PANAMA CITY BEACH — Ashley Samples and her husband don’t have any children. But they do have a baby -- a 2-and-a-half year old tortoise named Slow Poke.
The couple, on vacation from their home in East Alton, Illinois, recently showed him off in a photo posted on the Facebook group, "I Love Panama City Beach."
Samples said Slow Poke is always traveling.
"He’s been to Tennessee, Alabama, Missouri, all over with me -- now Florida," Samples said. "He loves to travel. "
Her Facebook post has been shared nearly 200 times with a disclaimer of sorts that explains Slow Poke is her pet and is a land tortoise, not a sea turtle.
Owning a tortoise is no more common in Panama City Beach than it is in Illinois.
Samples likes the attention that Slow Poke receives from the public and she even started his own fan page.
She also brings him to work functions at the request of her co-workers and into her classroom as a teaching aid. Samples, 27, is a teacher, specializing in educating kindergarten and first grade students with behavior disorders.
Her passion for tortoises began when she was a child and her grandmother would bring tortoises and turtles to her from the country.
"I’ve loved them ever since." she said.
She said that owning a tortoise is not easy. When she got Slow Poke, he was the size of a quarter. He now weighs 12 pounds.
They also can be destructive. That is why, on their Panama City Beach trip, they dressed him in a 12-month-old baby onesie from Alvin’s Island that said, "I’m the reason we can’t have nice things."
Samples said that they have to cover the base boards in the house or he will destroy them. She said he also knocks the lamp on the floor by bumping the table it is on.
A full-grown tortoise can reach up to 200 pounds, according to Samples.
"For those saying they want one, this is the 3rd largest tortoise species in the world. They can reach up to 200 pounds when they are full grown. They are very often surrendered to rescues, because people don’t realize how big they get. I didn’t know this when I got him as a baby, but I would love to encourage you guys to please check the pet rescues near you before you buy a baby," Samples wrote in the Facebook post.
For all of the work it takes to care for Slow Poke, Samples is happy she has him.
"Hes our baby."