Carol Bell-Walton is really coming out of her shell lately.

In over 20 years as a “turtle lady,” she never received much attention from her neighbors until the pandemic, when her house on Velasco became famous for its tortoises.

“These moms are wearing grooves in the sidewalk with their strollers,” Bell-Walton says.

The bored moms and tots on her street began making beelines for the 20 or so reptiles that live in Bell-Walton’s front garden.

Bell-Walton and her husband, Robert, have about 250 square feet of manicured turtle habitat — one of the twin enclosures is pictured above — for their pets, which have come from many sources over the years. When a “turtle lady” died years ago, leaving about 50 turtles in tanks in her East Dallas apartment, Bell-Walton and a friend picked them up, and each took a couple dozen home.

The Waltons’ neighbors found turtles in their annual mulch delivery, including the ornate one pictured below, three times. And they once bought a Russian tortoise at a reduced price from PetSmart because it had grown too big for its cage.

They don’t take in turtles that people find on the road. She recommends helping a road turtle out of harm’s way but leaving it near where you found it.

Above: This ornate turtle is one of three that arrived in a neighbor’s annual mulch delivery.

The Russian tortoise that the Waltons bought from PetSmart.

Now they’re all hibernating, asleep until April or sometimes as late as May, she says.

“Our tortoises have the best sense of when the cold weather is behind us,” she says. “Spoiler alert: not yet.”

Bell-Walton wanted to continue giving the littles and their stroller pushers something to do during the hibernation months. So she started hiding these little rubber turtles in the bushes for kids to find, and she recently decorated her front windows for Valentine’s Day with the googly-eyed guys pictured at top.

She says she remembers what it’s like having young kids and trying to think of ways to keep them busy.

“I just want to encourage other people in the neighborhood to consider decorating their houses or doing something for the young kids,” she says. “They probably don’t realize how much it helps.”

When the turtles aren’t hibernating, a strict no-touch rule is enforced because the animals can carry salmonella, and they don’t like to be handled anyway.

Finding the play turtles can be a hands-free activity, or they can be collected and hidden again, in which case, hand sanitizer is recommended.

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