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Turtle and tortoise club is a hub of information for pet owners and enthusiasts

They don’t tend to show overt affection, they don’t need to be fed every day in order to survive and some of them disappear for several months and aren’t seen again until spring.

For all the myths to dispel and fun facts to learn about these reptiles, the Orange County Chapter of the California Turtle and Tortoise Club is at the people’s service.

Each month, the chapter gathers at its meeting location at 146 N. Grand St., Orange, near The First Presbyterian Church.

During the year, a majority of the group’s meetings will feature speakers who share their expertise on the specific animal.

“Some people turn to the Internet or YouTube for info, but there’s a lot of conflicting information and no way to verify the legitimacy of things,” chapter President John Kim said. “With the speakers, we like to bring people in who are cutting edge and involved with the animals, like PhDs or biologists. I see a huge benefit in that because with any science, the information evolves over time.”

The California Turtle and Tortoise Club has 15 chapters throughout the state.

The organization started more than 50 years ago with a single chapter in Los Angeles County and later branched out to more groups as turtles and tortoises gained popularity among pet owners, according to the club’s chief executive officer Abigail DeSesa.

“Our big concentration is education,” DeSesa said of the club. “You can’t have preservation without education.”

Orange County Chapter members said the club is a useful resource for turtle and tortoise owners since the type of care needed for the reptiles differs from species to species.

“There are some that don’t sleep in the winter and others that have a meat-eating diet,” DeSesa said. “But overall, they don’t bark and they don’t bite so your neighbors will love them.”

Club member Mark Szatkowski became an owner of Russian tortoises — a smaller-sized species that DeSesa said is good for beginners — after discovering a turtle in the backyard of his Huntington Beach home.

“We had bought the house in February and began doing some work on it in March when it was warming up,” Szatkowski said, referring to the season when turtles come out of brumation, a period where they’ve been fed heavily and self-regulate their temperature during the winter. “[The turtle] came out staring at me, probably looking for food, and it’s been there ever since.”

Szatkowski — who’s been involved in his chapter for around 10 years — now has a specialty of collecting Hermann tortoises and the shell-spotted leopard tortoises.

The more expensive end for collectors can include tortoises with more colors and patterns on the shells.

“The people who go to the club are really in tune to these pets and the care they need because what works for one may not work for the other,” Szatkowski said. “Everybody says the Internet is a resource, but there are so many contradicting statements on there.”

Besides trading tips on caregiving, the chapter also accepts adoptions of turtles and tortoises given to them by owners who no longer can care for the reptiles.

According to DeSesa, the club receives more requests for help to turn in the animals than adoptions.

“We do have foster homes in the state, but they’re overflowing,” DeSesa said. “Different things happen. Either people move out of state and can’t take them or they thought they knew what they were doing but then didn’t have the time or they’re seniors who are passing on or moving into retirement homes and can’t keep the tortoises because they do outlive you.”

In spring of 2018, the Orange County Chapter plans to participate in the Pet Expo at the OC Fair & Event Center, 88 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa, where they will have adoption applications.

“For the most part, they’re low maintenance and they’re very interesting animals,” Kim said. “They’re hypoallergenic, they’re smart and they’re social with people.”

For more information about the California Turtle and Tortoise Club chapters and adoptions, visit tortoise.org.

Alexandra.Chan@latimes.com

Twitter: @AlexandraChan10


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