‘Thelma’ and ‘Louise’: Pet turtles missing near Pine Grove Mills

mcarroll@centredaily.comJuly 11, 2013 

— Thelma and Louise are on the run somewhere in Centre County — just not very fast.

After all, they are turtles.

And unlike the title characters from the classic ’90s film, who were chased by the law, this pair is being sought by Jackie Gibbins.

Simply cold-blooded reptiles to some, these turtles have been part of Gibbins’ family for the past 30 years.

But about two weeks ago, the red-eared sliders went missing under perhaps mysterious circumstances from the pond outside her Pine Grove Mills home. Now Gibbins just wants her family pets back.

“I thought once they went missing, I was going to go back there and they’d be back in,” she said. “I thought it was just a bad joke. It hasn’t panned out that way.”

Gibbins believes the animals were taken from their summer habitat behind her home on separate occasions within a week. Louise, the bigger of the pair, disappeared in late June, the day after a severe storm flooded much of the area.

Just days after, Thelma was gone, too. While in theory the turtles can climb over the fencing that surrounds their pond, Gibbins said they have never escaped before. Having two disappear within days sent off red flags.

One of the turtles, likely Thelma, was seen after its disappearance some distance from her home near state Route 45, leading Gibbins to believe that if someone took the turtles, the animals have since been set free.

“I think they’ve been released,” she said. “They realized, uh-oh, someone actually cared about these turtles, and released them.”

That could be bad news for Thelma and Louise, which are native to a much warmer climate. Gibbins said the waters of nearby Spring Creek are far too cold for the creatures, and could send their bodies into a hibernation-like state.

Gibbins and her husband have searched the creek, wading in cold waters until their feet were numb. They have also sought out neighbors and taken to Craigslist and Facebook as the search continues.

“Part of me says it doesn’t matter how they went missing,” she said. “Just get them back to me.”

Gibbins adopted the animals several years ago from her parents, who could no longer look after the animals properly. While the turtles’ names have changed over the years, they have cemented themselves as part of the family.

“I sort of felt bad for (the turtles) so I scooped them up and brought them here,” she said. “I constructed a pond so they would have a better life toward the end. They only live to be 35 or 40. They are in their golden years.”

Gibbins said the animals, not regarded as ideal pets by all, actually have unique personalities. Thelma was always scooting around, swimming through her pond. Louise was more stoic.

“I know they aren’t warm and cuddly,” she said.

While Gibbins will continue the search for her lost pets, she won’t let their disappearance stop her from helping other animals. The woman still has three turtles and is considering taking an injured animal in from a wildlife refuge.

“It sucks, but I’m going to keep looking,” she said. “A little bit of sliver lining is that other turtle. We’ll take care of her.”

Matt Carroll can be reached at 231-4631. Follow him on Twitter @Carrollreporter.

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