Peanut Butter and Jelly aren't a sandwich anymore. The conjoined tortoises were separated Sunday at a Tempe animal hospital in what is believed to be the first surgery of its kind in Arizona.
"I think it was a great success," said Sharon Ehasz, 24, who owns the African leopard tortoises with her husband, Bobby Ehasz. "I think they're going to be a little confused — the world as they knew it is going to be somewhat tilted."
Peanut Butter and Jelly — so named because "you can't have one without the other," Ehasz said — were joined at the side of the belly near the tail end, slightly offset in a heart-shaped configuration. The two tortoises spent about half of their lives with one on its back, the other trying to kick itself over.
Bobby Ehasz, 29, said he and his wife routinely flipped over the tortoises, carefully logging the time one stayed on its back while the other was upright.
"This is life for them," he said.
Veterinarians Jay Johnson of University Animal Hospital in Tempe and Jim Jarchow of Orange Grove Animal Hospital in Tucson worked for about three hours to separate the tortoises.
Johnson said the condition is "extremely rare." That's partly why Johnson and Jarchow agreed to operate on the animals at no charge to the Ehaszes, other than the cost for anesthesia and other items. Before the surgery, Johnson said the difficulty of the operation would depend on whether the two animals shared any vital organs.
"If they share an organ, one may not be able to survive," Johnson said.
The Tucson couple said they were aware of the risks. But they bought the tortoises a day after Christmas with the intent of having them separated. The seller in California was asking an exorbitant $1,500, and that upset the couple.
"It was obvious they were selling it as an oddity or freak show," said Bobby Ehasz, adding that the seller reduced the price after learning their intent.
The veterinarians anesthetized the two tortoises and began operating at about 2 p.m.
Using a power saw, they cut through the shell to get a better look at what the animals shared.
The two were joined at the pelvis and also had a large intestine in common.
That meant the surgeons took a little more time as they worked to create a sort of "bypass" in one’s digestive system to keep it alive.
Both animals are expected to survive.
Saying the couple — both first lieutenants in the U.S. Air Force — care about the shelled reptiles is an understatement. "They're in our wills," Sharon Ehasz said.
The Ehaszes are trying to establish a fund to collect donations for the tortoises.