When Jeanna Smith was a child, she was really fond of turtles. That’s why it was no surprise when her father gave her a gopher tortoise as a birthday present when she was ten. While her parents expected their child to form a bond with the pet tortoise and teach her responsibility, it might’ve not been as obvious how lasting that bond would be.
“I just really loved turtles,” Jeanna recalled. Before getting her own little tortoise buddy (whom she named George), she’d often find a painted turtle and keep it during the summer, only to release it back to wilderness in the fall.
Since the day when she received the live birthday gift, Jeanna formed an inseparable bond with George. He would always be by her side, no matter where she went. As a girl, she’d often keep the pet in a basket while taking her bike for a ride, or bring it with her on vacations to another side of the state.
Jeanna wasn’t the only person to cherish George. Her friends were very fond of the little animal and would shower him with affection. Jeanna’s own family treated George like one of their own. He’d often get pampered and was fed strawberries and kiwi every Christmas morning. His owner went as far as making them matching Halloween costumes.
As Jeanna grew, the bond between these old friends only grew stronger, and she brought her little pet to the college campus once she enrolled. Despite the fact that her dorm rules didn’t allow any pets, that didn’t stop Jeanna from keeping George in her room. She explained that she managed to get away with it, probably because her dorm was all-girls and they all adored the tortoise.
As time moved, Jeanna met her future husband, Kirby Smith, during her college years. Smith was a little surprised when he first met Jeanna’s pet, but soon realized that in order to be with her, he had to like George as well. It was a package deal.
Her children grew up with a constant companion, an unusual pet that you cannot take for a walk or brush or call up on your lap. However, Jeanna says that he’s sweet in his own way.
Jeanna Smith is now in her mid-sixties and George has been her closest friend for over 50 years. She’s been caring for him for most of her life, despite him running away a few times, only to be found in the neighbor’s yard. “Three times George has escaped his backyard, the most recent in 1988 when he burrowed under a fence” Jeanna explained. “A TV news crew showed up about the time George was discovered hiding beneath some foliage in a neighbor’s yard. He was quickly whisked back to his home,” she added.