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So, now what do we do with all of the turtles? - Glen Jacobsen, Attorney at Law
Copyright © 2003 World Chelonian Trust. All rights reserved.
Most of us that keep turtles and tortoises realize that if we do our jobs properly, our charges have excellent prospects of outliving us. Even those of you that are in your 20's and 30's, much less all of us 'old folks'. We tell our families, we brag to our friends and co-workers, we even know some longevity stories about the 120-year old box turtle, among others.
But how many of us have actually made real plans for our charges? What would happen if you were to die tomorrow, instead of in the anticipated 20 or 30 or 40 years? What would happen if your whole family should die together, in the same tragedy?
Would the executor of your estate know what plans you had made for the turtles?
For most of us, the answer is that we have not made suitable plans or arrangements for the continued care and well being of our animals if we were to suddenly and unexpectedly pass away. As an attorney, I have assisted a number of people in the preparation of a will and most, if not all, have not thought about what would happen to the dog, or cat, or the other non-human family members. It is generally assumed that if no one in the family wanted them, then they would just go to the pound, or down the toilet. The pound is not an option for most, if not all, reptiles. That includes your beloved turtles and tortoises, and neither is the toilet.
Most pounds will not accept reptiles. They do not have the space, facilities or staff expertise to properly care for them. Those that do are often not capable of taking in more than a few animals at a time, and I doubt if the placement rates are good. What can you do?
Make a list of all of your animals. Identify each one by picture, PIT tag, plastral scan or other definite mark. Keep the list up to date. Remove an animal if you sell it, give it away or it dies. Add new acquisitions and births to your list. Update the pictures or scans as the young ones grow. A videotape can make a good record. Narrate the identification and show the animal from a number of angles.
Find out if there is a herpetological society in your area. If there is, do they have an adoption program? If they do, get their contact name, address and phone numbers.
Do you have rare or unusual species? Is there a studbook for them? Are there breeding programs, either at zoos or in the private sector? Find out now if there is a need or desire for your animals to join such a program and get their contact name, address and phone numbers.
Are you aware of other people in your area that would be interested in some, or all, of your collection? Get their name, address and phone numbers.
Do you want your animals to be sold to the highest bidder? Are there people that you would not want to own your animals, at any price? Should they just go to the local pet store to be re-sold? Perhaps sold to the kid down the block, the one that likes to glue firecrackers to turtles? Just kidding, I hope.
Now that you have thought about some of these questions it is time to actually do something about them. It is not enough for you to make private agreements with the other breeders, your executor doesn't know anything about those agreements, and may want to take other, easier actions. And he can, as your won't be there to say otherwise, will you?
The mechanism by which your wishes are carried out after your death is called a will. There are specific legal requirements for a will to be valid. These requirements vary from state to state, so I will not go into specifics here. Please consult an attorney in the state in which you reside and ask for assistance in preparing a will. When you visit with that attorney to have your will prepared, take with you a copy of the current and up to date list of animals. If you are making a video, tell the attorney about it so it will be mentioned. Keep the video with your important papers so that it can be found quickly. Also take the list of the names, addresses and phone numbers that you have gathered. If you want animal A-1 to go to Aunt Dolly, say so. But you should also have a back-up in case Aunt Dolly doesn't want it, or can't take it, when the executor calls to say she should pick it up. She might be in a nursing home and can't take it just now. So make a second choice, and a third, and perhaps a fourth. Someplace in that list should be the local society adoption program, if there is one. If not, then you can list organizations like the World Chelonian Trust (www.chelonia.org), Turtle Homes (www.turtlehomes.org)or the Turtle Survival Alliance (www.turtlesurvival.org) as a last resort to know that your animals will be placed in good, caring homes that will love and care for them as you did. It might also be a good time to make a bequest to those organizations, so that they will be able to continue to be there for the next family as well.
The sudden and unexpected loss of family members is a tragic and grief-filled time. It is not a time when those family members should be asking themselves "So now what do we do with all of the turtles?" The more you can do now to make sure of the continuing care for your animals, the less pressure your family will be under in the event that something does happen to you. Don't you owe it to them, all of them?
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