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A PRINCE FOR MYRTLE

She'll stay a turtle. He has a wife. But this turtle's life is charmed.

Ken Conklin, a Microsoft-certified engineer whose pets have included a caiman crocodile and a 7-foot Burmese python, coos to a large pond at the back of his house. Myrtle the turtle does this to him, you see.

"Myrtle, come here," he says, kneeling down on a deck next to the pond, which wraps around the back of his house like a boomerang and holds about 12,000 gallons of water. He has spent $15,000 on this deck and ecosystem.

It's all for Myrtle, says his wife, Kim. They've had her nine years.

At first, Myrtle swam in a 10-gallon tank. She graduated to a kiddie pool. Then a pond. Now this.

Myrtle pokes her head above the water. She is a red-eared slider with tiny red patches on either side of her head, a 9-inch shell and a set of social skills that her owners think resemble a dog more than a turtle.

Exhibit one: There are eight other turtles in the pond now but Myrtle's the only one to surface when Ken Conklin calls her name.

"That's my girl," Conklin says as she approaches and he lifts her out of the water. He turns her over, she pulls her legs and head in, he spins her into the water like a Frisbee. She sinks, re-emerges, comes back for more. He pulls her in close to his face, kisses her mouth.

Turtles are not typically known for their friendship skills, but Conklin says he and Myrtle have an attachment he can't really explain.

He and his wife have six cats, two dogs, four large fish tanks and 19 turtles. But Myrtle was their first turtle.

"It is a life, and I cherish life," he said, "and I think animals can sense that so they remove their fear toward you. It's definitely at a level ... that is basically unexplainable."

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