Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Saving turtles has become a lifelong passion – via Herp Digest

By Patricia Kochel, Ventura County Star, December 15, 2012 

Meet Dave Friend. He and his wife, Maree, share their 12-acre property in Ojai with six dogs, four horses, one donkey, 12 peacocks and 200 turtles, weighing 2 ounces to more than 200 pounds.

Dave's love of turtles began in Missouri where box turtles are native. His grandmother, who helped raise him, taught him to respect nature so when he brought home a turtle, she let him keep it for a few days but insisted he then return it to the exact spot he found it. Then he'd find another.

At 17, he left home to find adventure. He had read Zane Grey and knew about the Oregon Trail, so that's where he went. He had little money and no job. He read in a Portland newspaper that pickers were wanted for work. He showed up and picked green beans — 25 cents for every five-gallon bucket — for two weeks.

He then again moved on, finding a job at Montgomery Ward, but because he hadn't yet graduated from high school, he needed a work permit from Missouri. His mother helped him get it.

While working at Montgomery Ward, he heard fellow employees talk about surfing trips to Southern California. California sounded "like a different planet," Dave said. He had to go. So he saved the money.

Two years after graduating from high school, he was in Huntington Park. He answered a help-wanted ad in the local newspaper for a job at a Dunn-Edwards paint store. He worked in their collections department for three years.

He loved California. "I felt a freedom I had never experienced. When I stood on the beach, it seemed as if the whole world was in front of me," he said.

On a Fourth of July weekend, he camped with friends at Lake Cachuma. In the next campsite, there was a "nice looking woman," Dave said, adding he decided to visit her while his friends fished. She lived in Ventura. He took a liking to Ventura's "beautiful beaches and hills," so when they got married they moved here.

Dave worked at various jobs. "Whenever I got bored at a job, I found another that was more challenging," he said.

He and Maree often visited friends and family in Missouri. They picked up damaged box turtles along the road. "So many get hit on the highway. We'd stop for the ones still moving, " he said.

They brought them home to heal. They started to meet people who raised turtles and eventually they began attending a turtle club at the Santa Barbara Humane Society. The two began to acquire more exotic turtles.

Finally, they joined the California Turtle and Tortoise Club, which has chapters all over the state. Dave is presently the executive chairman for the CTTC.

In 1996, while out on a Sunday drive they saw a for-sale sign off Creek Road. They drove in and, according to Dave, "It had everything we'd been looking for" so they bought it. Once they had the space, more animals showed up.

All his animals are rescued. Dave formed a corporation, Ojai Sulcata Project, Inc., "so I can ask for donations and do more for these animals," he said.

When asked what attracts him to turtles, he replied: "They have personality. They're curious."

His fascination with turtles has opened up new and different opportunities.

He has traveled to South Africa, Costa Rica and has met with Peter Pritchard and Ernst Baard, both "icons in the turtle world, " he said.

In viewing his mammoth turtle collection, I was amazed at the love and attention he and Maree give to these strange creatures from prehistoric times.

Talking to Dave certainly opened up a different opportunity for me: the turtle world.

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