such a good home. I vote that you keep them and enjoy them!


It seems that the red-eared slider is native to Tennessee and the law protects indigenous species from being removed from their wild habitat. My problem with the whole issue is that I didn't "remove" them from a "wild habitat." I saved them from drowning in my swimming pool and brought them inside my house to protect them. I never removed them from the area that I found them. They were most likely hatched on my private property, so in this one particular case, my home is their "natural habitat." In fact, most of the time so far this summer I have been putting them outside during the daytime so they could enjoy the natural sunlight. I fixed up a large clear storage tub as a habitat with all sorts of things for them to swim around, hide under and play in and it sits out on my deck overlooking the exact area where they were found. As they grow I plan on getting larger outdoor containers and maybe even building a pond for them, so they can be outside when the weather is nice!

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#12 cervoned1

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Posted 20 June 2009 - 01:04 PM

I've actually discussed similar issues with Tn animal laws with my ex in the past. He owned a quaker parrot that I'm now stuck with (its mean), because he moved to Tn, and they are an invading species and illegal in that state.

One option we considered to avoid the "getting caught during a medical emergency" issue, is to check state laws for bordering states. If the bordering state nearest to you allows RES as pets, you could always go to a reptile vet there in case of emergency, and treat small stuff yourself. You'd probably want to tell them either you live in that state, or that you are only babysitting them for your son/daughter who actually owns them in some other state the rest of the time...

ps, they are adorable! nice save from the evil pool gadget! :)


Thanks for the suggestion! I don't live too far from the Kentucky border. I haven't been able to find out if they are legal to own as pets in KY now, but one source shows that they are not native to Kentucky as they are to Tennessee. I actually grew up in Louisville, KY as a child and had two pet turtles back then. At that time, they were commonly sold in stores and my Grandmother got me the first turtle because my Mom wouldn't let me get a dog. I was really young, so my Dad usually took care of the turtle but we didn't know much about the involved proper care. No Internet back then! If my parents had known all that was involved with properly caring for a turtle, they would probably have bought me a dog! [:rofl]

#13 cervoned1

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Posted 20 June 2009 - 01:26 PM

Could you tell the vet that someone gave them to you, or you adopted them? If you go on Petfinder.com, there are always RES for adoption on there. How would they be able to tell if they were "wild", or not?

P.S. The kind of bunnies they sell in pet stores aren't technically the same kind of bunnies you see in your yard....they're domesticated breeds.....Here in Illinois, it's illegal to keep any kind of wild animal you find, catch, rescue, etc. Of course they would have to prove you got it from the wild. Since RES are captive-bred and found in the wild, I don't know how they would do that. The bunnies would be a different story, you don't see the backyard kind ( I don't know the scientific name for them..) being purposely bred by humans-not like they need any help with that! ;)

I think if you just acted like you got your guys/gals from some source other than outside, you'd be fine. You are obviously willing and able to take care of them! I'm sure they'd lead a happy life with you, I can tell they've won you over with their charm... :D


Someone told me I would need to have a receipt to prove that they were "purchased?" That one vet office that I spoke to first seemed to make it sound like they would take RES turtles away from anybody regardless! I will definitely not go near that place with my babies. [:no]

Thanks for the info on the bunnies, I didn't know there were different species. :rabbit:
I have been more of a cat person the last part of my life, so maybe I should have used the example of feral cats being rescued. I actually have one that was saved from a feral colony by a rescue group. No argument was made about taking her from the original surroundings! And I am 100% certain that she doesn't want to go back! Another cat that was a stray male I took in, won't go anywhere near an outside door now. If I tried to make him go outside he would freak out on me! I can't help believing that my turtles already love their home and family and will feel the same way in the years to come.

#14 cervoned1

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Posted 20 June 2009 - 03:32 PM

Just an update for all of the great turtle folks who have responded! I think I may have found a way to get around my problem and be able to get vet care for my babies when they need it. [:secret]

I am not going to actually give out any real names or actual places, for obvious reasons ... But here is the general solution that I came up with and I hope it will work out for me. I found a good and highly recommended Herp vet who will treat red eared sliders as long as they were not taken from the wild. If a person has a receipt for their turtles showing that they were purchased from another state, then there is no problem. So, I found a seller that is in another state that does sell and ship red slider hatchlings and could ship two to me in Tennessee. Now I really don't want any more RES turtles right now since I have read that they often prefer to be the "only turtle." These two I have are most likely brothers and they seem to be bonded and get along great together, at least right now. So I got an idea! [<img src=]' />

After explaining my whole situation to them, they agreed to let me purchase two turtles just like mine from them, but just not ship me any turtles. That way I have purchased two turtles and I own two turtles! I will have a receipt to show the vet when I take my turtles in for any treatment. And, even though it was my request to just pay them for two turtles so that I could have a legitimate receipt, they were so kind as to tell me that I could order supplies from them in the future and they would give me a credit for the amount I paid towards my next purchase. [:dance] WOW!

I won't really know the outcome until I have to take Leo or Mikey for a vet visit, which hopefully they will stay good and healthy so that they won't need it any time soon. But at least I think I will be able to get vet care for them after all! I have always been a very responsible pet mommy to my dogs and cats and I wanted to be able to do just as much for my new turtle babies.

Thanks again for every one of the great responses and all of the encouragement. I just love this site for all of the great turtle information I have been getting! I will keep posting updates on my babies as they grow. [:turtle] [:turtle]

#15 frankiesue71

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Posted 20 June 2009 - 07:13 PM

That's awesome that you found a solution, and also that the herp breeder is willing to work with you! I think Leo and Mikey have long happy lives ahead... [:dance] [:cool]

I have rescue dogs and shelter cats, so I totally understand what you mean. It's very sad the way a lot of peoplke seem to think pets are disposable novelties......

#16 TurtleHugz

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Posted 20 June 2009 - 07:39 PM

I am so happy you found a solution! Those two just look so happy and you're such a great turtle mommy already it would be a travesty and horror for them to have to be replaced in the wild where they would likely not survive.

#17 fluffie

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Posted 21 June 2009 - 03:32 AM

Im glad u found away around it and im sure they will live long and happy lives.
wild rabbits and domesticated rabbits are very difrent this is a wild rabbit they can grow very big.
Posted Image
But domesticated rabbit are bred to be house traind and difrent sizes like lop ears giants mini lops rexes
Heres my mini lop shes said to be mini lop buy i think she might be a dwarf lop shes a big girl
Posted Image

#18 cervoned1

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Posted 21 June 2009 - 06:50 AM

Im glad u found away around it and im sure they will live long and happy lives.
wild rabbits and domesticated rabbits are very difrent this is a wild rabbit they can grow very big.
Posted Image
But domesticated rabbit are bred to be house traind and difrent sizes like lop ears giants mini lops rexes
Heres my mini lop shes said to be mini lop buy i think she might be a dwarf lop shes a big girl
Posted Image


Wow, what a beautiful rabbit! Thanks for the photos.

The top one is definitely the type that live in my yard! My cats love to watch them through the windows and glass doors.

#19 Samsonite

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Posted 21 June 2009 - 08:46 AM

What a helpful breeder! I'm happy you found a solution! They have an amazing home, an owner with baby RES who does not have them in the bowl-of-death, and has ponds in mind for their future! :D

The state laws on reptiles (and some pet parrots too), can be so confusing. Its so difficult to navigate the govt websites and find out whats allowed always, with permits, never... and you have to hope to find it in english too, not in "legal".
I hope some day someone makes a nice chart or list laying out common species and the rules for various states!

ps, I just noticed, but your little avatar pic makes it look like the turtle is surfing on the cuttlebone!

Edited by Samsonite, 21 June 2009 - 08:47 AM.


#20 cervoned1

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Posted 21 June 2009 - 09:04 AM

ps, I just noticed, but your little avatar pic makes it look like the turtle is surfing on the cuttlebone!


YES! Actually that is intentional! He is named Mikey after Michaelangelo of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Mike is the "surfer dude" type. When I saw him sitting on the turtle bone, that is exactly what it made me think of so I had to take a photo. I tried to get a video of it but the camera must have scared him and he wouldn't stay on very long! Cowabunga! [:bruce]

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Edited by cervoned1, 21 June 2009 - 09:24 AM.





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