The year was 1962 and Jeanna Smith was turning 10 years old. A friend of her father worked at the zoo and gave her a special present: a young tortoise.
Fast forward 56 years and her pet tortoise are still going strong.
“George (the tortoise) is probably my oldest friend,” said Jeanna. “He’s just really been a wonderful pet.”
George is a gopher tortoise, which can live over 100 years old in captivity.
Despite his hard exterior, Jeanna has had a soft spot for George since the day they first met. “He’s always gotten strawberries and kiwi for Christmas morning,” said Jeanna. “He’d ride in my bike basket when I was a little girl.”
Jeanna grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and would often take vacations as a child to Lake Michigan. “George always came with us and enjoyed walking down the beach on Lake Michigan,” she said. “He traveled everywhere we went.”
Even after she graduated from high school, George still stayed with Jeanna. “I went off to college and George came with me. He lived in my dorm room.”
“He doesn’t sit on your lap and you can’t take him on walks, but he’s a great pet,” said her husband Kirby Smith.
George isn’t the only pet the Smiths have as they also have owned a series of Labradors. “He’s gone through five dogs and they’ve all done their share of barking at George but he got the last laugh by outlasting them,” said Kirby.
Over 56 years of life together, there are bound to be some trying times and close calls. George has escaped three times over the years, with the most recent being in 1988 when he dug under the fence in the backyard.
Neighborhood kids helped in the search and even a TV news crew showed up. Not long afterward George was found hiding in the bushes in a neighbor’s yard.
Since it’s been 30 years since he last ran away, George seems to be content with eating lettuce and strawberries in the Smith’s kitchen. “I would say George is thriving,” said Jeanna.
With their 100+ year lifespan, it is highly likely that George will outlive Jeanna, but she has a plan. “I have one daughter and she has three children. When I go, then George will go and live with them,” she said. “It’s in the will.”
In other turtle news, follow along with the puppy-eating turtle story in the next article below.