Sebastopol’s mayor has had the same pet – a tortoise – for 56 years

By Laura Hagar Rush, Townsy Media, March 8, 2021


Tommy the Tortoise munching on some lettuce in his enclosure in Mayor Una Glass's backyard. (Photo taken earlier in the year as Tommy is currently hibernating.)

When animal lovers say that having a pet is a lifetime commitment, they’re usually thinking 15 to 20 years for a dog or cat, maybe 30 years for a horse.

Then there’s Sebastopol Mayor Una Glass who’s had her pet, Tommy the Tortoise, for 56 years and counting.

Glass was 10 years old in 1963 when she inherited Tommy from an aerospace colleague of her father’s. (This same friend also offered her a tarantula, but she turned that down.)

The man had discovered Tommy the Tortoise in the middle of the road on an empty stretch of highway near Borrego Springs in the desert east of San Diego. Worried that he would get hit by a car, he took him home as a pet.

Now before you go blue in the face over the prospect of an endangered desert tortoise being removed from its native habitat, the man had his reasons. He’d initially stopped his car to move the tortoise out of the road, but then he noticed that one of its shell plates had been painted blue. This made him think that it was formerly a pet that had been dumped. (And anyway, it was late the ’50s and who knew from endangered species and native habitats.)

Tommy the Tortoise lived in Glass’s  backyard in Southern California as she was growing up. He crawled around the yard during the day and slept in a converted dog house at night.

“My mom would go to the back door and call “Tommy, strawberries,” and he would kind of come. She’d also feed him grass and lettuce and stuff like that, but strawberries have always been his favorite,” Glass said.

Like many pets, Tommy the Tortoise, became the property of Glass’s mother when Glass went off to college. Eventually in 1995, her mother eventually moved to Sebastopol, and Tommy came with her. When her mother died, Tommy the Tortoise moved into a spacious enclosure in Glass’s backyard, and that’s where he’s been ever since.

There is a persimmon tree, a plum tree and cherry tree in the sunny enclosure, and Glass said Tommy loves munching on the windfall from the fruit trees. For years, he subsisted on vegetables and fruit, but about 10 years ago, Glass discovered a special tortoise food that she now uses to supplement his diet.

“The tortoise food has desert wild grasses and cacti, and the increase in nutrition has been really good for him,” she said.

She gives him the tortoise food by making what she calls a “wine country burrito,” rolling the moistened feed in grape leaves and feeding it to him by hand.

Though one doesn’t normally think of reptiles as having much of a personality, Glass said that isn’t true of Tommy.

“He’s kind of friendly and a little bit goofy,” she said, “He’s always interested in what’s going on; like if he’s on the other side of the yard when I come outside, he’ll kind of slowly come lumbering over to say hi.”

Because Tommy the Tortoise was already grown when she got him, Glass doesn’t know how old he is. She’s not even sure what kind of tortoise he is. Given where he was found, it’s seems logical that he’d be a California Desert Tortoise, but a vet she took him to once — a reptile specialist in Calistoga—thought Tommy looked more like some kind of native Texas tortoise.

Right now, Tommy is hibernating in her garage (which is why I couldn’t get a cute “the mayor and her tortoise” photo to accompany this article.)Tommy, like most tortoises, hibernates for almost half the year, from November to May, and Glass is looking forward to seeing him emerge in spring as he has for almost 60 years.