Tag Archives: dogs

Giving to the Dogs

August 4, 2017 by
Photography by Sarah Lemke

Ella Alberts has loved dogs since she could remember. That’s how the 5’4” girl ended up standing next to the 6’4” swimmer who has won more Olympic medals than any athlete.

Ella’s helpless at the sight of round puppy eyes, floppy ears, and wiggly tails. Squeal! The pitter-patter of tiny puppy paws wins her over—every time. In fact, they are the inspiration of her volunteer work.

The 12-year-old Westside Middle School student has dedicated the better part of her young life to raise money to help animals at local shelters.

Ella’s big heart for small animals became evident when she was a tot, and the thought of a homeless animal tugs at Ella’s heartstrings.

“She’s not allowed to go into the Humane Society alone because she leaves crying,” Mary says.

Ella, an only child, has three dachshund siblings at home: George, Dodge, and Dolly. Quite active little pups. Mary and husband Ron Alberts say there’s never a dull moment in the family’s home.

The Alberts have fostered animals on-again, off-again throughout the years, but exclusively began serving as a foster family for dogs in 2013. That’s when the Alberts visited a local animal shelter where Ella found a small, aging dachshund named Paris with no eyes, no teeth, and a tumor.

“I just have to take her home to love her,” Ella told her mother, who explained that the animal may not live long.

Caring for terminally ill dogs is not about wishing the pets back to better health, but more about finding a place for them to comfortably live out the last days of their lives.

Then, it happened. One of the foster pets didn’t make it. Ella was heartbroken.

“She was in the room as it drifted off,” Mom recalls. “Ella was very comforting and calm. You don’t want them to pass in the shelter after many of them have lived neglected lives. This dog in particular was in a puppy mill her whole life and then went to the shelter…poor thing.”

The experience moved Ella to help others. She was 8 when she came up with the idea to host a lemonade stand. Sales increased once word got out that she was raising funds to help homeless animals. Ella’s one-day lemonade stand is a now-annual fundraiser for Hearts United for Animals.

The first year, Ella raised $600. Now, four years later, she’s since raised more than $1,300 and given countless shelter supplies such as dog food, beds, laundry detergent, and other puppy goods. Ella is pleased that the money raised pays for surgeries for needy dogs.

Ella’s love for dogs, and unwavering dedication to service earned her a special recognition. She was named the Nebraska recipient of the 2017 Prudential Spirit of Community Award.

The national award program recognizes exemplary middle and high school students. Two students from each state and Washington, D.C., are chosen based on volunteer efforts.
The honorees received $1,000 and an engraved silver medal, which was presented by Olympic gold-medalist Michael Phelps.

Needless to say, the trip was life-changing for Ella. While in D.C. the Alberts visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, which touched Ella deeply. She has since read several books about those who sacrificed their lives in the Vietnam War.

Ella kept busy with dance lessons and track this summer, along with her continued effort in promoting her lemonade stand, collecting donations, and fostering dogs.

“Isn’t that wonderful,” says Carol Wheeler, founder of Hearts United for Animals shelter. “Ella has done the lemonade stand for several years. It’s simply charming.”

The 65-acre no-kill shelter just an hour outside of Omaha is grateful to see such a young, dedicated person believe in its mission of rehabilitating animals medically and socially.

“I think she is exceptional for having done this for many years,” Wheeler said. “We do see young people who have their birthday parties and they have guests bring gifts for the dogs instead of them.”

Ella’s dedication is striking, says Wheeler.

“She’s exceptional because she’s dedicated herself…not just one year or one event, but continues to give. It’s very touching to receive her gifts.”

This article was printed in the Fall 2017 edition of Family Guide.

The House on the Corner

June 4, 2017 by
Photography by Keith Binder

Welcoming. Warm. Unpretentious. Good vibes emanate from the stately beige stucco house on the corner of 52nd and Jackson streets in Omaha’s historic Dundee neighborhood. Inside the three-story structure, the main reasons for the comfortable, lived-in atmosphere scamper about on four legs.

Three Labradors—Buddy, Beaumont, and puppy Jackson (named in honor of the street that runs along the south side of the property)—form the center of attention and affection within the happy household. Homeowners Marj Plumb and wife Tracy Weitz refer to them simply as “the boys.”

A lifestyle where they would be walking dogs through a vibrant neighborhood and living in a jewel of a house never registered a blip on the couple’s radar until four years ago when the academics, working and teaching in the San Francisco Bay Area for decades, took a leap of faith.

“I’m originally from Illinois, and I wanted to get back to the Midwest,” says Plumb, who holds a doctorate in public health from Berkeley and owns a consulting business. When Weitz, a medical sociologist, received a director-level job offer with the Susan T. Buffett Foundation in late 2013, they got their destination. When they toured the area around the University of Nebraska-Omaha, they found their neighborhood. And when they saw the house on the corner, “It was exactly what we wanted,” Plumb says. “We love to entertain, and it’s an expansive house. Just an amazing find.”

Purchasing the five-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bath house won them instant equity with their neighbors. The property had sat empty for three years and had deteriorated badly. A general contractor bought it and did some renovations, including an overhaul of the kitchen, before flipping it. But much work remained.

“The first year involved replacing the sewer line, which backed up, replacing the main furnace, plus the furnace in the basement and third floor,” Plumb recalls. “We replaced the [central] air conditioners, fixed the roof, replaced the gutters, upgraded the electrical, and replaced all the windows, which leaked badly. Oh, and the yard was in bad shape.”

Selling their Berkeley bungalow provided the necessary funds.

“We knew when we bought it that we were going to put in probably twice what we paid for it [$387,000],” she says. “But we had to do right by the house, because it’s so unique.”

Built in 1925, the house stands out because of its Beaux-Arts design, an architectural rarity in Omaha, though widely known on the East Coast.

A distinctive feature of Beaux-Arts includes a flat roof on top, and a roof pitch that comes almost straight down along the sides of the house. A decorative wrought-iron trim rims the edges of the roof. Plumb and Weitz added a similar trim along the garage roof for continuity.

Two round, sculpted, and painted emblems of a dog and squirrel hang on the front of the house. In another original enrichment, decorative pavers form an arch over the front door.

“What strikes me about this house is that it sits in the midst of all this brick in the neighborhood. It’s such a treasure,” says Trish Barmettler, the couple’s interior designer. “And you can’t tell from the outside how big it really is.”

The house boasts a bright sunroom off the kitchen; formal dining room with a door that leads to a deck and patio; a large, dark-oak bar in the living room, fully stocked with spirits; carpeted basement filled with gym equipment and a large 3D-TV on the wall; and a newly built greenhouse behind the garage.

The biggest renovation project transformed the south side of the second floor into a master bedroom suite. Contractors stripped drywall to expose an original brick wall between the bedroom and the bath. The bath area contains sinks, a vanity, a two-person shower, two walk-in closets, a vertical washer/dryer combo, and a heated floor.

The couple’s contractor, Bill Bolte of Bolte Construction, also figured out a way to build a deck off the bathroom, where the couple can luxuriate in their hot tub and enjoy the outdoor view from a higher perch.

Two tenants, a graduate student and her boyfriend, occupy the finished third floor. They serve as house managers and dog caretakers when Plumb and Weitz go out of town on frequent business trips.

“I still remember the want ad. ‘Live Free in Dundee,’” says the vivacious young woman, who prefers to remain anonymous. “I thought, ‘Hell yeah, that’s for me!’”

Their digs include a furnished bedroom with a big-screen TV, a sitting room with another television, walk-in closets, and a surprisingly spacious bathroom with shower and tub. The tenants have kitchen privileges but buy their own food. A compatible bunch, the four often eat together.

The good will that flows between Plumb, Weitz, and their neighbors feeds off the courtesy the couple shows regarding “the boys.” A second, shorter wrought-iron fence around the property prevents the dogs from getting too close to, and barking at, dog walkers and passersby. On the street corner, they also installed a pet waste station that contains a trash can and plastic bags for dog poop.

“The neighbors love it. Somebody bought replacement bags and wrote, ‘To Our Favorite Neighbors,’” Plumb recounts with a big smile. “We’ve had nothing but incredible fortune here.” 

This article appears in the May/June 2017 edition of Omaha Home.

Professional Pets

May 3, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Some of the names spoken about at the marketing firm Envoy might seem unorthodox: Adam, Steve, Stella … and Butter? These names don’t belong to people, but to a pair of Devon rex cats, a French bulldog/pug, and a mini goldendoodle. Dentists have kept tropical aquariums in their waiting rooms for generations, but expanding a workplace’s pet-tential is far more common than that.

Penny Hatchell and Kathy Broniecki have owned Envoy for 13 years, producing materials for clients as varied as Hiland Dairy, Boys Town, and Max I. Walker Cleaners. The decision to allow pets in the office came from the desire to create a flexible and welcoming work environment: “We love to come to work, and we want our employees to come to work,” Broniecki explains. The decision seems to be working for them: “There’s a much greater overall wellness to the office—our quality and productivity has improved, and it keeps things light.”

Kathy Broniecki’s French bulldog/pug, Stella, comes to the office daily.

The animals are great for keeping employees happy, or helping employees who have a bad day cheer up.

“This has been studied and we can see that animals have value in emotional therapy, or to be assistant animals in places like nursing homes,” says Teresa T. Freeman, a therapist in Omaha. “They have noticed a positive effect in studies pets have on people in isolated situations to help boost their mood, wellness, and even improve physiology—things like heart rate, blood pressure, and other stress responses.”

The cats were rescued and considered part of Envoy, while the dogs and a hedgehog are others’ personal pets.

Broniecki says the company is reasonable about how having pets around can affect productivity, too: “It’s natural to get distracted at work, and focusing too hard can just make things worse. Getting by distracted by the pets is a much more positive outlet than other options,” Broniecki says.

Perhaps the greatest boon to Envoy has been the camaraderie the animals’ presence has built. “One stormy day,” Broniecki says, “Adam the cat went missing. It became an all-hands-on- deck situation in that moment trying to find him.” Everyone keeps treats on their desks for them, and when the dogs arrive in the morning, they make sure to greet every employee first thing, desk by desk. Hatchell, who takes the cats home with her when the day is over, adds: “even over the holidays, I’ll get texts asking how they’re doing, and even requesting pics.”

That camaraderie is a common bond between employees and furry friends, and can be a way to connect with shyer clients or new staff members.

“It breaks down barriers,” Freeman says. “People may not be comfortable with where they’re at emotionally, or isolated.”

Envoy’s office cat Adam, is a rescue cat.

Envoy is not alone in enjoying the pet perks. At J.A. McCoy CPA (located off 90th and Maple streets) Julie McCoy, in partnership with her rescue dog JoJo, tackles that lightning rod of stressful situations—taxes. McCoy has kept a dog at work since day one of starting her firm. “We work a lot of long hours, and dealing with taxes and estates is often not a fun experience. But with JoJo here, people look forward to coming in,” she says. Like at Envoy, McCoy has seen the same positive influence in her office: “Clients love it–we get a lot of business by word of mouth because of JoJo.” And of course, employees are encouraged to have play time. “We’re doing stuff that requires a lot of concentration, so it’s good to have a break.”

Pam Wiese, V.P. of public relations for the Nebraska Humane Society, also believes that having pets in the office can do wonders to reduce stress. “Focusing on something that isn’t another person, like the nurturing qualities of animals, can help calm people down.” Pets, she says, provide an element of levity that certainly has value in defusing tense work scenarios. She brings her own dog to work every day, but cats, fish, and even critters can all contribute. “We once had a bearded dragon here in the office. He’d sit out on his rock and sunbathe while people came to visit him over their lunches,” Wiese says. Though the NHS has not made any concerted push to get animals into offices, they have had their share of interested parties looking to adopt. “We’re happy to work with people to find an animal for them,” she says, “as long as it’s an appropriate situation.”

There are certainly many factors to weigh before introducing a pet into your own office. “Animals need to be comfortable,” Weise says. If the conditions aren’t safe or comforting for the pet, that opens up the opportunity for additional problems, like becoming loud or aggressive. If you’re going to have a pet, they will need to have their own private space and occasionally training to cope with many active people surrounding them. There’s also the human factor to consider: not everyone is an animal lover. “You’ll need to be considerate of the phobias, allergies, and even prejudices of the people passing through your workplace.”

McCoy, Broniecki, and Hatchell were all able to speak to experiences with clients that turned sour because of their furry compatriots, but also noted that they were few and far between. “Only one client of ours didn’t want to come to the office because we had cats,” Hatchell explains. Similarly, McCoy shared that she did have clients with phobias: “We always try to be upfront and communicate ahead we’re a pet-friendly office. When a client comes in that has trouble with that, we make sure JoJo stays in her ‘office’ [and she does have an office, nameplate and all].”

Regardless, they were each in confident agreement: their pawed pals have been a big plus for their businesses.

Nora belongs to Amy Goldyn.

This article was printed in the Spring 2017 edition of B2B.

Elizabeth Byrnes

November 20, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“Students come up to me in the halls and ask when the pantry is going to stock toothbrushes…Toothbrushes…What they’re coming in for, it’s not just food they need, but basic items to survive and help their family.”

-Elizabeth Byrnes

Tucked away in a discreet supply room at Ralston High School, beyond the steel lockers and crowded classrooms, Elizabeth Byrnes is stocking nonperishable goods.

While classmates hurry to first period at 7:30 a.m., Byrnes shuffles paperwork, counts inventory, coordinates volunteer shifts, and organizes pick-ups and drop-offs for the school’s food pantry.

Byrnes is not your typical teenager. Sure, she’s a 17-year-old cheerleader who gabs on a smartphone and loves to shop at American Eagle. But this 5-foot-6-inch brown-eyed beauty takes her community service seriously.

So when she saw a sign last year advertising the school’s free food pantry, titled the R-Pantry, Byrnes decided to check it out.

“I didn’t know it was needed,” she says.

On that particular day, she visited the small closet of a lecture room where teachers had been operating a makeshift pantry that allowed students in need to shop anonymously for food, toiletries, and other supplies inside the high school.

Roughly 60 percent of students at Ralston Public Schools receive free or reduced-rate meals.

To create a healthy pantry, teacher Dan Boster says the Ralston High staff noticed the need and donated nonperishable items and the seed money—roughly $800 worth—in exchange for casual dress days.

“Once the pantry was created, we handed it off to the students,” says Boster, who also serves as National Honor Society adviser and oversees the pantry project.

Byrnes acquired the larder responsibility and has helped it evolve from the small closet of a lecture hall into a spacious supply room with large tower shelves brimming with food as diverse as artichoke hearts, fruit snacks, and granola bars.

Byrnes has grown the one-person operation to having 70 volunteers on deck to assist when needed. She has presented before the Ralston Chamber of Commerce when soliciting for donations and has advocated and made Ralston High an official Food Bank of the Heartland donation site.

She describes the families who utilize the pantry as living break-even lifestyles, existing paycheck-to-paycheck, with little left over for simple luxuries such as lip balm or toilet paper. Students from such families experience a lot of stress and anxiety over where their next meal is coming from, she adds.

“I saw how education is extremely difficult to get, especially if there’s a need in the household,” Byrnes says. “Students come up to me in the halls and ask when the pantry is going to stock toothbrushes…toothbrushes…What they’re coming in for, it’s not just food they need, but basic items to survive and help their family.”

Food insecurity—which means that people lack access to enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle—can be invisible, she explains. “Not knowing if there will be dinner on Friday night or lunch on Saturday.”

The R-Pantry idea is a positive response to a really challenging situation: student hunger. It is not the ultimate solution, but it is a start.

“I have so much respect and admiration for these students who are asking for help to support their
families.”

Byrnes excels in calculus, biology, and creative writing. She serves on DECA, is a class officer, and participates in National Honors Society. She enjoys running, hiking, and playing with her two dogs—Sophia and Jack.

Byrnes credits her family for always influencing her to do what’s best and help those in need. Dad (Robert E. Byrnes) is a doctor. Mom (Mary Byrnes) is a mortgage banker. Brother (Kent Keller) is a police officer.

“Her empathy for people runs very deep,” her mother says.

However, the driven teen doesn’t always communicate well with mom and dad, jokes her mother: “She was never one to seek glory. We didn’t know how involved she had been in the pantry until she was recognized. When she made homecoming court, we didn’t know about it until people began congratulating us.”

Mom adds, “She moves through life as if this is just a job. Helping others is just what she does.”

Byrnes plans to attend a four-year university next year and major in biology. She’d like to someday become a cosmetic dentist or dermatologist.

Byrnes encourages other young people: “If you see something you could change or help out, don’t be afraid to jump in there. You could change someone’s life with your one small action.”

The R-Pantry at Ralston High School (8969 Park Drive), is open on Fridays after school until 4 p.m. To volunteer, contact the school at 402-331-7373.

This article was printed in the Winter 2016 edition of Family Guide, an Omaha Publications magazine.

Suzanne Wilke

October 16, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Suzanne Wilke pulls up to her dog grooming store and exits her white Pathfinder with an exuberant wave and a giant smile on her face. She walks indoors and is immediately greeted with a barrage of barking dogs and friendly smiles. She picks up a chair and suggests we talk outside. “It’s too nice to be inside.” As we make our way to the storefront, we are greeted by multiple friends and customers picking up or dropping off their furry loved ones. Wilke greets everyone with the same friendly demeanor.

Wilke, who turns 60 in December, is a cancer survivor and owner of Bark Avenue Omaha, a grooming and daycare center for dogs. Her business is expanding, servicing 60-100 dogs per day. She is a rare breed whose ethics come from hard work and determination. Not satisfied with a mundane routine, she keeps herself active. “I hope to always keep that mentality, to stay busy enough where I don’t really have to worry about staying young,” Wilke says.

Her passion for dog grooming started at a young age. When she was 14, she started helping out at her aunt’s grooming shop. “There is just an art to it,” she exclaims. “My brain clicked, and it just came naturally to me.” So it would only make sense that from then on Wilke would follow her love for dogs and eventually begin her own business.

Though Wilke’s love for grooming only increased over the years, by age 23, in 1979, she took an apprenticeship with a plumber’s union as the only female apprentice. Wilke’s father, who was also a plumber, let her know that he wanted his daughter to have a career. “I was focusing on grooming, but my dad was always saying, ‘you need a career,’ and I didn’t want to do anything that confined me.”

After a few years of her apprenticeship, Wilke was no stranger to physical labor and eventually left the plumber’s union to begin a more promising job as a Union Pacific Railroad freight welder.

“I was the only woman to do that.”

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She smiles and explains some of her duties. “I welded hopper cars and did physical labor down in the shops of the Union Pacific Railroad.” Wilke continued to work at Union Pacific until 1988.

As Wilke began to figure out what career she wanted to pursue, she did not abandon her true passion, grooming dogs on weekends. She never lost her clientele regardless of what she was doing. “I still have clients that I had 35 years ago. Because they still have dogs.”

Unfortunately, in 1991, Wilke was diagnosed with leiomyosarcoma, a rare malignant tumor. Wilke battled her way to make a full recovery only a year later. With a rare cancer, treatment was never easy. “They really didn’t know what to do for me.” However, she knew that there was something more. “I’ve always sat back and tried to understand what my purpose was. There’s got to be a purpose for me to be here.” After recovery, Wilke continued to work part time grooming dogs, but in 2000 she decided to open Bark Avenue.

As time progressed, Wilke maintained a healthy lifestyle both mentally and physically. She was in a position to do what she loved and make a living at it. However, in November 2015, Wilke suffered from a stroke that affected her speech and ability to walk. “It took me from November until the end of March to feel like I could get everything the way I needed it.” Much like other situations in her life, Wilke took this head on and conquered it. She shows no signs of health problems only a year after her stroke.

Today, she still grooms dogs on a daily basis and exercises every day. “There are all kinds of things we do in our lives that we feel passionate about,” says Wilke, who also enjoys camping, riding motorcycles, and four-wheeling.

Michelle Vilak, a good friend of Wilke and manager of Bark Avenue, says, “(She’s) the hardest working woman I have ever met. She’s inspirational and my best friend.” After spending an afternoon with Wilke, truer words could not have been said.

Visit barkavenueomaha.com for more information. Sixty-Plus in Omaha.

DIY: Macraméniac

June 3, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Article originally published in June 2015 edition of Her Family.

Once you’ve slipped slowly into plant-lady insanity like I have, you start to accumulate more plants than floor space. The simplest and most attractive solution? Just hang new creations from the ceiling!

Besides the occasional blunt-object-to-the-head, the liability is minimal. And nobody trips over hanging plants. Your dogs can’t knock them over on the way to the window, and small humans aren’t digging into them.

Since the plastic hangers that come with plants aren’t exactly appealing, know that there is a cheap, natural-looking option. That’s right, we are throwing it back to the ‘70s. I’m talking about macramé.

materials

*Jute String

*Scissors

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1. Start with four pieces of jute that are two times as long as your desired length. Fold all four in half, and tie an overhand knot creating a loop near the top to make a hanger.

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2. Separate strings into four pairs of two and tie each pair together about a third of the way down the length of the strings.

Macrame4

3. Grab a single string from each pair of knotted strings, and tie it to a single string of the pair next to it.

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4. Tie the remaining end pieces to one another. Continue this process of knotting until you have your desired pattern. (Tip: tying knots too close to the knots above may constrict the size of planter you can fit in your hanger.)

Macrame6

5. Gather up the strings and tie off the bottom. Starting above the top level of knots, carefully place the potted plant into the hanger. This may be tricky, so having another set of hands helps.

Canine Calamity

April 9, 2015 by

Originally published in March 2015 Herfamily.

I never had a pet as a child.

Okay, so I did at the age of 9 or so have an ill-fated and short-lived guardianship of a turtle whose name I’ve long forgotten, but I’ve never been a pet person.

My mother abhorred the idea of anything furry dwelling in her home, and I was pretty much fine with that. The feeling carried over into adulthood, and my three now-grown children probably felt super-lucky just to have had the brief company of a single pet, a (clean and non-slobbering) feline named Scribbles.

Viral videos portraying cats and dogs doing whatever it is that cats and dogs do have never appeared on any of my playlists. And to be frank, people who describe their little quadruped cuties as their “children”…well, kinda creep me out. I have no innate aversion to cats, even though I take them to be whiskered sociopaths of evil intent, but I have never been at all comfortable around dogs of any make or model.

Before the hate mail begins, please allow me at least a shot at redemption.

My grandsons Barrett and Easton are growing up in a home where the company of canines is prized. Their collie, Summer, recently ascended to that great dog pound in the sky and, after an appropriate period of mourning, has been replaced by a border collie pup carrying an equally seasonal name of Winter.

It’s an understatement to say that I never hit it off with Summer. Perhaps it didn’t help that she stained our Oriental rug as a pup not 10 seconds into her very first visit to our home. My son, Eric, entered with Summer while explaining that all would be well in that the creature was doing a smash-up job when it came to taking care of business, but it was too late. The little thing bounded (Is that what dogs do? They “bound?”) directly to the rug, lifted one leg, and…you know the rest.

I have promised to be different with Winter. My kids already know that I am neurotic, but I don’t want Easton and Barrett to grow up thinking that their granddad is some kind of loathsome monster. I am going to do my best to get to know Winter and not be such a basket case.

Not surprisingly, my first encounter with Winter was, shall we say, trying. “He’s just young and excitable,” I was told as the dog tried to climb up my leg. Yeah, tell that to my now urine-stained shoes (suede, no less) and newish sweater scarred by Winter’s talons or toes or paws or whatever it is they’re called.

But it is with a certain sense of self-satisfaction that I can report that I kept my cool. Now, the notion of “cool” is subjective. My immediate, knee-jerk reaction was, admittedly, to jerk my knee in revulsion, but I collected myself as quickly as possible and tried my best to not make an international incident of the affair.

I really need to up my game in being the grandpa that I hope to be, but boy, do I have my work
cut out for me.

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Selfless Selfishness


January 11, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

A recent visit to the Nebraska Humane Society (NHS) found volunteer Chet Bressman deep into an adoption consultation with Sara Edwards, Amanda Hoffman, and a pup of questionable parentage named Nina. There had apparently just transpired a minor spat of sorts, and Bressman was setting things aright so that an interview could begin in earnest.

“No big problem,” Bressman explained. “It’s just that she was getting a little mouthy, and we had to…the dog…Nina…Nina was getting mouthy…not either of these nice young ladies,” the amiable Bressman sputtered as the women made an unsuccessful attempt to suppress giggles.

“Not only does he know the history of the Nebraska Humane Society, he is a vital part of that history. He’s played an important role in where we’ve been and where we’re going.”
— Pam Wiese, NHS Vice President of Public Relations and Marketing

Bressman was working adoption duties that day, but his other efforts over the last 15 years have included everything from building kennels to driving the PAW mobile adoption unit and more. His tireless dedication—60 hours a week of volunteering is not uncommon for him— led to him and his wife, Louise, being recognized by NHS with its inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award.

“Chet and Louise are fixtures here at the Nebraska Humane Society,” says Pam Wiese, the organization’s vice president of public relations and marketing. “Chet has been here so long and has put in an incredible number of hours. Not only does he know the history of the Nebraska Humane Society, he is a vital part of that history. He’s played an important role in where we’ve been and where we’re going.”

The couple, both longtime volunteers, met at NHS and dated for four years before being married over 10 years ago. “She came with all her papers and licenses in order,” Bressman quips.

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Bressman was part of the organization’s team that traveled to coastal Mississippi on an animal rescue mission in the devastating wake of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, and he joined the ASPCA team for a similar trek to Joplin, Missouri, after a tornado wrought destruction on that town in 2011.

Bressman’s commitment to animals knows no geographic boundaries, but his heart, he says, will always be for the sprawling NHS complex near 90th and Fort streets.

“I want the Nebraska Humane Society to be the very first words people think of when it comes to new pets,” he says. “There are so many puppy mills and so much bad breeding out there, and we don’t put up any unhealthy animals for adoptions. It’s a win-win situation in every way. It’s a win for the animal, for the adopting family, and it’s a win for the community because every adoption opens a new space here for us to do it all over again.”

“He told us everything; the day the dog came in, where she was found, her health at the time. He knew absolutely everything about Nina. He’s a real adoption pro.”
— Sara Edwards

The Bressmans live with Golden Retriever Buddy (11) and cat Sophie (17). Last year they lost Gracie, but her memory lived on when NHS commissioned a caricature of the Golden Retriever for use as the official mascot of the nonprofit’s annual Walk for the Animals.

Back in the adoption room—one brightly painted in the hue of cheery sunflowers—Bressman was coaching Edwards and Hoffman on some of Nina’s special needs. The dog, a Boxer-Dalmatian mix, was born deaf, and that meant the learning of hand signals along with other tips.

“Fold your hands,” Bressman gently explained to Hoffman, but not before she playfully wiped some of Nina’s slobber onto Edwards’ sweater. “That’s right. Now turn away from Nina. You got it.”

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Safety was also paramount in the discussion because each woman, both recently divorced, had a young child at home. Neither of the kids knew that Nina—an early Christmas present—would be awaiting introductions when they returned from school that day.

“Chet was great to work with,” Edwards says. “He told us everything; the day the dog came in, where she was found, her health at the time. He knew absolutely everything about Nina. He’s a real adoption pro.”

“More like an adoption god,” adds Hoffman. “We couldn’t believe it when we learned he is a volunteer. He should have his own show on Animal Planet.”

“I knew that was going to be a good adoption. Nina is going to a good home with good people where she’ll get lots of love and care.”
— Chet Bressman

Bressman was equally happy with how Nina’s adoption unfolded. “I knew that was going to be a good adoption,” he says. “I always know. Nina is going to a good home with good people where she’ll get lots of love 
and care.”

And then Bressman admits that he, the seemingly selfless co-winner of such an august award as the Lifetime Achievement honor, secretly harbored the most selfish of motives in his interaction with Edwards, Hoffman, and Nina.

“Best of all, it’s a big win-win for me, too,” he beams. “That one made my day!”

Visit nehumanesociety.org for more on Nebraska Humane Society adoptions, programs, and events.