Don’t try to teach a turtle tricks

I got Smokey at Woolworths.

Woolworths was an awesome department store downtown, across from Hayhoe’s Plumbing, and it’s where I spent my allowance on the first 45 record (look it up, kids!) I ever bought: Love Me Do by The Beatles.

I can still see that cool orange and yellow Capital Records logo swirling around on my sister’s suitcase record player.

Also, I loved to go to Woolworths on account of they had those tubes that started at the tills and ran up to the ceiling, and all the way across the huge store and into another room.

The cashiers would load a bunch of cash in a small cylinder and shove it in the tube, and whoosh, it would be sucked up into the tube and be blasted next door, where presumably a gang of accountants with green visors would be hunched around a table counting the moola.

So that was a bonus. I always wanted to put something in that tube – you know, a tomato or a small animal, and run to the other end, but for some reason, I never got the chance.

But speaking of small animals, as I may have mentioned, Woolworths was where I got Smokey.

Smokey was a turtle, about the size of a tin of Altoids, and when you turned him over, his underside was a nice blue pattern. I named him after my cousin (Smokey), though to this day, I’m not sure why.

If you don’t count goldfish and my dog Bim, that turtle was my first very-own pet.

Smokey didn’t do much, and he did it very slowly, but I liked him a lot, and we had many good conversations. I even thought (briefly) about trying to train him to do tricks, but I soon gave that idea up when I couldn’t think of any tricks a turtle could do.

And speaking of trained animals, I noticed recently that a rat was awarded a medal. Awkward segue aside, I was fascinated to read that Magawa, an African giant pouched rat, just won Britain’s highest animal honour.

Magawa is a sniffer, and one of the best. He sniffs out explosives in Cambodia, where there are many dangerous land mines.

In fact, in four years, the reliable rat has found 67 items of unexploded ordinance, saving many lives.

Magawa is a big, honking rat, about half the size of a large cat. He and many other rats are trained to scurry along the field and stop and scratch the ground when they smell something explosive.

And I know what you’re thinking: how many rats do they go through in any given week of explosions? But here’s the thing: Magawa and the rest of the rats are not heavy enough to trigger the land mines.

And he works for peanuts. Well, actually, he works for bananas. That’s his special treat.

And now Magawa the Hero Rat proudly wears a shiny little medal on his bomb-sniffing harness.

All of which reminded me of Smokey.

I’m not sure why a bomb-sniffing rat reminded me of my pet turtle, except maybe the dubious notion of training other animals (like turtles, for example) to detect land mines. Or drugs. Or smuggled bananas, for example.

Dogs do it all the time; cats are much too precious to bother doing something honourable. But new research shows that fruit flies, of all things, have the ability to detect bombs and drugs.

And I didn’t even think that fruit flies had noses.

As for Smokey, turtles, at least small ones from department stores, don’t live very long.

I personally buried him out in our backyard in Parkvale; in the perfect place, safe and sound from sniffing animals.

Harley Hay is a Red Deer author and filmmaker.

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