Woman Has Cared for Her Tortoise for 56 Years and the Love Is Strong

Posted by Mateja Lane
george the tortoise
All images by Boyd Huppert via KARE 11

George is still going strong. And so is the love between him and his owner.

George is a gopher tortoise who was given to Jeanna Smith for her 10th birthday in 1962. The young tortoise had been living at the Milwaukee County Zoo, where Jeanna had her birthday party. The zoo’s director was friends with Jeanna’s father and gave the tortoise as a birthday present. Jeanna told KARE 11:

“George is probably my oldest friend. He’s just really been a wonderful pet.”

Jeanna is now 65 years old but she still cares for George!

George went home with Jeanna that fateful day in 1962 to suburban Milwaukee where he was loved by everyone in the family. He got a strawberry and kiwi meal every Christmas morning and Jeanna dressed him up as a bumblebee one Halloween. George went everywhere with Jeanna, and only escaped the yard once in 1988 by digging under a fence.

“George always came with us and enjoyed walking down the beach on Lake Michigan,” Jeanna said. “He traveled everywhere we went.”

George even went to college with Jeanna and lived in the dorm rooms with all the other freshmen. Soon, Jeanna met her future husband Kirby Smith, and obviously George was part of the package!

George has outlasted all the other pets, mainly Labrador Retrievers, in the Smith family, and even though “he doesn’t sit on your lap and can’t take him on walk,” Jeanna says he’s the best pet. 

“He’s gone through five dogs,” Jeanna’s husband Kirby said. And while the dogs never quite got used to the other animal in the house, often barking at George as he hid in his shell, “he got the last laugh by outlasting them.”

George is still going strong on special meals of lettuce and strawberries.


“I would say George is thriving,” Jeanna said smiling. 

Gopher tortoises live in warm climates in the wild, and are now protected, making them hard to keep as pets nowadays. They can live up to 60 years in nature but have been known to live over 100 in captivity. That means someone will have to care for George when Jeanna cannot.

“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.”

What do you think of George? Tell us in the comments below. 

All images by Boyd Huppert via KARE 11

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Woman Has Cared for Her Tortoise for 56 Years and the Love Is Strong