“George is probably my oldest friend,” Smith told KARE TV’s Boyd Huppert “He’s just really been a wonderful pet.”
Smith was gifted the young tortoise by the Milwaukee County Zoo at her 10th birthday party in 1962.
When she was younger, he’d ride in her bicycle basket or tag along on family vacations to Lake Michigan, and they even dressed up in matching bee costumes for Halloween.
“He doesn’t sit on your lap and can’t take him on walk, but he’s a great pet,” Kirby Smith, Jenna Smith’s husband, told KARE TV. The two met in college at the University of Wisconsin, River Falls, and together, they owned five Labradors. George has outlived them all.
But George has certainly given the Smiths a scare or two in the past, most notably when he escaped after burrowing under a fence in 1988.
According to KARE TV, kids in the neighborhood and a TV news crew showed up to help with the search.
“I would say George is thriving,” Smith said about her beloved lettuce-and-strawberry-loving pet.
Gopher tortoises can typically live up to 80 years in the wild, but in captivity, their lifespan could stretch past 100 years, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The animals are currently protected by federal law under the Endangered Species Act in the Alabama counties west of the Mobile and Tombigbee rivers and in Mississippi and Louisiana.
Last year, the Department of Natural Resources purchased more than 3,000 acres in Georgia’s Wheeler County to create the Alligator Creek Wildlife Management Area, a protected habitat for the gopher tortoise.
“The creation of the wildlife management area is part of a larger Nature Conservancy and DNR goal to protect 100,000 acres of tortoise habitat to keep the species off the endangered list,” the AJC previously reported.