A local veterinarian has expanded her practice to include turtle triage.
Jacquie Pankatz has been a veterinarian for 21 years, including 18 years as the owner of Mountain Vista Veterinary Hospital. She grew up in Collingwood, attending Connaught school and Collingwood Collegiate Institute then the Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph.
Veterinarian medicine was something she was always interested in, and as a clinic owner, she has sought out ways to do more in the community. She has been supportive of the Georgian Triangle Humane Society since its creation, even penning a letter to council to outline the need in the community for an animal rescue service in town.
Her latest community outreach continues in the vein of animal rescue, but of the cold-blooded variety.
Mountain Vista Veterinary Hospital is now a Turtle Trauma Intake Centre operating on the front lines to save and patch up turtles injured in the area.
Veterinarian Jacquie Pankatz received training from the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre on some basics for taping and gluing turtle shells back together and preparing them for rehabilitation at the centre, or stabilizing them until they can get to the Centre in Peterborough. The Mountain Vista team is also able to give the turtles some pain medication while they are waiting for transport to Peterborough.
“I think it’s great to be able to use our skills to help out the conservation effort,” said Pankatz. “Everybody here is kind of excited … It’s nice to do something a bit different.”
The idea of rescuing turtles came from one of Pankatz’s veterinary technicians who had previously worked in wildlife rehabilitation. From there, Pankatz connected with the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre in Peterborough, and found out they were looking for an intake clinic for wild turtles that are injured.
They received training from a veterinarian specializing in turtles and now have a stockpile of medicine and supplies. Pankatz has found it interesting to learn about the strength and ability of a turtle to survive.
“If you see a turtle on the side of road that looks dead, they usually aren’t,” said Pankatz, adding their shells can be shattered, but their internal organs intact. “In females, even after death, we can sometimes save the eggs … the Conservation Centre will hatch the eggs.”
There are eight turtle species native to Ontario, seven of which are considered at-risk. Further decrease in the population could push them to the endangered list.
Vehicle traffic does cause a lot of death and damage to local turtle population, but a turtle’s shell is strong, and does a good job at protecting the internal organs of a turtle or the eggs in a female. A shell will also grow back even after serious trauma. At Mountain Vista, Pankatz and her team will use glue and tape to patch up a shell. At the Conservation Centre the specialist can also use wire in more severe cases. Some turtles spend up to a year in rehabilitation and then are released in the same area where they were originally found injured.
“It’s actually amazing, they are tough creatures,” said Pankatz. “I think it’s worth saving them.”
If you see an injured turtle, or one you think has died, you can bring it to Mountain Vista Veterinary Hospital. Pick up a turtle by its shell, if it is a snapping turtle, take care to only handle it from the middle to the back of the shell. Never pick up a turtle by its tail.
It’s best to put the turtle in a box or bin. You can put a towel over the turtle before you pick it up. Gloves will also help protect you from any bacteria found on the turtle. There is no fee for bringing an injured turtle to a Turtle Trauma Intake Centre.
For more information on the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre, click here.