When parents finally breakdown and give into getting their child a pet, they hope it will help them bond with another creature and teach them about responsibilities involved with caring for and keeping another living thing alive for a few years.
In 1962, a Wisconsin dad finally gave in and got her daughter her favorite animal as a pet and explained he was her responsibility. As he hoped, they were inseparable from the minute they met. However, he had no idea just how long that bond would last…
An Unusual Fascination
As a child, Jeanna Smith always had a fascination and love for turtles. While other children her age wanted to play with soft, cuddly creatures like puppies, cats, and bunnies, Jeanna only wanted to play with the turtles that she found in the wild during the summertime.
“I just really loved turtles,” Jeanna, who grew up in the suburbs in Milwaukee, Wisconsin said about her favorite animal. “Every summer I would find a painted turtle and keep them for the summer and then in the fall I would have to release them…”
Jeanna’s 10th Birthday
When Jeanna’s 10th birthday was approaching, her father started thinking about what he would get her for her as a gift. He knew how much Jeanna loved turtles and thought about giving her 1 that she wouldn’t have to return to the wild every time she went back to school in the fall.
The Perfect Present
Jeanna’s father reached out to a friend who was the director of the Milwaukee County Zoo for help finding the right turtle to give Jeanna as a gift. When they found a baby gopher tortoise that needed a home, Jeanna’s dad knew he had found the perfect present…
On her 10th birthday in 1962, Jeanna’s father presented her with her new best friend, who she named George. “It was a really, really wonderful gift for me,” Jeanna said about the surprise gift. “It, of course, meant a lot and still does.”
An Inseparable Pair
From the moment that Jeanna laid eyes on George, they were inseparable. No matter where Jeanna and her family went, George was right by her side. “He’d ride in my bike basket when I was a little girl,” Jeanna said about the unbreakable bond she shared with her unusual pet…
A Part Of The Family
In Jeanna’s eyes, George was a member of the family, so when her parents would take her and her siblings on summer vacations each year to Door County, Wisconsin, which is on a peninsula between Green Bay and Lake Michigan, George would come along for the trip.
Traveling With A Turtle
“George always came with us and enjoyed walking down the beach on Lake Michigan. He traveled everywhere we went,” Jeanna said about George, who was showered with affection and doted on by his loving owner every day and especially on holidays…
A Pampered Pet
“He’s always gotten strawberries and kiwi for Christmas morning,” Jeanna said. For Halloween, Jeanna even started a tradition of dressing George up in costumes that matched her own and had him help her greet trick-or-treaters looking for candy.
Never Too Busy For George
When most kids get older and busier with friends, relationships, and high school they stop having time for their pets and pass on their responsibilities to their parents. However, as Jeanna got older, she always made time for her best friend no matter how busy life got…
Heading To College
So when Jeanna graduated from high school and it was time to head off to college at the University of Wisconsin, Jeanna naturally brought George with her even though her dorm at the River Falls campus didn’t allow pets of any kind to live in the rooms with students.
No Pets Allowed
“I went off to college and George came with me. And George lived in my dorm room,” Jeanna said. “They didn’t allow pets in the rooms, I just sort of got away with that somehow,” she added. “My dorm was all girls — and everybody loved George…”
A Package Deal
While studying at the University of Wisconsin, Jeanna met her future husband, Kirby Smith. After meeting, Kirby was a little surprised at Jeanna’s unusual pet but quickly realized that Jeanna and George were a package deal. If he wanted to date Jeanna, he would have to like George.
A Part Of The New Family
“He doesn’t sit on your lap and you can’t take him on walk, but he’s a great pet,” Kirby said. After college, Jeanna and Kirby got married, moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, and started a family together. Throughout it all, George was always right by Jeanna’s side…
Sharing The Spotlight
“My daughter has grown up with George,” said Jeanna. “She doesn’t know what life would be like without him.” Over the years, however, George has been forced to share some of the spotlight from his beloved humans when Jeanna and Kirby brought home a Labrador Retriever.
Living With Labradors
The Labrador, and the 4 that came after it, would sometimes bark and intimidate George, who would hide in his shell when they would try to play with him.“He’s gone through five dogs,” Kirby said. “He got the last laugh by outlasting them,” he added…
56 Years Of Friendship
Today, Jeanna is 65 years old and George is still her trusty companion. “George is probably my oldest friend,” Jeanna said about the gopher tortoise that her father gave her almost 6 decades ago. “He’s just really been a wonderful pet.”
An Unnatural Environent
“I would say George is thriving,” said Jeanna, who prepares his meals of letuce and strawberries. Since turtles like Geroge naturally live in warmer climates, he has to be kept indoors throughout most of the cold Minnesota winters. During the summers, however, they let George explore the backyard and garden…
Even though George isn’t living in his natural environment, he’s been well cared for by his loving human family. In the wild, gopher tortoises live anywhere from 40 to 60 years old. When kept in captivity, however, turtles like Goerge can live more than 100 years.
George, who has been with Jeanna for the past 56 years, may not be a baby anymore but he still has a long life ahead of him. And since he may outlive his best friend, she has made sure he will always stay in the family. “I have one daughter and she has three children,” Jeanna said. “When I go, then George will go and live with them. It’s in the will.”