The saga of Tommy the tortoise has come to a bittersweet end: After an extensive search that touched hundreds of people, the tortoise has found a new forever home at a tortoise sanctuary in New Jersey.
Tommy’s plight was first brought to the public’s attention in a column written by George Ellison in early May. He told the story of Judith Patience, who has cared for Tommy for the last 35 years, but was worried about the future of Tommy’s care as she aged.
“I am now 74,” Patience wrote in her original letter to Ellison. “My husband died two years ago. I am worried that I will die and no one will know how to care for him and through neglect or making bad decisions he will perish.”
When the column first ran, Patience said she was worried that nothing would happen. Two days later, she got her first reply. In the weeks since, she’s received around 150 responses, offering support and help in locating a safe and loving home.
“People have just been so kind. Sometimes I would just get one paragraph, sometimes it would be half a page. Lovely offers, just lovely offers, but many of them had never had any experience with tortoises at all.”
Patience followed up on one of the messages from someone in Arizona, who put her in touch with Chris Leone, owner of Garden State Turtles and director of animal husbandry at the TurtleRoom in New Jersey. Leone is licensed to accept Texas desert tortoises like Tommy, and Patience said she immediately felt confident in Leone and his facility.
“It means the world to us that Judith chose to send Tommy here,” Leone said. “We’re dedicated to improving the lives of turtles and tortoises and my wife and I spend 24/7 taking care of them in captivity and the wild. Something like this, with a tortoise as loved as Tommy, that she chose us and trusts us means so much.”
Leone said Tommy will join two other American tortoises at the facility and will be used for educational purposes.
When Tommy arrives at his new home, he will be greeted with a long drink of water and a tour of his new enclosure, Leone said. He will be fed organic food brought from a nearby vendor, and will split his time in a climate-controlled building and an outdoor enclosure when the weather cooperates.
And let us not forget Tommy’s “girlfriend,” a concrete turtle statue that he likes to spend time with. The girlfriend will be shipped to New Jersey next week and will remain a companion for Tommy, Patience said.
Tortoises like Tommy live for 75-100 years. Finding a good home for him before he outlived her means so much, Patience said, and she would not have found Leone without the help and support she received from the community.
As Patience prepared to send Tommy off, she looked him in the eyes and told him to “be a good boy” and to “have a great adventure.” Then, she placed him in a bag and sealed the box sent by Leone to mail him north.
“I’m at peace now because he has his place and I don’t have to abandon him by dying. When you’re as old as I am and you’ve had something nearly half your life, it’s pretty deep in you,” she said. “I know I found him a good home, I just know it.”
To receive updates on Tommy’s new life in New Jersey, follow @garden_state_tortoise on Instagram or visit www.gardenstatetortoise.com.