The pet number 2021: reptile style | Cover stories

When we meet Watson, he is walking – slowly, deliberately – through Kirk and Libby George’s large garden in Hendersonville. Its sturdy, spiked front legs flank the leathery neck and stern face that emerge from its sculpted shell. He stops to pull some grass out of the ground, chews it – slowly, deliberately. He doesn’t seem embarrassed or interested in the reporter kneeling down to look at him or the photographer lying on the grass to take a picture of him. Maybe he knows he’ll probably outlive us all.

Watson is a sulcata tortoise, also known as the African spurred tortoise. He is about 9 years old now and he could live to be 100 years old. If you are reading this, it could outlive you and most likely your kids too. Much of this is because he will be well taken care of as long as he lives with the Georgees.

Kirk and Libby George with Freja the Brazilian Boa and Watson the African Turtle

Kirk is a tattoo artist and co-owner of Island Tattoo Downtown (where he seamlessly tattooed me last year). Libby is a hairdresser at Local Honey. The two first met about 10 years ago in Alabama, when Kirk tattooed her over the course of a year or so. He only had a few reptiles at the time. Among them: a royal serpent he had had since he was 18, a tegu lizard named Hercules, and a bearded dragon named Apollo, the latter of whom has since died. Eventually, the couple got married and settled in Nashville. Libby, who had grown up with more traditional pets, warmed to Kirk’s lifelong love of reptiles, and their suburban menagerie grew.

Watson is just one of the couple’s 23 pets, a brood that also includes three snakes, 17 lizards and two dogs. Watson shares most of the backyard – which includes a fully insulated and heated shelter Kirk built as well as a small pond – with two tegu lizards (aforementioned Hercules with Rex) and the two puppies (boxer mix Phaedra and pit bull Ares). The Georges adopted Watson from a turtle rescue just over a year ago. Initially, they thought they would give him the set – on foot, really – of the entire yard, including a paved portion that includes a driveway with a gate. But then Libby made a good point – although turtles like Watson can sleep on a dollar bill when they are born, they can ultimately weigh over 200 pounds. At one point, one morning when Kirk or Libby got out of the car to go to work, Watson could be parked right outside the door and they would have a heavy ordeal to face. They built a small wooden wall to keep it in the grass.

Now you are wondering what the interior of a shared house with 21 reptiles and two dogs looks like? In the case of Georges, remarkably nice. A little eccentric, yes, but less than you think. There are a few collage walls with artwork that could be conversation pieces on their own, a number of plants, and, in a two-car garage the couple converted into a finished room, a large collection. of Star Wars figurines and more than ten reptiles in enclosures. These include a few leopard geckos, four bearded dragons, two ackie monitors, a magnificent Brazilian rainbow boa named Freja, the aforementioned royal snake (the first reptile Kirk has ever owned) and five uromastyx lizards (including the one is called Baby Yoda). You look at all of this and the tattoos that cover their arms and you start to perceive a pattern.

“We are collectors,” admits Libby.

The Pet Issue 2021: Style Reptile

Kirk and Libby George

But in reality, to think of their reptiles as just another collection would be to miss the obvious care they have for animals and their attention to how snakes and lizards fit into their homes. Kirk built large wooden shelves for the enclosures that line the walls of the old garage. One of his snakes, a giant python they’ve owned for about three years now, lives inside an antique porcelain cabinet that Kirk turned into an enclosure.

“I’m now at a point where I’m just like, ‘If I’m going to have these animals, I’m going to do it right or not have them at all,’” Kirk said. “Which should be the approach on so many things.”

The Pet Issue 2021: Style Reptile

Libby george

Libby says that when Ludo the Chameleon dies, she probably won’t want another one. She clearly loves him – he’s tattooed on her arm – but chameleons are fragile, and at first she often wondered if she was doing all she could to take good care of him. (For what it’s worth, he seems to be doing just fine.) The Georges acquired most of their animals either by adopting them or buying them through breeders, an option that ensures they don’t participate in the picking exotic animals in nature. It’s a lot of work to take care of the group. Their mornings are spent checking heat lamp bulbs, and Kirk’s iPhone calendar includes the feeding schedule for the various creatures. Standing in their kitchen, Libby reaches out and opens the freezer, picking up fruit, veg, and meat that they’ve separated into individual portions for the bigger lizards outside. She opens a drawer and pulls out a bag of frozen mice.

“My fridge is full of tasty things,” she says. Their plan is to create a garden in the backyard so that they can grow more pet food.

The Pet Issue 2021: Style Reptile

As interesting as lizards and snakes are, the conversation ultimately comes back to Watson. All pets require a little more attention than, say, a cat. But Watson comes with a particularly serious commitment. On the one hand, they must have been talking about where he might go when they die – maybe a zoo or a turtle sanctuary, maybe a family with kids. There are also the logistical challenges.

“Going to the vet is no easy task,” says Kirk. “With him, you are the center of attention whenever you take him anywhere.”

But sometimes it turns out to be a beautiful thing. Recently, Kirk decided to let Watson bypass the house and go out into the front yard. He called over the fence to his neighbors to tell them. Soon an elderly couple across the street came out to see the tall guy, and another couple on a stroll stopped to witness his slow, determined stroll.

“I felt like I had united the neighborhood,” says Kirk, still seemingly excited about Watson’s unique power. “I was just like, ‘This is crazy, I feel like I’m having a block party because of my turtle!’ “

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