November 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Some pet owners like to keep a friendly distance from their pets, only giving them a nice pat on the head when they return home from work. Others like to crawl into bed with their pets and snuggle so closely that hearing their pets’ snores becomes almost comforting. Erin Van Zee would be the latter.

Van Zee, 29, is a Medical Resources Team Leader at Applied Underwriters, who received her master’s in English from the University of Nebraska-Omaha this December. Along with husband Tyler, whom she married in September, Van Zee adopted Scarlett, a 3½-year-old Pit Bull/Boxer mix. Although Scarlett is not enough of a Pit Bull to be required to adhere to the city’s regulations, Van Zee says you can definitely tell that she’s “part pittie” by looking at her.20121023_bs_1031-Edit copy

The Van Zees adopted Scarlett from the Nebraska Humane Society, where she had already been taken in twice—once as a rescue when she was roaming, severely malnourished and 25 pounds underweight, and again when her family surrendered her for jumping their fence too many times.

“Tyler and I went to the NHS with an open mind, just wanting to feel a strong enough connection to one of the dogs to want to take him or her home,” Van Zee says. “We walked by Scarlett’s kennel a couple of times, struck by her beautiful brindle coat. The minute we approached her more closely, she began licking our hands and smiling her ‘pittie’ smile at us. Once we were able to meet her outside the kennel, I knew she was the one.”

Van Zee says she’s always thought of herself as a pet person in a general sense, as she did also grow up with cats; after adopting Scarlett, however, she’s definitely become more of a dog person. “[Dogs] love unconditionally, protect loyally, and are constant companions even during the roughest of times…[they] will take you whole-heartedly and without question.20121023_bs_1082-Edit copy

“I love Scarlett not only for her unconditional acceptance of who I am, but also because she challenges me,” says Van Zee. “Just like any adolescent, she likes to push boundaries and test my patience. Tyler and I don’t have children, but we love Scarlett as if she were our child. There’s something incredible about coming home and being greeted by someone who has been waiting all day to see you and wants nothing more than to spend time with you—and maybe a treat or two.”

Above all, Van Zee feels Scarlett reminds her that she deserves love, too. “Tyler and I gave Scarlett a home, and every day she pays us back by making us better human beings.”