Community editor and columnist Kris Capps is a longtime resident of Fairbanks and Denali Park. Contact her at kcapps@newsminer.com, in the office at 459-7546 or by cell at 322-6334. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMKris.

There is a haven in Healy for rescued turtles and tortoises. They even have a room of their own at the Jusczak home.

Vanessa Jusczak is director of the Denali Chamber of Commerce, a basketball coach and a referee. She also is a lover of turtles and tortoises.

“It started when I was little,” the mother of three said. “I just loved them. I thought they were pretty fascinating.”

About 12 years ago, she got her first turtle, from a teacher who was retiring and leaving town. Several years later, she actually bought a tortoise and put it in the same enclosure as the turtle. To her surprise, the turtle’s personality completely changed.

“All of a sudden it was eating things it never ate, engaging with the tortoise,” she said. “From there, we got another tortoise. With each one, I realized I should try when possible to have at least two of the same species, just for the turtles’ sake.”

“It has really been amazing to see how their personalities come out around other turtles,” she added.

Each turtle or tortoise has its own personality and favorite spots and prefers different favorite foods.

“They are definitely all their own individuals, just like people,” Jusczak said. “There are lazy ones, content to eat and never move. Della’s personal mission is to escape and go on walks every day if she can.”

Almost all of the turtles/tortoises were rescued from neglectful or dangerous situations.

Jusczak once rescued a female box turtle who turned out to be a male. When she added him to the group, he came to life, chasing everywhere, making vocalizations she hadn’t heard before and trying to mate.

Shelleyette, who is more than 40 years old, was rescued from an animal shelter. The previous owner had drilled a hole in her shell, perhaps to install a tether. She also lost her tail due to incorrect lighting.

“The lighting actually burnt her tail off,” Jusczak said. “The lighting is super important for them.”

Her latest acquisition is a turtle she named Shrimpy, rescued from a home in Wasilla. Shrimpy has metabolic bone disease. His shell is malformed and half the size of the other two turtles of the same species. She trimmed his nails, normally worn down naturally in a proper habitat, and a veterinarian trimmed his overgrown beak. That’s when she discovered his lower jaw is deformed due to the bone disease. Eating has probably always been difficult for him.

“It will take years to get him in a healthy spot again,” she said. “But at least now he is in a better situation and has some buddies. It will be a happier life.”

The 10 turtles live in three 4-by-4-foot enclosures in a room of their own. They eat a mixture of fresh greens, live worms, boiled eggs, boiled chicken, fruits and vegetables.

They include three red-foot tortoises named 10, Teeny and Horatio; Hermann tortoises Della and Herbie; Russian tortoise Boris; Asian box turtle Shelton; and three-toed box turtles Romeo, Shelleyette and Shrimpy.

Tortoises have rounded, domed shells and spend most of their time on land. Turtles have thinner, more water-dynamic shells, streamlined to aid in swimming.

Watching the turtles and tortoises every day is better than watching television, she said, adding, “I find them very entertaining.”

“We all sit there and watch them,” Jusczak said. Her family includes her husband, three children, a gecko, two dogs and four cats.

“We keep saying, ‘No more,’” she said. “Then somebody calls and says, ‘We’re bringing you a turtle.’”

Reach columnist/community editor Kris Capps at kcapps@newsminer.com. Follow her on Twitter @FDNMKris.

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