Veterinarians Ericka and Jay Johnson met 20 years ago while doing a wild tortoise survey. So the couple decided that their ceremonial walk down the aisle wouldn't be complete without their 20-year-old sulcata tortoise, Tom Shelleck, accompanying them as ring bearer. The couple was married last year at Tohono Chul Botanical Gardens in Arizona.
To make sure they made it to the altar, a floral basket containing the rings was attached to the top of Tom’s shell.
“Jay and I are both exotic animal veterinarians and tortoises have always been at the center of what brought us together,” Ericka said according to The Metro.
The couple encouraged Tom to walk down the aisle by lining the walkway with strawberries, a sulcata’s favorite treat.
Having Tom accompany them during their big moment was adorable but it also allowed them to really savor the moment. It took the bride, groom and Tom three minutes to walk down the aisle, where it takes most people just a few seconds.
“We were timing him when we’d practice to see how long it would take and we ended up having to have two songs played so that we’d have enough time, and we still almost ran out of songs,” Ericka said.
“When it was time for him to go down the aisle I had my twin nephews place strawberries down for him to follow,” Ericka added. “He’s very outgoing and always hungry.”
Tom is clearly an important part of the couple’s life and it makes sense. A sulcata tortoise, much like a marriage, is a lifetime commitment. A sulcata can live more than 70 years and an adult can weigh anywhere from 79 to 200 pounds.
The only tortoises that are larger than a sulcata are the Galapagos tortoise and the Aldabra giant tortoise. The Aldabra giant tortoise can weigh up to 550 pounds and live for up to 150 years.
Ericka was a little worried that Tom would get distracted by mistaking some of their guests' freshly painted toenails for fruit. But he made it all the way to his destination without veering off course. “Fortunately that didn’t happen,” she said.
After the big day was over, Tom stood out as one of the most memorable parts of the wedding. “A lot of people were talking about it and we made some funny jokes like ‘the bride is supposed to be the center of attention but it’s the ring bearer,’” Ericka said.
"The day after the wedding I had several people text me like ‘Hey, do you have any pictures of Tom?’” Ericka joked.
Ericka and Jay are a great example of how a couple can make a wedding truly an expression of their love by sharing what’s important to them. Tortoises brought them together and now their dearest Tom Shelleck was able to lead them to the altar where they could make the ultimate commitment to one another.
Plus, let’s face it, it’s important that Tom agreed to the marriage because he’s going to be right by their side for another 50-plus years, so he better approve of the arrangement.
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