About The Box Turtle Sanctuary

The Box Turtle Sanctuary of Central Virginia happened out of necessity.

Box Turtles close up their shell and wait out the danger.

Hi, My name is Shelley, I am the one that will make any driver of a vehicle that I am in STOP if there is a turtle in the road.

I have been known to stop traffic on busy streets to rescue a big ole snapper, and I have dodged cars as I skirt between them to snatch up a Spotted Turtle or an Eastern Painted Turtle as they scurry in busy intersections looking for the way home.

But since a small child, I have always had a particular fondness for the Eastern Box Turtle and their unassuming way of closing up their shell to wait out the danger.

Trees are not the only things destroyed when logging takes place.

My move to rural Virginia over 30 years ago, brought Box Turtles back into my life with regular “moving them across the road”.  At the time, it seemed that the woods that lined the roads in western Hanover County would always be there. Eventually my eyes were opened to the logging and home building along with the farming, that was constantly eating up the native environment, and then, the golf courses and communities were built, effectively segmenting any remaining habitat.

So many of the Box Turtles that I helped across roads have met their demise with the increased traffic that came with the development and the loss of habitat.  Box Turtles, you see, are not easily relocated. They learn their habitat as they mature in their environment, and over the years they depend on and learn where native fruit like black berries are located. Box Turtles will return to the same water hole and hibernate in the same spot. Female Box Turtles will even return to the same location every year to lay her eggs. Once their habitat is destroyed, the turtle is lost and survival is solely buy chance.

To truly appreciate the Eastern Box Turtle it is important to recognize that turtles have been living here for Millions of years, in fact fossil records indicate that turtles actually evolved with our planet, and moved with the tectonic plates. Our little Eastern Box Turtle, one of the most beautiful turtles in the world and native only to the Eastern United States, is suffering from habitat loss and destruction, and is quietly becoming  one of the most sought after turtles in the illegal animal trade.

“Action is Better than NO Action!”

Years ago, on a cold Thanksgiving Day as I ventured out on an errand, I came across a box turtle at a new community gateway.  I stopped, knowing he should be hibernating, and picked him up. He was still alive, almost weightless, and with an upper respiratory track infection. As I looked around I noticed his habitat had been destroyed and replaced by houses. His future looked bleak, but he was the beginning of my box turtle education. With a little help from my Wildlife Veterinarian, “Rhoads” did survive that first winter, and became the first inhabitant of what was to become the Box Turtle Sanctuary of Central VA.

I have been frustrated and saddened to watch the woods around my small farm systematically destroyed, It became so that I would  avoid certain roads, as the forests were destroyed for neighborhoods, the noise that a tree cutter makes still haunts me. So I set out on a mission to learn all I could about The Eastern Box Turtle in Virginia, and found that they needed an advocate. In the short 30 years that I have lived in Central Virginia, The Greater Richmond area has grown in leaps and bounds, adding shopping centers, and communities that have all but gobbled up counties, leaving only areas that are unsuitable for development for wildlife of any kind. This segmentation has wiped out much of the genetic diversity and made it impossible for surviving turtles to safely find each other.

The Sanctuary’s Future and Goals.

I have to say I believe in kismet.

When my small horse farm, just outside of Ashland, Virginia,  became void of most of the equine residents, the farm slowly began to evolve. Horses had been my life for a long time, it was a great ride, and I had seen them all to the end.

The turtles pulled at me. The mention that we (Virginia) needed a sanctuary for them made some scratch their heads, and others say “yes, finally”.  I started finding baby turtles. in the strangest places, and in the strangest times of the year. Then one day, as I turned  my car around  to rescue a box turtle in the middle of a busy rural road, my young daughter beside me, an on-coming car destroyed it. A sight that is burned into my mind.

I got the message, and built my first turtle pen, but I also realized that I have a lot more to do then to just have a turtle or two in a pen. I want a long term solution. A place where my great grand children can come and see the dinosaurs that have lived here long before us.

More research brought me to the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, which has shown me my goal.   The GFAS is an accreditation organisation that helps non-profit sanctuaries  that provide lifetime care for animals that have been abused, injured, abandoned, or are otherwise in need. The GFAS also provides guidelines and standards on animal care including housing, veterinary care, nutrition, animal well-being and handling policies, as well as standards on physical facilities, records and staff safety, confirmed by an extensive questionnaire, site visit, and interviews.

I have since achieved the necessary 501(c)3 status for The Box Turtle Sanctuary of Central Virginia Inc., and so now the work needs to begin.

Priorities begin with fencing. My first pens were built from recycled material. I have learned that the best fence to keep turtles in is made with roof flashing, buried 1 foot below ground. Attach this between 4 x 4s with a fence board along the top allows for a easy to contour, un-climb-able wall.  For large areas; time consuming, yes, but durable and long lasting. GFAS also requires an exterior second layer fence.

Secondly, an easy record keeping program.  An Eastern Box Turtle is comparable to a snowflake, in that no two of them are alike. Color patterns and designs evolve with the turtles as they grow due to diet, weather, habitat and of course genetics. Further research has shown me that is is possible to design software that would work like a face recognition program  and allow, through photography, quick  access to individuals records.

Old Fence behind New Fence



Once I am able to get these two critical guidelines squared away, I look forward to more educational opportunities, and the ability to help house Box turtles that have been displaced due to human encroachment  in Central Virginia.

Educating has been the primary goal of the sanctuary. My “Turtles to you” program, has been very successful and through it many children have had an opportunity to learn, see and touch  box turtles of all sizes. This program will continue as long as there are children. Future hopes for the facility at the sanctuary include field trips, where turtles can be observed in their natural habitat

Turtles world wide are struggling to survive. Due to loss of habitat, over harvesting for consumption and the fragmentation of habitat, without advocates, animals can slowly fade to extinction if no one notices, and the Box Turtle is not one to ruffle many feathers. He doesn’t bite. He doesn’t run or chase. He is small and unobtrusive. The Box turtles form of self defense has served him well for MILLIONS of years. In the face of danger, he quickly and quietly closes up his shell, locking himself safely inside to wait out the danger. There are few others, worldwide, that use this form of defense. Would we even notice if he was gone? Would the world be worse off? We certainly would look on in amazement at the shells that they left behind. To survive extinctions that wiped out so many others, only to succumb to man’s lack of caring and planning. What a shame that would be.

As Humans we are the dominate life-form on this small planet. It worries me that we can be so cavalier in our approach to the creatures that have been here so long before us and that we can so easily destroy habitat without thinking about who lives there. Certainly if we destroy the habitat of the small reptiles and amphibians that share this planet with us, destroy the water and the land, there is no hope for the human race.

You can help. Please donate to help us complete our fencing project, expand our education program and move forward on our record keeping software  program. Check out the unique turtle art , and our pet portraits on the eARTh art.BTSofCVA  website and like our facebook page.


Want to get involved? Questions? We would love your help!

Please leave me a message or a comment.

Thank You all!


It is Turtles all the way down

Art Work by  Art 4 All Ages, Bringing art to all; with fun follow along lessons that invoke creativity and thought



34 thoughts on “About The Box Turtle Sanctuary

  1. Linda Stanley

    I live in the Powhatan va area, and I am trying to find somewhere to rehome my small box turtle that is almost a year old. Do you offer those services, or do you know of any local organization that does?

    Thank you

    1. Shelley Whittington Post author

      HI Linda,
      I am so sorry I have not responded sooner, we had a death in the family.
      There are many turtle groups on line (facebook) and many people that could give your turtle a home.
      Your little guy should probably stay in Virginia. There are many laws that pertain to turtles, including the numbers that one can have, until I am accredited, this is also a struggle for me. I am happy to help you and your turtle, but I need to learn more about him/her. .

      has it been living indoors or out?
      what has he been eating?
      artificial light? heat?

      I always look forward to helping a shelled friend
      Thank you for your patience


  2. Nancy

    First of all, my husband and I are turtle lovers too and I thank you for all you do for them. Next I have several questions for you. Seven years ago I ran over (thank goodness didn’t hurt her) a Eastern Box turtle hatching. She was close to death. Our intentions were to keep her through that winter and return her to the wild the following summer. Long story short, we still have her. All the reading I have done about reintroducing her into the wild makes it sound like her death sentence. We would love to find a sanctuary where she can live the life his is suppose to. Do you take or know if anywhere that will take her. We live near Pittsburgh, but are willing to travel so she can live in a natural habitat. Looking forward to hearing from you.

    1. Shelley Whittington Post author

      Hi Nancy,
      Thank you for your nice note. and thanks to saving that baby 7 years ago. It is likely that if you did not take her in when you did that she would not of survived that first winter. Life is hard for baby turtles. Yes, releasing a captive turtle into the wild in most states is illegal, she would most likely not survive and she could expose native populations to pathogens. Each state has laws pertaining to their non-game animals and PA is no different. Some Members of the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association, that rehab turtles will also take surrendered pets for health evaluations prior to re-homing.
      You can also connect with Cathy Martin at the Deleware Wildlife rescue. she has previously helped me re-home turtles in the New England area. and can help locate qualified rehabbers in your area. Here are the links: wwww.DEwildliferescue.com. http://www.nwrawildlife.org/
      There is quite a network of turtle people on line and on Facebook. I think you know to be careful with re-homing with this route. A turtle is a long term responsibility. Please release yourself from any guilt you feel for saving her. Empathy for turtles is unique and you gave her a great start to a likely long life. Please let me know if I can be of any further help.

  3. Laura Fletcher

    Hi.I have had a box turtle for almost 2o years and he deserves a better life. Do you take them at your sanctuary? We dont have any in I but i am willing to drive.

    1. Shelley Whittington Post author

      HI Laura, I would be happy to help you find your 20 year old box turtle a better life. Can you tell me more about your turtles situation.. is he living out doors or in? does he hibernate? what state are you in?
      Looking forward to hearing back.

  4. Linda Lane

    Shelley, Hats off to you for persevering with this, your passion, and project. Spreading the word is the only way of keeping the population safe and this will certainly help. Awareness, the key! Most of the deaths on the roadways could have been avoided in my opinion if drivers would simply be aware of critters trying to make their way in our crazy world which was once theirs. Thanks again for all you do for the turtle.

    1. Shelley Whittington Post author

      Thank You Linda, and thank you for allowing me access to your wonderful pond to release the baby water turtles that I have incubated from turtles that have been hit and killed. It is wonderful to help these little one have a chance at a life even though they had an unusual start.

  5. Jennifer Stark

    Hi Shelly,

    I received your information through a friend of a friend in Richmond. We have an 18 year old box turtle that we rescued from a flood caused by Hurricane Floyd. “He” was just a hatchling and lived inside that first winter. He has lived outside ever since in a enclosure we built for him. He hibernates every winter and is in excellent health. He is quite a handsome boy! We give him box turtle pellets as well as a high quality dog food. Though his favorite food is a nice juicy slug! He has provided us with many years of education and he has been to both pre-schools and elementary schools.

    Our children are now grown and we would like to find “Lucky” a place where he can live among other turtles. We are hoping that you might guide us with further information about who to contact. Thank you for your time.

  6. Gloria

    I need help. I built an enclosure on my porch with secure chicken wire over the enclosure but a raccoon tracked my baby box turtles, 2 years old, and terrorized them. One is traumatized but fine. I thought the other was dead because a one inch edge of it’s shell is obviously damaged. I was so afraid to look at it as I layed it to rest in a tissue lined box when I saw it’s shell is closed tight! Might it still be alive and afraid to come out? The raccoon couldn’t pull it out through the chicken wire and must have dropped it when it heard me coming. It’s been over an hour. What should I do?

    1. Shelley Whittington Post author

      Gloria, your little turtle is likely going to be fine. You can place him in a shallow dish of tepid water and keep in a a quiet place. Give him a little time and he will come out. Check for further damage when he does. If I can be of any help call or text me at 804-347-0870 or e mail at art4turtles@gmail.com

  7. Timothy Spitzer

    I am so happy to learn if people like you .I share your passion for these animals . Last week I rescues a female from the side of the road . Her eyes are opaque white with small black center dot . I have been pushing vitamin A and ordered and applying terrimycin ointment… She eats well ..seems to detect shadows and know when I’m around …I’m just devastated for this girl ..any suggestions …there doesn’t appear to be changes …she is thin and continues to eat every 48 hours

    1. Shelley Whittington Post author

      HI Timothy,
      Thank you for recognizing that this turtle needed help. It does sound like she has some eye damage and it can be hard for them for find food when they can’t see. It sounds like you are doing all the right things. I would not let her hibernate if she seems underweight. I would be happy to help in anyway. You can e mail me at art4turtles@gmail.com if you want to communicate about her future.
      Where are you located?
      Thanks Shelley

  8. Amy

    I’m sorry you didn’t find the snapping turtle we saw on Old Washington Highway today. But thank you for going to look for it.

    1. Shelley Whittington Post author

      Thank you Amy for stopping on your bike and researching who to call.. I hope someone else picked him up and got him help. We did pick up a eastern painted turtle on the way as it was passed by a large group of bikers.. up side down … legs flailing.. unfortunately she and her eggs were to damaged to save, but at least she is no longer in pain. Thank you Amy for being an advocate for our shelled friends.. call anytime.. Shelley

  9. Anne Johnston

    Hi Shelley,

    I just had 3 eggs laid in my yard yesterday – so fortunate to have been able to witness that. Can you recommend dimensions for the openings in a wire box/basket to cover the nest? I have video I can share of 1 egg being deposited in the hole.

    Thank you!

  10. Stacey Murray

    Shrlley, you are amazing!!! I live in Nokesville VA, a once small country town that has become over populated in recent years and I also feel the heartache from the torn down forests and destruction of land just to put up more insanely expensive homes. I’ve lived here for 25 years and have seen many turtles come and go, I follow them around and study them all season long, they are so interesting and symbolic of so many things in life and I just have such a love for them. Thank you for what you’re doing, it’s such a comfort to read of your sanctuary and I’d absolutely love to help or at least visit this great place you’ve built for our ancient friends. I hope you and your family are doing well and continue to help the turtles!! ♡

    1. Shelley Whittington Post author

      HI Stacy,
      So sorry for the slow response… things are crazy and I am finally able to get back into this website and give it an updo. Yes it is incredibly sad how we destroy the forest with no thought of what may live in there. I could not take it any longer and had to take action. I educate wherever I can, and of course take in those that I can help. I also feel the heartache from the destruction of the woods and find myself avoiding those areas as it pains me. I believe you may also be a turtle empath. I love visits from like minded turtle folks and am always looking for volunteers in may ways. If you are near Ashland email me and come visit! art4turtles@gmail.com

  11. Bonnie Keller

    Hi! I’m Bonnie Keller, and I operated VA Reptile Rescue for 17 years. Eight of those were in Chesterfield. I had my own “herd” of rescued box turtles – they are my favorite chelonian. Since that time I’ve moved around VA and have been in northern VA for nearly 11 years now. I closed my rescue 5 years ago, but I am still very active with reptile rescue/education. I’m frankly shocked that I didn’t know about your sanctuary before now.
    Feel free to give me a holler anytime.

  12. Donna Marie Riley

    Hello, my fifth book, “Finding a Way Home” is about a little river turtle that gets lost. I am looking for places to put this book, and I want to donate ten percent to places like you have. I am willing also to come and do reading. I live in Eastern NC, and I cannot seem to find anything but sea turtle rescues. Let me know if you are interested.

    1. Shelley

      HI Donna, Thank you so much. I would love to make your books part of our educational programs and look forward to getting a copy Hot off the press.
      Thank you for being an advocate for our shelled friends.. They certainly can benefit from your efforts! Keep on writing!

  13. Melanie Snead

    Hi there! My family member’s box turtle recently past. She has some food and stuff that she bought in bulk and most say they will expire 4/22. Do you take donations like this? Could I drop it off or something? I look forward to hearing from you.


  14. Robbie Smith

    June 13, 2021
    Hi, I have tried to help turtles get across roads for years. This morning heading to work I was able to move one and two others were in bad locations where there was not a good place for me to move them. They are now at work with me until I go home. A wildlife rehabber once told me it was not good to remove them from the immediate area where you find them. My question for you is twofold: 1) is it ok to relocate (I think they are painted box turtles) them in a different area from where you found them? My home is between 5 and 10 miles from where I found them and is generally the same kind of habitat. 2) where can I get information on (possibly) building a box turtle pen? Any insights will be helpful. Thank you. Robbie

    1. Shelley Whittington Post author

      HI Robbie.
      It is important to identify what kind of turtles they are. If the are water turtles take them to the nearest water source that is closest to where you found them. Box Turtles are tricky, because they indeed do have a home territory where they learn where their resources are, so if they are removed, or their habitat is destroyed, they will have to search for food and water, often taking them into the path of danger. Building native turtle habitat is like copying the natural habitat where the turtle would live. Our native turtles have evolved to love our hot humid summers. It is difficult to duplicate mother nature, and we encourage all native turtles to be kept outdoors.

  15. Brian Patterson

    I have two red ear sliders that have outgrown their aquarium and I’m looking for a new home for them. Would you be open to adopting them?

    1. Shelley Whittington Post author

      HI Brian, The Box turtle Sanctuary is not set up for water turtles. As an evasive species, and a popular pet, they are indeed difficult to rehome, and can get quite big. RES however can be rehabilitated to live outdoors and can brumate in the winter, if a safe, enclosed pond is available to them.

  16. Amanda Ardente

    Hi Shelley,
    We are relatively new to Ashland, and I recently learned about your facility from The Depot coffee shop. I am in love with your “My Worm” canvas print! I am a consulting veterinarian and nutritionist and a fellow lover of turtles, a former proud and active participant in the NCSU Vet School Turtle Rescue Team. If you ever need or want vet/nutrition assistance, I’d love to work with you. Thank you for all of the work you do for Virginia’s resident box turtles and for educating the public on these special creatures!
    Amanda Ardente

  17. nicole mooskin

    Hi Shelley,
    I have an aquatic turtle I rescued 3+ years ago. I am looking for a sanctuary where he could live out his life with other turtles and water animals.I live in Washington DC and he is a redearred slider.
    I understand you work with box turtles but if you have any recommendations, I would appreciate it. Nicole, solchilde@yahoo.com

  18. Lakeside Animal Hospital

    Good afternoon,

    This is Lakeside Animal Hospital and we have 2 sick box turtles that have been surrendered to us. We would like to discuss a discharge plan with you for when they are healthy enough.

    Thank you for your assistance

    1. Shelley Whittington Post author

      Thank you for taking care of them and for reaching out to the Sanctuary. Turtles have so few options for a happy landing once they have been stolen from their wild homes. Unable to be adopted out, due to our state laws, and unable to be returned to the wild, Euthanasia is often the end result. I look forward to talking to you about helping these two out.


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