Betty Jean Sypek, center, is flanked by Margaret Terkelsen, operations manager for Westfield Animal Control, left, and Animal Control Officer Felica Dugay, who is holding an 80-year-old snapping turtle Sypek named Hudson.

Reminder Publishing photo by Mike Lydick

WESTFIELD — It was a homecoming more than eight months in the making. Hudson, a large snapping turtle, was returned to its pond on Westfield’s North Side after being hit by a vehicle in October and severely injured.

The reunion was an emotional one for Betty Jean Sypek, who had formed a close bond with the 80-year-old turtle that lived in the pond that abuts her 1.4-acre property on Root Road. Margaret Terkelsen, operations manager for Westfield Animal Control, and Animal Control Officer Felica Dugay, brought Hudson home from Lazuka’s Landing Wildlife & Rescue Rehabilitation facility in Hudson, Massachusetts, on June 26, following his recovery.

“This homecoming for Hudson has been long in coming for me,” said Sypek, who first noticed the turtle visiting her yard to sunbathe about three years ago. “I’ve prayed daily for Hudson — healing vibes for him have come as far away as Beaverton, Oregon, from my cousins.”

At first, Sypek found Hudson very intimidating — especially when he stuck his head and all four legs all the way out of his shell. She was afraid for Chewee, her shih tzu. But Chewee and Hudson soon became backyard buddies.

“It was Chewee who won Hudson’s trust — and that encouraged me to get to know him. My small 28-pound fur baby and Hudson, who weighed 33 pounds, were all boys as they played backyard tag with one another,” said Sypek. 

The three of them would hang around her backyard together, so Sypek named him. She called him Hudson in honor of Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the airline captain who safely landed an ailing passenger plane in the Hudson River in January 2009.

“Hudson did the same thing when he had enough backyard play,” said Sypek. “He would walk back to the pond and ditch himself into the water. All I would see were bubbles as he slid under the waterline and deep into the pond’s muck.”

Sypek and Hudson quickly earned each other’s trust, especially when she became his daily food source after educating herself about the diet snapping turtles require.

“Vegetables and fruits are his favorite, as well as carrots, romaine lettuce, apples, bananas, cantaloupe, green beans and peppers. I was always buying fruits and veggies to keep a well-stocked fridge,” she said.

Then on Oct. 20, 2023, about 5 p.m., as Sypek was returning home from shopping in Southampton, she saw Hudson lying in Root Road near her home. He was severely injured and motionless. Standing in the middle of the road, she called 911.

“The dispatcher told me she was sending an officer, and I hoped she would also call animal control,” said Sypek. “As I tried to comfort Hudson, I could tell he needed immediate medical attention and was in great pain. His shell was cracked open and he was bleeding from that wound.”

Sypek managed to take a snow shovel and get him half on it to move him to the road’s soft shoulder as vehicles continued to speed past her. When Westfield Police Officer Josh Weaver arrived, his cruiser’s flashing lights finally caused motorists to slow down.

“Hudson would poke his head out just a wee bit, with all four feet tucked under his shell. He was trying to get up and move, but the pain seemed to be overpowering. It was very sad seeing my Hudson severely injured. It was heart-wrenching for me, and there was nothing I could do but pray,” she said.

A short time later, when Terkelsen arrived on the scene, she and Weaver placed Hudson in a deep-sided tote bin and loaded him into the rear seat of Terkelsen’s city truck.

“It was a critical time in Hudson’s life,” said Sypek. “He needed immediate medical care because he was bleeding out. I was so worried. As Margaret sped off, I prayed he would make the trip and not pass away in that bin.”

Terkelsen took Hudson directly to a reptile rehabilitation center in Pittsfield. Once he was cared for and in better medical condition to travel, he was transported to Lazuka’s Landing, a much larger reptile rehab facility.

Sypek said in addition to his grave injury, Hudson also had fluid in his lungs. But Sypek always expected him to survive: “He’s a fighter. He was in a turtle rehab environment, so, I just knew in my heart that they would do all they could for him.”

She said staff at the Pittsfield facility was impressed with Hudson because they had never treated a turtle his age. They told Sypek that Hudson is most likely the oldest living snapping turtle in Westfield.

“He probably has lived his whole life in the pond behind my home. Snappers don’t go far from where they were born,” she said.

The homecoming was also sad for Sypek, because her beloved Chewee was not there to welcome his backyard buddy back home.

“We lost him in March,” she said. “Chewee was on the cusp of 9 years old.”

She has high praise for Dugay and Terkelsen, who have formed a close friendship with Sypek.

“They were with me every step of way on Hudson’s journey to recovery. They even picked him up and brought home on their own time. They had my back and went above and beyond on this one.”

When Dugay and Terkelsen arrived with Hudson, Sypek was overcome with joy and tears to see him for the first time in nearly a year. As Dugay lifted him out of the tote and put him on the ground, he walked to the pond and slid beneath the surface. He was finally home. And Sypek’s prayers were answered.