Tag Archives: dog

Emily Andersen & Geoff DeOld

October 13, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Emily Andersen and Geoff DeOld’s two-story storefront/residence on Vinton Street is an ongoing study in public and private space.

The husband and wife duo of DeOld Andersen Architecture began their courtship in Nebraska while studying architecture at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. They completed their postgraduate degrees in 2001 and moved to New York City that same year—a week before September 11.

deolds4While living in New York, they each worked at architecture firms, and in 2010, they began developing their own architectural practice. Their theoretical interests focused on ideas of suburbia, big box stores as civic centers, and the concept of “Walmart as a city.” New York City, while full of inspiration, was not an ideal location to study these topics.

“New York is a highly constructed place, a place where every block has been theorized and studied,” says DeOld.

In 2012, Andersen and DeOld began working with Emerging Terrain and its founder, Anne Trumble, on projects in Omaha. Seeing the progressive and critical dialogues fostered by Emerging Terrain made the idea of leaving New York an easier decision. For them, rogue conversations about urban relations could take place in Omaha. Additionally, Omaha provided a lower cost of living, making it possible to own a domestic space with a private outdoor area complete with a dog.

After deciding to relocate to Omaha in 2012, Andersen and DeOld began sharing a rented office space with Emerging Terrain on Vinton Street. One day, Trumble took her design fellows on a research trip, and the couple was able to be alone in the space in its totality. They thought, “This could be a great apartment!”

As it happened, their intuition became reality. The architects now fully occupy both floors of the storefront, their live-work architecture studio and private apartment with an exterior courtyard at 1717 Vinton St.

Willa, their spunky dog, acts as a doorbell, announcing visitors and clients. She is usually perched at the large bay windows on Vinton Street, sitting in the crisp northwest light. This same light blankets a curated selection of furniture and cascades upward to the original tin ceiling tiles. Andersen acknowledges, “The best thing (about the storefront) is the light.”

deolds5Immediately inside the voluminous white studio, large flat tables are stacked with the latest architecture periodicals and design paraphernalia. A well-stocked bookcase of architecture monographs separates this front entry space from the open office behind. Each workstation, for the couple and their intern architects, is decorated with an iMac, a tornado of tracing paper, physical architectural models, and their subsequent renderings and construction documents. The fervor of design-in-the-making is palpable. At the rear, more windows fill the functional office with warm southern light and views into an in-process patioscape.

There is an aspect of sustainability that they enjoy living above their office—the morning and evening commute is literally a flight of stairs. A cerulean stairwell ascends into their private apartment above the storefront’s 12-foot ceiling. The hike establishes mental and spatial distance between work and home. “Once we go upstairs for the evening, we usually do not go back down,” says DeOld.

Upon entering the 1,200-square-foot apartment, a sense of the couple’s studied aesthetic is at the forefront. Remnants of their lives punctuate the space. There’s a silver metallic curtain in an ultra-simplistic kitchen and an almost haphazard collection of modernist furniture. Space-defining arches give the apartment “a weird personality we would have never added,” says Andersen.

deolds2Populating the airy apartment is a long blonde wood table adjacent to a glossy white fireplace, which splits the kitchen from the living room. A set of graphic prints pulls the eye into the living room, where a complementary mustard-colored chair and merlot-colored sofa face a wraparound bookshelf. It is also from the living room that the angular nature of Vinton Street is most apparent. Two windows bounce northwestern light onto the wooden floors. As with the studio below, Andersen explains, “Watching the light daily and yearly is one of the joys of the apartment.”

Renovations have been ongoing throughout the entire structure, with Andersen and DeOld first focusing on the envelope of the building, then the workspace below, and now concentrating on the apartment and exterior courtyard.

At first, much of the apartment did not work. But after rapid construction and precise wall removal, the once-segmented apartment has been opened into one clean volume for public entertaining areas and compact private spaces.

“We can’t live in a typical house,” say Andersen and DeOld. Their nearly complete live-work space mixes ephemerality with distinct design features, a continuing investigation into their notions of hybrid domestic-work tranquility.

Visit d-aarch.com for more information. OmahaHome

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Colonial Expansion in Loveland

October 1, 2016 by
Photography by Dana Damewood

On the edge of the Loveland neighborhood stood a modest colonial house. When it was built in 1940, the home had a mere 1,320 square feet. When the Ahlers family bought the home in 2009, they made big plans to overhaul the colonial beauty.

transformations7The Ahlers underwent a 2,600-square-foot addition to make space for their growing family. They enlisted my help with the renovations.

In the Ahlers’ home, it was important to keep the charm of the original colonial style while subtly incorporating modern amenities. I began the four-year renovation process with one goal in mind: “Make the spaces usable, livable, comfortable, and beautiful to the unique needs of the family using this home.” Striving to keep the home’s original design in line with the new addition resulted in some uniquely shaped spaces that were unlike modern counterparts of contemporary construction. My expertise in space planning and construction would bring sense and structure to furnishing otherwise awkward spaces. As a result, I custom-designed many of the furniture pieces exclusively for these rooms.

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One of these challenging spaces was affectionately nicknamed the “big empty room.” In the beginning, there was literally nothing in the space other than two dog beds and a child’s trike with plenty of room to ride. Our goal for the space was to create an area where the family could read books together, watch a movie, work from home, or gather with friends and family. I got to work designing the multi-functional space—beginning with wall-to-wall bookshelves nodding to the colonial feel of a traditional home library. The bookshelves were painted dark gray to keep the look updated. Natural grass cloth wallpaper softens the walls, bringing texture and warmth, while bold patterns mix with a contemporary color palette of navy and tangerine to keep the room fresh and modern. The custom draperies diffuse the bright afternoon light, and the wool carpet tiles (perfect for pets) bring cohesiveness to the room. The various furniture groupings allow for many different activities to take place in this versatile space, and now their young son enjoys reading in the room and saves the trike riding for outdoors.

transformations8In the master bedroom, the look is traditional with a fresh color palette. Neutral linen fabrics with a soft damask pattern adorn the bed, while custom draperies in a bright grass-green color, along with black-and-white accents, liven the neutral color palette. I created a small seating area for watching morning cartoons and designed a custom kennel table for the unique use of the space for the family. Finally, what traditional master bedroom would be complete without an en suite bathroom boasting a custom claw-footed bathtub, crystal chandelier, classic black-and-white plaid wallpaper, and puddling green linen drapes?

The kitchen plays center field with honed marble countertops, custom white cabinetry, and an intimate fireplace. A challenge in the kitchen was where to share meals. The narrow footprint was another area where I customized the space for the needs of the family. The light in the morning is truly fantastic in this room. To capture that light and inspire family meals, I designed a narrow dining table stained in a deep black hue, which could take a beating and accommodate the dinette area. The result is a family-style area with room for eight.

There is a cohesiveness in this house that is anchored by the family’s deep-rooted East Coast ties, flair for subtle modernity, and interest in creating family tradition. This house reflects those qualities for this family, and I couldn’t be happier to help create this way of living for them.

Visit asid-neia.org for more information. OmahaHome

*Correction: The printed version incorrectly identified Paul Pikorski of Amoura Productions as the photographer.

 

Valentine’s Day

January 20, 2015 by and

Now that our kids are in junior high, they don’t have those Valentine’s Day class parties. For Chris and I, romance has digressed into the form of a nap. In lieu of all the typical celebrations, we make Valentine’s Day a proclaimed day of love for our dog.

I love all dogs and their furry souls. A dog walks by me, and I immediately inquire about the name of the dog, the breed, its age, and its personality. I’m always curious about a dog’s connection to their human.

Before kids, or even marriage, we had Farley the Wonderdog, a 125 pound, loyalty-and-gentle-giant of a black lab. Since I was vetoed on letting him be in our wedding party, Farley was represented at our wedding with a custom-made cake topper. Once the babies arrived, our Farley became our personal service dog. He cleaned up anything on the floor. He would assess the extent of my cooking project and man his station right next to the cutting board.

When the kids learned to crawl, he’d keep them corralled. And when they’d get too close, he’d lick them until they toddled away. When they learned to walk, he’d keep an eye on them and then get out of their way, lacking in their judgment of newfound confidence in their upright adventures. On occasion, he’d knock them down with a whap of his tail, just to remind them who’s really in charge.

My kids were 9 years old when we made the heartbreaking decision to put Farley down. They grew up with him. Farley taught us that we have room in our hearts to love dogs. He taught me the profound and still perplexing lesson that dogs will take any love you give them and reciprocate with an exponentially greater rate.

And that is true love. It’s a give of everything you have—regardless if you have thumbs or not. Farley also taught us to clear all food up to six feet high, and hide all shoes. But mostly, he taught us that we have room in our hearts to love another dog.

So that’s when we rescued Maybee. The word “maybe” initiates hope to a child. Our furry family member, Maybee, is a sign of hope and possibilities for all great things to our family. Maybee is a herding dog, and for the first year we had her, she kept the kids in line by nipping them on their backside. I love this dog.

As it stands now, I’m trying to decide if we saved Maybee or if she saved us. Either way, we’ll celebrate Valentine’s Day with our sweet, smart, and beautiful dog. Instead of chocolate and Sweethearts, we’ll take a romantic stroll in the park and give her doggy treats and a rawhide. Thank you, Maybee! We love you!

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White Elephant

December 23, 2014 by and

My girlfriend and I were invited to a thing called a Ladies’ Christmas Ornament Exchange Party.

I seemed to have enough couth to not ask the hostess, “Is this country casual, or somethin’ super fancy?” So, I searched high and low for a leg-lamp ornament. It would be nice and a personal reflection of my awesomeness. Most people know the reference. It’d be fun. If it turned out to be a fancy party, then someone would get stuck with it. But it’d be like a funny ha-ha stuck with it, and not a “Who invited those nitwits to our soiree?” kinda vibe.

But apparently, and as usual, I’m a year late. The leg lamp ornament was last year’s craze. This year, the stores have the mini leg lamp but not the full-sized lamp and not the ornament. Great, now I was going to have to come up with something else sub-par in brilliance.

I asked a co-worker who is pretty up on fancy. She told me where to go, but lo, my crappy minivan doesn’t point in that direction. I found myself upgrading my ornament shopping by the minimum—at Garden Ridge. Finally, I opted for a dog picture frame ornament.

We had a blast at the party. The four main food groups were represented in the form of chocolate. I wasn’t too worried about how my dog ornament would be received. After all, it was a dog picture frame ornament and everyone found the hostess’ dogs to be adorable.

I noticed as ladies opened randomly wrapped ornaments, my contribution was on the lower end of ornament financial investment. Uh-oh.

As usual, I was distracted by an ornament that said “Merry Christmas, Y’all” on it. I’m a pure-blood Texan, if you didn’t know. I was gonna get that ornament. In the throes of the exchange, the lady next to me happened to get my awesome dog frame ornament. I heard her explain her dismay to her pal. I asked if she had a dog. She did, but it’s not like she’s going to display that on her tree. That poor dog of hers.

I responded with, “Yeah, who’s the weirdo who brought a ridiculous ornament like that?” Then I grinned and took off with my super “Merry Christmas, Y’all” ornament. I hope we get invited again next year. There’s hope because my friend brought such a cool ornament everyone asked her where she got it. So, maybe next year, they’ll invite her and then, since we’re a power couple, she’ll have to take me. And I will find an expensive cat ornament. For sure.

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Dumplings, Leopards, and Sherpas, Oh My!

January 9, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Silas and Kimberly West have four children who are actively involved in soccer, ballet and tap, golf, Awana, choir, and a smattering of other hobbies. Those hobbies include taking care of a small zoo: two dogs, a cat, a gecko, a snake, and a coop full of chickens.

Priya, 7, shares about Momo, their small gray dog: “Momo likes to snuggle on the couch, and she likes to sit in the window behind the couch, and she likes to eat cat food.” Momo is named for dumplings that are found in Nepal, where the West family lived for 11 years.

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Next up? “Duma!” Elijah, 9, exclaims. Duma is his leopard gecko. The name means “leopard” in Swahili—Silas spent many of his growing-up years in Kenya. Duma lives in a cage in the boys’ bedroom. “He likes to act dead,” says Elijah. “He likes to stare. He likes to climb in your hair or your neck. And he doesn’t like new people.” That means new people get hissed at.

Then there’s Tiger Lily, the cat. “She’s gray with black stripes,” says Adia, 11. “And when you’re sad, she comes and comforts you—she sits on your lap.”

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Bruno is the corn snake under the care of 12-year-old Jedidiah.

At this point, Kimberly has to laugh. “We have so many pets. Oh my goodness,” she says.

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One reason Jedidiah likes Bruno is because “he can always beat you in a staring contest.” The snake can’t blink because he doesn’t have eyelids.

Sherpa is a Redbone Coonhound. “He’s named after the guides who take people up in the Himalayas,” says Adia.

“There’s so many goofy things about him,” Silas says.

“He likes to dance!” Adia exclaims. “If you say, ‘Dance,’ he will jump up and hold onto your shoulders.”

Sherpa is protective of Priya. “Other dogs aren’t allowed around Priya,” Kimberly says.

“Not even his best friend,” says Elijah of Otto, the Great Dane-mastiff mix who lives next door.

“Only Momo,” says Priya. “She’s the only dog who’s allowed around me.”

“He’s really gentle with the kids, even Avila,” Silas says about the toddler who used to live next door. “She’d curl up on his dog bed with him, and they’d just relax together.”

“Even Tiger Lily,” says Adia.

“Yeah, he loves the cat,” says Kimberly. “And he loves the chickens.”

The chickens are perhaps the most surprising of the pets—the whole family just loves them. Kimberly says, “We decided two years ago that we were going to get chickens. It took me 10 years to convince him.”

“I grew up with chickens on the farm, and they’re stinky and messy and a lot of work. And I didn’t want them,” Silas explains. “But Kim always wanted them, so we got them. And I ended up liking them a lot.”

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The chickens reside in handmade coops and roam free in the garden. Madge is the matriarch of the chicken coop. Elijah says, “She kind of likes to snuggle. She likes to dig and eat bugs.” Madge often squats down when approached and likes to be picked up.

“The chickens are more like pets. They’re like pets that give us something,” 
Kimberly says.

“I never saw chickens that way,” Silas says. “They’ve always just been an animal you have on your farm for a purpose. All of our chickens like to be held and get mad when 
you don’t.”

“We have a proclivity to needy animals, and our chickens fit into the needy-animal realm,” Kimberly says. “Even the Reds are letting you pet them now. An animal comes into our yard, and it becomes needy.”

And, in return, the kids are quite attached to the chickens. They were heartbroken when a Bantam hen died this summer.

“We had a funeral for Penny,” Kimberly says. “She was killed by a possum.”

Adia says, “She’s buried next to the 
possum.”

For the Love of Pets

December 12, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“Animals are a huge deal in this house!” exclaims Kim Hanusek of Bennington, mom to Samantha, 9, and Leigha, 6.  She’s also a second-grade teacher at Pine Creek Elementary in the Bennington Public Schools district. Kim is always eager to visit about the eight animals (yes, eight!) that complete her extended family.

“First off, we have Tucker, 3, a purebred Boxer,” shares Kim. “My family has been raising Boxers for 20 years, and my sister and I grew up showing Boxers in 4-H. I have shown Tucker locally at shows in Lincoln and Omaha, but now he’s a ‘finished champion,’ which means he’s just a coach potato.

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“Then we have Piggy, a French Bulldog who’s 4 and also a purebred. We got him from a breeder, and he actually looks like a pig.”

Kim goes on to describe her three feline friends. Callie, a domestic shorthair Calico, was adopted from the Nebraska Humane Society seven years ago (which makes her the most senior pet of the household).

Diamond, 4, is a Ragdoll, a domestic breed known for its gigantic size and limp body. “The kids like to hold him like a baby, and he’s so flexible, he folds up in half.”

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Then there’s Lily (age unknown), a domestic shorthair stray the family took in a couple years ago. “Another teacher spotted her in the snow on the playground one day, and I took her home. We didn’t intend to keep her,” Kim confesses, “but [Leigha] had been asking for a cat of her own, and we were trying to get her to stop chewing on her blanket. I told her, ‘Little girls that chew on blankets don’t have their own cats.’ It worked like a charm,” Kim recalls with a laugh.

The family also has two hamsters—gifts to the girls from their father, Brian, for Valentine’s Day last year.

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And just what does Dad think of all the animals in the house? “He grew up in a home where the dog stayed outside most of the time,” says Kim. “Then he found me and met my family…He had to become an animal lover out of necessity! Now, he travels to dog shows with us and willingly goes along with it all. Truly, he loves seeing the enjoyment the girls get out of [the animals].”

Last, there’s Coty, an 18-year-old paint horse that Kim got while in college. The family boards Coty at The Farm at Butterflat Creek in Bennington. “I did a little breakaway roping on her when she was young, but I was never successful,” Kim recalls. “She’s pretty ornery, but she’s turned out to be a great family pet. The girls and I ride her…both girls took riding lessons this summer. Samantha hopes to ride competitively one day.”

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Samantha plans to begin showing Boxers next summer in 4-H Junior Showmanship competitions as well, Kim shares proudly.

“My hopes are that both girls will show or train dogs in 4-H and more competitively in AKC-sanctioned shows when they get older,” she adds. “There’s a lot of enjoyment and pride that comes when you work hard and bond with a pet. The possibilities are endless with dog/owner activities. They might move on to dog agility, confirmation [breed judging], obedience, therapy dogs, and/or working with our breed-specific rescue group.”

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While the family pets are teaching her girls lessons about hard work and responsibility—they help clean cages, take the dogs to obedience classes, make sure all the animals are watered and fed daily, and other duties—Kim says they’re teaching them lessons in humanity as well.

“They’re learning that the animals depend on them…that all animals need love and attention, and that playtime is a requirement of pet ownership, too. They’re learning that animals feel…and they’re all unique. Samantha, especially, has taken a real interest in learning about the differences in dog breeds and their temperaments and behavior.”

The family has also done some work with a dog rescue club, which has allowed the girls to see how some pet owners treat pets as disposable. “I want them to understand that pet ownership is a commitment, and you don’t get rid of a pet because you’re bored with them or so you can get another. It’s not temporary,” adds Kim.

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Having so many pets does offer its challenges, Kim admits. The family has to budget for yearly vaccinations and heartworm pills, boarding and farrier fees, vet bills, and of course, pet food and supplies. All the expenses can add up. Taking any trip can also be a hassle. “We always have to ask, ‘Who’s going to take care of the animals?’ before we can go anywhere.”

Recently, Kim and Brian approached the girls about taking a vacation to Disneyland. The girls’ response? “They told us they wanted to go to New Orleans where they make Pitbulls & Parolees or to the Florida Everglades to see where Gator Boys is shot.” These are two Animal Planet shows the family watches together. A love of animals is ingrained in them for life, Kim says.

“A lot of what we do revolves around the animals, especially the dogs. They join us for fire-pit nights with the neighbors…they sleep in our bed…they’re there for just about everything.” And that’s just how the Hanuseks like it.

Peggy Pawloski

December 6, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“This is all I own,” Peggy Pawloski says, encompassing her 1,000-square-foot condo in the 1101 Jackson building with a sweep of her hand. The owner of LeWonderment, a gift store in the Old Market for children and dogs, shares the studio with her 8-year-old black standard Schnauzer, Isabella Rose. “She’s lovely in the store,” Pawloski brags affectionately. “She’s great with kids.”

The studio doesn’t have many options for lounging, but Pawloski loves to cuddle with Izzy on an enormous sectional facing the eastern windows. Even with the windows open, the quiet is remarkable and the view of the Loess Hills is stunning. “When I’m sitting here reading,” she says, “I can see all the airplanes taking off.” Living on the top floor means she can hear the rain sing on the building’s tin roof. She loves it, especially because her bedroom is a loft up a short flight of stairs, bringing her even closer to the sound.

The loft space is just large enough for her bed (that and the buttery leather sectional are the only two pieces of furniture she moved into the studio with) and a walk-in closet, complete with a compact washer/dryer. She keeps dishes and plates in a sideboard because she doesn’t have cupboards. She purchased the sideboard and the wall unit in the living area from IKEA. “I really have stripped down what I own and what I value,” Pawloski says. “It’s almost minimalist.” She laughs, knowing she’ll never quite reach that because of her love of books. During her previous career with Scholastic in New York, she had a collection of 3,000 children’s books.

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The fairytale quality of children’s art and literature might be evident in the look of her shop, but her condo is all bold colors and simple silhouettes. A large abstract piece from internationally renowned local artist Steve Joy hangs above the sectional, and a Mid-Century womb chair and bar stools keep the studio’s feel sparse but colorful. The dining table and chairs are identical to ones found on the set of Mad Men.

Pawloski’s international travels with Scholastic enabled her to collect posters and art from around the world, which now hang in the dining and kitchen areas. “It’s the right change,” she says of her much more stationary life. “It’s the next metamorphosis.”

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She calls her current routine living the dream: She gets up, walks the dog, and then she and Izzy go to work. They open LeWonderment just one block away at 11 a.m., and the two of them are there till 9 p.m., selling children’s books, dog treats, and helping clients design the perfect playroom through Pawloski’s latest venture, Play+Room by LeWonderment.

Pawloski’s daughter, Amy, and her son, Jason, are on the board of directors for the French-inspired gift shop, and her two granddaughters come work in the shop on weekends. She says she feels like the fairy godmother: “I have a charming life because of all the people involved in it.”

The Bennetts and Their Little Bit of Luck

September 24, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Family life is hectic for everyone. Kids, work, school functions, sporting events…the list goes on and on. Add a family pet into the mix and it’s enough to make you wonder how it all gets done.

Angela and Rick Bennett of Bellevue have one such family. With four school-age children, they faced a question: “Is a dog one member too many?”

A few years ago, the Bennetts were looking for a dog to bring into their family. “We needed a dog that didn’t shed,” explains Angela. Two of her children, James, 12, and Julia, 7, have allergies. “We had a list of very specific breeds and thought we were going to have to look around for a while.”

As luck would have it, the family stopped into the Nebraska Humane Society on the same day that a Lhasa-Poo (a cross between a Lhasa Apso and a Poodle) puppy was put up for adoption—and his name just happened to be Lucky.

“In the beginning, the kids promised to do a lot of the work,” recalls Angela. For the most part, she says that they have kept their end of the bargain, with everyone taking turns cleaning up after Lucky, feeding him, and walking him.

She shares that her husband, Rick, made sure that each child had his or her own responsibilities in caring for Lucky, allowing the new family member to bond with everyone. Angela admits that it was difficult in the beginning. “When we first got him, he wasn’t nearly as easygoing as he is now,” she says. The Humane Society identified Lucky as a family-friendly choice, but the screening process can sometimes be an imperfect science. Lucky’s adjustment to his new home took some work. Angela says that he had a hard time getting used to the kids.

“When they would touch him, especially when he had some food in his dish, Lucky would bite them,” she says. Concerned by this behavior, Rick started to wonder if they might need to give the dog away. “We wouldn’t have given him away just because we didn’t want him, but obviously we didn’t want the kids—or their friends—to get hurt.”

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In an attempt to save Lucky, 15 year-old Erica closely observed the dog’s behavior and came up with a list of ten rules, written in Lucky’s voice, that each family member should follow. A copy was hung in each child’s bedroom.

Rules such as “Don’t bother me when I’m eating or have my bone,” “When I’m asleep, leave me alone…I’m not in the mood to play,” and “If I walk away, don’t grab me or keep me back” topped the list.

“I think it was mostly due to Erica’s rules that [we were able to keep] Lucky,” says Angela.

Anna, age 10, reminded her mother of another helpful hint: “Close the zipper on the trampoline, and don’t leave a stool out there when it’s open.”

After making a few other adjustments, such as crating Lucky during meals so that he wouldn’t beg for food, things are running smoothly at the Bennett home.

“Lucky is pretty laid-back,” says Angela. “He loves to sit at the door and just look out. But when he sees another dog, he gets a little crazy.”

Though Lucky is rather territorial, he does enjoy playing at the dog park. “Once he’s off his leash, he gets along with the other dogs. He’s never gotten into a fight with another dog at the park.”

The idea of bringing home a new dog is always fun and exciting. But soon reality sets in and difficult issues need to be worked out. Will the kids follow through on their responsibilities? How will Fido interact with the children?

“It’s a big commitment!” says Angela. Thankfully, for the Bennetts, they were able to find a way to resolve these unexpected issues within their own home and keep Lucky as a part of their family. “It was a little touchy with him [at first], about how he reacted to the kids,” says Angela. But she offers this advice: “Pay attention to the dog’s personality and be patient with the interaction between the dog and the kids.

“This is really corny, but we always said we were ‘Lucky’ to find him,” says Angela.

When is the Right Time for a Family Pet?

August 16, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

So you just had kids. During the first couple years of raising toddlers, you were under a lot of stress and had a fairly unpredictable schedule. But now that they’re in school, you’ve gotten into a comfortable routine—breakfast, take the kids to school, go to work, pick the kids up from school, eat dinner, go to bed. It’s about this time that you might be thinking, “Hey, we should get a family pet!”

But how do you know if a pet is a good idea? And what kind of pet should you get to fit your family’s lifestyle? Well, there are actually several things to consider before adding a pet to your family.

The first is whether or not you have time you can devote to a pet. “Time is the best judge,” says Cathy Guinane, training and behavior coordinator with the Nebraska Humane Society, who works with owners of new pets regularly. “A family has to have time for an animal. They can’t be gone all the time.”

Guinane, herself, adopted four dogs—three terrier mixes and one poodle mix—and personally prefers to get pets in the summer. “It’s easier to potty-train a puppy or younger dog when the weather is nice. [And] more people are outside in the summer, so there’s more time for walks.”

“The answer is different for each family,” adds Tera Bruegger, director and adoption coordinator with Hearts United for Animals, a no-kill shelter, sanctuary, and animal welfare organization in Auburn, Neb. “One time that can be difficult, however, is around the holidays.” Bruegger says that holiday preparations, leaving town, and constantly having guests over aren’t beneficial to the transition of adding a pet to the family because there’s not enough time to establish a routine.

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“A lot of thought and discussion should go into this life-changing decision,” explains Bruegger. Feeding, grooming, exercise, medical expenses, your home—all of these things must be considered before taking on a new pet.

Always evaluate your home before getting a pet. Do you have a house or a condo that you’ve bought, or are you renting an apartment?

If you have a permanent residence, you’re in pretty good shape. (If you have a yard, that’s even better, especially if you’re thinking about getting a dog.) You’ll just have to get used to the idea of your pet possibly destroying wood floors and carpet, scratching doors and cabinetry, and chewing furniture. But hey, you’ve had kids. You’ve already accepted the fact that your house will show some wear and tear, right?

If you’re renting, however, you’ll want to check with your landlord because you might not be allowed to have a pet; and if you are, there are often breed and weight restrictions, as well as pet deposits and monthly fees. Apartments are getting a lot better about allowing pets, but adopting a giant Great Dane might be better if you held off until you have a permanent residence.

The big one, though, is whether or not you can afford to own a pet. Purchasing and adopting both cost at least a couple hundred dollars, depending on the breed and age. Then, there’s spaying and neutering, which are highly recommended by vets. Don’t forget licensing, rabies shots, and annual check-ups and vaccines. And just like kids, always keep in mind that there could be a medical emergency, like a broken leg.

So what kind of pet is best for your family? Well, that depends on your schedule and whether or not you’re looking for a long-term companion for your family.

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Smaller animals—fish, birds, reptiles, rodents—require much less time, space, and interaction than a cat or dog. “They’re good for teaching kids responsibility,” says Guinane. In fact, if you’re not sure about whether your family is ready to handle the responsibility of a larger pet, it might be good to start with one of these. Beware, though. These pets have shorter lifespans and may upset younger kids when they die.

With a cat or dog, more time and effort is needed. Both animals crave interaction, whether it’s a walk around the neighborhood, playing with toys, or simple petting.

Cats are the more independent of the two, explains Guinane. Although they do still need some attention, cats won’t feel the same sense of abandonment a dog will if your family is out of the house a lot. Cats do, however, require a litter box (unless you train your cat to go outside or in the toilet), which will need to be cleaned on a regular basis. Also, most cats don’t do well with roughhousing.

“If you’re looking for a quieter pet that is fairly easy to take care of, cats can make great companions,” says Bruegger.

On the other hand, dogs are very playful and make great family companions. “A dog will love everyone and can handle the activities of an active household,” says Guinane. Not to mention, if you have children who are physically disabled, a dog can provide extra support.

“Dogs can bring so much happiness to a home,” Bruegger adds.  “Some people believe you live longer with dogs, as you are happier, and you may be healthier since you may get more exercise walking the dog.”

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Age is also something to think about with cats and dogs. Kittens and puppies are fragile and require training, but they’re also much more social. “They can grow up with the kids and the activity of the household,” says Guinane. The problem? “They get into everything and chew a lot!”

With an older cat or dog, you have the luxury of only having to train the animal to get used to your home, as they already know basic commands and are potty-trained. “They may be a bit more laid-back or have less energy, which can be appealing to many people,” explains Bruegger. Just make sure you choose an older pet wisely because some of them may not have been around kids before. Usually, animals that haven’t been around small kids find them frightening because their movements are so fast and unpredictable, which can be especially hard on an older animal.

“[An older animal] may also have more health issues,” adds Guinane. “They may not be as game to play and be touched when they don’t feel well.”

Nevertheless, whatever type and age of animal you choose for your new family pet, both Guinane and Bruegger recommend that you adopt from a shelter or rescue instead of going to a pet store.

“Animals at shelters need a home,” says Guinane. “Sometimes, they just need another chance.” The Nebraska Humane Society works closely with people looking to adopt and tries to find the best possible match, depending on personality types, lifestyle, and location restraints.

Hearts United for Animals has a similar process, though they take it a step farther by doing a home visit before selecting matches. “Adopting from a shelter or rescue means you’re not supporting puppy mills [with] inhumane conditions…For many, the thought of providing a home to an animal that needs one fills their hearts with joy, and the bond built with a rescue pet can be second to none.”

Pet-Proofing Your Home

Planning on expanding your family with a bundle of furry love? Pam Wiese, vice president of public relations and marketing at Nebraska Humane Society, says that the NHS has pamphlets to hand out about pet-proofing a home, as well as a behavior hotline. Still, Wiese has learned a lot from firsthand experience.

For example, her two labs Rudy and Bree may or may not notice the screen door is closed when they come crashing back in from playtime. Wiese has discovered that a pair of simple “bird magnets” (magnets that attract each other on either side of a screen or glass) keeps the rambunctious pair from tearing through her screen door. Again.

Use Wiese’s following tips to prevent such destruction to your property, as well as eliminate hazards to your pet’s health:

Be tidy. “Unfortunately, one of the best things to do is keep your home picked up,” Wiese says with a laugh. By getting in the habit of putting your shoes in your closet and shutting the door, you remove an opportunity for puppy to develop a taste for leather.

Get down on their level. View your home from your new pet’s vantage point, and you might be surprised at what nooks, crannies, and cords a kitten or a puppy could get tangled up in. Block holes, put covers over air vents, and get cords tidied out of the way.

Put food away. Even if you’re thawing meat, Wiese recommends shutting it in a turned-off microwave or setting it overnight in the fridge. “You don’t want your dog to learn that you keep food on the counters,” she says. “That way, the one day you do forget to hide the German chocolate cake, he’s not going to be looking for it.”

Close everything. Get a covered trashcan. Close the toilet lid. If your cat’s a Houdini, consider childproof locks on cabinets.