NHARL Liberates Snapping Turtle After 24 Years in a Fish Tank

Imagine spending your entire life in solitary confinement, unable to move farther than a few feet in any direction, and never able see another member of your own species.

This was the bleak existence for a “pet” snapping turtle named Shelly who lived in a fish tank in Tilton, NH for 24 years.

Imagining what that turtle’s life must be like kept members of the NH Animal Rights League, and an outraged woman named Hillarie Goldstein, awake at night.

How Could This happen?

Shelly the turtle was taken from the wild as a hatchling by well-meaning but uninformed people who saw her attempting to cross a busy downtown intersection. Although their intentions were good, they made the mistake of keeping the turtle far beyond the time when she could have been safely released back into the wild.

In New Hampshire, it is perfectly legal to take a snapping turtle out of the wild and make it a pet. In fact, you are allowed to take up to two.

This surprises most people, who reasonably assume that taking an animal out of the wild and keeping it captive is illegal.

Turns out there are some animals you can take from the wild, and some that you can’t. Having exclusive control over all captive and noncaptive wildlife in the state, The NH Fish and Game Department makes the rules.

Shelly the turtle a few months before she was liberated

Wildlife Possession Laws in NH

Below is a glimpse into laws surrounding possession of wildlife species occurring in New Hampshire. See the NH Fish and Game Department for a complete list.

Species that cannot be possessed

Any animal classified as threatened, endangered, or of special concern at the federal or state level (e.g., Blanding’s turtles and Eastern hognose snakes).

Note: Although the average person cannot possess these animals, exhibitors can with a permit. 

Species that Can Be Possessed
  • Up to 5 of 13 different listed amphibians, such as spring peepers and red-spotted newts.
  • Up to 2 of 9 different listed reptiles, such as snapping turtles and ring-necked snakes.
Note: To protect breeding females, only snapping turtles of a certain size can be taken, and no indigenous turtle can be taken from May 15 to July 15.

In spite of laws allowing limited possession of these species, the NH Fish & Game Department encourages people to “leave wildlife wild,” adding that, “Populations of some species, especially turtles, can be adversely affected by the removal of a small number of individuals.”

Life in a Tank

The people who took Shelly home became more and more attached to her as time passed. She also became somewhat of an “attraction,” as she was on display in the lobby of the family’s used auto parts store.

As Shelly grew, successively larger fish tanks were purchased each time she outgrew one. But no matter how big the tank, her living conditions bore no resemblance to a natural snapping turtle habitat.

For one, snapping turtles like to be hidden and will dig themselves into the mud. They can also stay out of water for up to two weeks and move surprisingly fast on land.

snapping turtle
Example of a snapping turtle’s natural habitat

Someone Speaks Up

In 2016, Hillarie Goldstein visited the auto parts shop where Shelly was kept and was shocked by her captivity and living conditions. She expressed her concern to the owners, but they believed that they were taking good care of the turtle.

Hillarie also contacted the NH Fish and Game Department, assuming that what she had witnessed must be breaking some law or rule. Cursory welfare checks were performed, and it was determined that the turtle was not being mistreated.

But Hillarie was not deterred. She wrote a letter to the editor and got press coverage in local newspapers.

Despite the publicity, nothing changed for Shelly the turtle.

Press Coverage of Shelly the Turtle

Shelly the turtle a few months before she was liberated

NH Animal Rights League Gets Involved

Still unwilling to give up trying to help Shelly, Hillarie contacted the NH Animal Rights League.

NHARL got involved immediately but ran into the same roadblocks: no laws were being broken, and the owners did not want to give up the turtle.

Nevertheless, NHARL continued to try and convince the owners that Shelly would be better off elsewhere, while at the same time searching for an appropriate home. Being large and long-lived, snapping turtles are difficult to place.

Releasing Shelly back into the wild was not an option. Even if she were able to adapt to the elements and find food, not having built up a resistance to disease and parasites meant she would likely perish. 

A ChAnge of Heart

Years passed and the situation seemed hopeless. Then a new NHARL board member picked up the fight. In approaching Shelly’s captor, she found that he’d had a change of heart and now realized the turtle would be better off elsewhere.

With renewed purpose, NHARL contacted every obvious potential home in NH; then expanded the search to surrounding states.

A promising option at a Vermont farm sanctuary with a pond fell through at the last minute, due to that state’s stricter possession laws.

Then NHARL found the Turtle Rescue League, a licensed native turtle rehabilitation clinic in Southbridge, MA, co-founded by Alexxia Bell and Natasha Nowick.

A friend of NHARL poses in front of the Turtle Rescue League ambulance

The Turtle Rescue League agreed to take Shelly as a permanent resident, and NHARL agreed to provide the funding needed to build her a habitat.

A date was picked to make the transfer!

Liberation Day

On a beautiful September morning, NHARL board member Joan O’Brien met Alexxia Bell and Natasha Nowick of the Turtle Rescue League at the used auto parts store in Tilton, NH where Shelly had spent her first 24 years.

Board member Linda Dionne would be on the other end in Massachusetts to witness the turtle’s arrival at her new home.

The photos below document the events of the day.

Note that Shelly was given a new name that day, as is typical; otherwise, the Turtle Rescue League would have hundreds of turtles named “Shelly.”  

Settling in to Her new home

These photos of Miękki (previously named Shelly) were taken on October 1, 2021 during an outdoor exercise session.

Her shell turns up at the bottom, when it should be rounded, because her diet was deficient in calcium. Lacking wild vegetation or other good sources of calcium, her body was forced to take the calcium it needed from her shell.

As you can see, Miękki still has some weight to lose.  🙂

NHARL at Pope Memorial

Speaking Up for Farmed Animals at the Walk for the Animals

On Sep 19, New Hampshire Animal Rights League was on site at the Pope Memorial SPCA’s Walk for the Animals, a fundraiser including a 1-mile and 3-mile walk.

Surrounded by dogs, we spread the message that farmed animals are really no different from our companion animals. Cows and pigs are just as capable of feeling pain, grief, and joy — and they also want to run and play!

NHARL at Pope Memorial
Volunteer Caelin Graber chats with former state representative Richard Ames

We displayed the following posters, to convey “Why love one and eat the other?”

Poster re-created for NHARL by Holley Ackerson with permission from the artist, Drewby

Along with giving out information about all the good reasons to eat plants, not animals, we handed out WHIMZEES vegetable-based dental chews.

WHIMZEES come in different fun shapes, including an alligator. As we explained to one family that the chews were not made from animals, their little boy remarked, “But it’s an alligator.”  🙂

Delicious Afternoon at Vegan Fall Market

New Hampshire Animal Rights League was on site at the This Stop Is Willoughby fall mini market on Sunday, Sep 12 in downtown Dover, NH (home of Roots vegan cafe and CAKE. vegan bakery).

We met many vegans, and people moving in that direction, and spread the word about the work we do. Lots of visitors entered to win the Halloween baking raffle prize, signed up for our mailing list, and expressed interest in getting more involved.

There were Lovebird Donuts and ice cream from Like No Udder at the market—plus Camberville Dog Treats at our booth—so no one went hungry!

We’ll be back again on Oct. 17, in costume for Halloween!

Successful Booth at Market Days Festival 2021

New Hampshire Animal Rights League is thrilled to share the news of our highly successful outreach efforts at the Market Days Festival in downtown Concord, NH.

During this three-day event (August 19-21), we spread the word about the work we do for all animals with a focus on promoting a vegan lifestyle.

Being situated next to the Col’s Kitchen tent made our mission all the easier, as Col’s plant-based eatery was grilling up delicious vegan burgers all weekend!


  • Gathered more than 150 new names for our mailing list.
  • Made meaningful connections with hundreds of people who care about animals.
  • Gave out postcards with our top tips for going vegan.
  • Offered discounted memberships.
  • Lured festival-goers with a chance to win a Ninja Professional 1000-Watt blender (useful for vegan cooking!).
  • Got interviewed by Concord TV!

Goodie Bags

We also handed out close to 200 “goodie” bags containing vegan literature (sampling below), stickers, and vegan cookies from Lenny and Larry’s and Divvie’s.

Eye-Opening Video

We enticed more than 100 people to watch the following 1-minute video from Animal Outlook about “Humanewashing”— those deceptive marketing tactics designed to make us think that meat, egg, and dairy companies care about the welfare of farmed animals.

Those who watched the video received a free can of vegan cold brew coffee from RISE Brewing Co. along with some conversation about what they had seen.

Veganism is on the Rise

To our delight we met many people who were already vegan — such as “Angel” pictured below. Looks like Angel is getting enough protein…

Thank you to all our supporters and to everyone who stopped by to learn about the immense suffering of farmed animals.

Together, we will bring it to an end.

July 2021 Newsletter

In our July 2021 Newsletter, we are excited to announce our plans for getting back out into the community to spread the animal rights message. Our first post-pandemic event will be tabling at the Concord Market Days Festival, and there are still a few volunteer slots to fill.

On the social side, we are delighted to be holding our popular annual summer picnic again in August. This is a great opportunity to re-connect with old friends and perhaps make some new ones!

This issue also includes a delicious summer picnic pasta salad recipe and a list of places to get vegan ice cream in NH.

Lastly, we are thrilled to bring you an interview with former board member Peter Marsh about his work for animals and the release  of his new book.

March 2021 Newsletter

The March 2021 Newsletter for the New Hampshire Animal Rights Group is now available.

We hope that you enjoy this latest edition of our newsletter. We hit the ground running in 2021, beginning with our online vegan cooking demo series in January (a.k.a. “Veganuary”). Read all about this initiative and the other ways we are promoting animal-free eating and supporting local vegan businesses.

We have also expanded some of our most successful ongoing programs, including our free No Hunting signs and Living with Beavers grant program.

Lastly, please note that 2021 is an election year for our board of directors. Be on the look-out for the nomination ballots in the coming months. If you’ve been thinking about how you could get more involved helping animals, consider joining our board!

November 2020 Newsletter

The November 2020 Newsletter for the New Hampshire Animal Rights Group is now available.

We hope that you enjoy this expanded holiday edition. Join us for some exciting upcoming events, including our first ever virtual annual meeting on November 21st and online cooking demo with Carrie from Joyfull Eats!

Learn about our ongoing programs like our matching beaver grant and recently added “Send Someone a Compassion Pack.”

Don’t forget to check out the Vegan Holiday Table on the last page!

Tabling at New England Dog Expo

NHARL had a busy and productive day tabling at the New England Dog Expo hosted by Good Mojo University in Milford. We promoted our advocacy work and spotlighted the benefits of a vegan diet — both for people and for dogs. We had many good conversations and handed out a lot of vegan dog treats and vegan “people treats.” On top of that, we got 14 new names for our mailing list and collected some cash donations for NHARL.

Special thanks to Camberville Dog Treats, V-Dog, and Bobo’s bakery for donating the treats, and to Good Mojo University for inviting us.

Continue reading “Tabling at New England Dog Expo”