Tag Archives: fish

Kiss an Endangered Fish

March 23, 2018 by
Photography by Doug Meigs

Trotlines catch every bottom-feeding fish imaginable in the Missouri River: channel catfish, freshwater drum, shovelnose sturgeon. Even the occasional blue sucker. But this boat’s crew of biologists and volunteers seek one rarity—the endangered pallid sturgeon.

Watching the line of hooks rise from the water, Dave Crane spots the prize. “Pallid!” he shouts, excitedly, as thick and bony cartilage plates breach the river’s surface.

He and three friends work in unison to pull the 200-foot line on board. Crane carefully removes the pallid sturgeon from a hook; then he passes the precious specimen to a Game & Parks staffer to take its measurements, weigh the fish on a digital scale, and check for hatchery-implanted tags.

“Looks like a shipper,” says fishery biologist Dane Pauley, as the sturgeon goes into a water tank on the boat. Pauley is one of four Game & Parks crew leaders checking trotlines between the Plattsmouth and Nebraska City boat ramps on April 9, 2017, during the annual pallid sturgeon recovery effort known as Broodstock.

A large pallid sturgeon on the scale

A “shipper” (i.e., slang for any sexually mature pallid sturgeon that is not hatchery-raised or has not been previously captured) is a sturgeon that the Game & Parks staff will send to a regional hatchery to ensure that its genetic stock is preserved and repopulated in the river ecosystem.

“I’ve been volunteering with Broodstock every year since 2009,” says Crane, a biologist with the Army Corps of Engineers. “As someone who works on planning and constructing Missouri River habitat restoration projects for a living, it’s a real treat getting hands-on with the fish and seeing firsthand the kind of biological response we’re having. My fieldwork doesn’t typically involve fish; I love getting out on the river like this.”

Broodstock collection—a regional conservation effort—is part of a larger, nationwide pallid sturgeon recovery initiative funded by the Army Corps of Engineers. Local participants include regional and federal stakeholders: Nebraska Game & Parks, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, volunteers from various state agencies, university biology professors, and students (along with their friends and family).

It’s not every day you come face-to-face with one of the American interior’s most endangered species. If you have the opportunity, be prepared to pucker up. Posing for a photo with a pallid sturgeon—and giving the fish a smoocheroo—has become a tradition on the Game & Parks’ boats.

“I’ve probably kissed a sturgeon at least three or four times. Only when we get a bigger one,” says Tim Shew, one of several friends that Crane has introduced to volunteering with Broodstock. “What has been really cool is that we have seen the effect of the program. There are a lot more and bigger pallids than when I started six years ago. Also more wild born. We never saw those for the first couple years.”

Dave Crane carefully handles a pallid sturgeon.

After checking 10 trotlines attached to buoys along the river, the boat crew has captured two shippers, and they caught-and-released countless non-targeted rough fish and hatchery-raised pallid sturgeon. When the boat stops on the side of the river for a sack lunch, it’s almost time to re-bait worms on 400 hooks to be replaced in the river for the next day’s crews.

By the end of the day, volunteers will have a dozen photos of themselves kissing a variety of fish—not just pallid sturgeon. Game & Parks staff record data on every fish pulled out of the water; it has become a valuable data set not only on the endangered species, but the entire Missouri River fishery.

Shipper sturgeons are transported via Game & Parks trucks (with water tanks), heading north to Gavin’s Point Fish Hatchery. After spawning in captivity, the adult fish will return to the river. Their offspring will remain in the tanks until the following spring when the space is needed for the next year’s broodstock.

According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, pallid sturgeon are “bottom-dwelling, slow-growing fish that feed primarily on small fish and immature aquatic insects. This species of sturgeon is seldom seen and is one of the least understood fish in the Missouri and Mississippi River drainages.”

Pallid sturgeon are strange-looking creatures with bony back plates, skeletal cartilage rather than bones (common among ancient fish), a reptilian-like tail, and a pointy snout (that is more narrow than its close relative, the shovelnose sturgeon). They have been documented living longer than 60 years and weighing more than 80 pounds. As an endangered fish, they are also illegal to catch and possess (unless you are participating in Broodstock or a similar government-sanctioned recovery effort).

Their fossils date back to the days of dinosaurs, and the fish have likely been swimming the Missouri River as far back as the river has existed. But in the modern era—following rampant dam construction and the Army Corps of Engineers’ channelization of the river for shipping and flood control in the mid-20th century—the pallid sturgeon population collapsed.

Nebraska Game & Parks staff and volunteers during the 2017 Broodstock

Kirk Steffensen is the coordinator of the Broodstock effort on Nebraska’s stretch of the Missouri River. A fisheries biologist with the Nebraska Game & Parks, he has managed regional pallid sturgeon recovery efforts since 2002.

“Before the river was highly engineered and managed, that spring pulse of water [from upstream snowmelt] usually cued sturgeon to make their migration run to the spawning grounds,” Steffensen says. “Now that the river is so regulated and managed, they don’t get that pulse anymore.”

The fish still make spawning runs. They just aren’t very successful. Dams block their migration, and mankind’s reshaping of the river has degraded remaining spawning habitats.

Seeking to reverse the species collapse, the government listed pallid sturgeon as a federal endangered species in 1990. A recovery plan went into effect soon after.

“Since their populations were so low and diminished,” Steffensen says, “it was decided that we need to supplement the population through capturing wild fish in the river, transporting them to a hatchery facility and spawning them, and then rearing their progeny up to a bigger size—so that when we stock them back in the river, they have a higher rate of survival.”

Starting in 1992, pallid sturgeon stocking began from local populations supplemented by fish from upstream (sourced from the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers near the Montana-North Dakota border). But it wasn’t until spring 2002 that Steffensen says Nebraska Game & Parks ramped up its pallid sturgeon stocking efforts. That lasted until scientists realized “that, genetically, fish in the upper basin are just slightly different than down in our reach of the river into the middle Mississippi River,” he says.

A 2007 federal moratorium on stocking upper basin fish in the lower Missouri followed. Suddenly, downstream recovery efforts faced heightened pressure to gather all the pallid sturgeon needed to stock lower stretches of the river from local fish.

“That’s when this whole thing developed of bringing in volunteers to maximize our efforts,” Steffensen says. “So we began fishing these local fish and shipping them to the area hatcheries so they could spawn them in their facilities and maintain our stocking program in this lower reach of the Missouri River.”

Game & Parks boats monitor pallid sturgeon in the Missouri nine months out of the year, but it is only during the 11 days of Broodstock that they will capture the fish to send to hatcheries. It is also only during this time when volunteers can get in on the action. Broodstock normally takes place in late April, but the 2018 dates were not confirmed when this March/April edition of Omaha Magazine went to press.

There’s a four-person volunteer limit per boat. And the slots fill up quick. Steffensen estimates that the weekend volunteering spots are usually snapped up within an hour or two of his initial call for volunteers via e-mail.

Boats from Nebraska Game & Parks

In 2017, they had 167 volunteers—many of whom worked two or three days. More than 700 individuals have volunteered with Broodstock since they began accepting volunteer participants in 2008.

“We go rain or shine,” Steffensen says. “Back in ’09, we had to cancel one day because we had a snowstorm come in. Otherwise we endure rain, wind, temperatures. After we set the gear one afternoon, we have to get it out of the water the next morning so we don’t harm any fish. We operate under endangered species handling protocol, and we are limited to having these trotlines in the water for only 24 hours.”

They operate four or five boats each day to check approximately 10 trotlines per boat. Each line, connected to a buoy in the river, has about 40 hooks baited with worms.

With four or five boats in the water each day, crews are running 17,600-22,000 hooks during the brief 11-day window of Broodstock. Steffensen says they select the program’s date range a month or two in advance to anticipate when pallid sturgeon will make their spring migration to spawn.

“It’s really a unique effort that we do here. You always hear about endangered species: Don’t approach them; don’t touch them; they are for observation only. But that’s birds and mammals, where you can look at them with spotting scope and binoculars. With fish, you have to pull them out of the water to tag, and you actually handle them. We get a lot of that message from volunteers—that this is awesome,” Steffensen says, adding that the stocking effort would not be possible at its current level without the outpouring of volunteer support.

Since 1992, Game & Parks has introduced approximately 177,000 hatchery-reared pallid sturgeon. More than 94,000 of those hatchery fish were introduced through the Broodstock program that began in 2008.

Although the fish remains listed as endangered at the state and federal level, Steffensen is cautiously optimistic: “Overall, our catch suggests that the wild fish who were naturally spawned and lived in the river their whole life appear stable.”

Due to high demand, the opportunity to participate in Broodstock is not advertised. Anyone wishing to volunteer can request to be included in the email notice by contacting fisheries biologist Kirk Steffensen at kirk.steffensen@nebraska.gov.

From left: Dave Crane and Tim Shew share a kiss with an endangered pallid sturgeon.

This article was printed in the March/April 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

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.

Lenten Fish Fries

March 16, 2017 by
Photography by Joshua Foo

Lent in Omaha—a time of repentance and moderation for devout Catholics—is synonymous with crowded lines of happy, drunken people waiting for heaping piles of deep-fried fish.

Parishioners and non-churchgoers alike rejoice with the approach of Ash Wednesday. Non-Catholics who have never joined in the fun should not hesitate. All are welcome. Lenten fish fries (complete with raffles, pickle cards, and bake sales) are the biggest fundraising event of the year for many Catholic churches, schools, and charities in Omaha.

The beer-infused Friday fry-day gatherings are a popular annual ritual in Midwestern cities with robust Catholic communities. Omaha’s large Catholic population means that several dozen churches will host fish fries throughout the 40 days of Lenten fast (six weeks). Meanwhile, there are plenty of other community groups, such as the local Disabled American Veterans, hosting their own Lenten fish fries.

Some start the Friday before Ash Wednesday. Most begin after Ash Wednesday formally initiates the Lenten season. Some conclude after only a few weeks; others continue for the entire duration of the Lenten fast, including Good Friday two days before Easter.

Not all of them are bacchanals, with children running wild while parents and young adults socialize. A few are alcohol-free. But all are genuine family-friendly celebrations of community.

Expect to spend a few hours standing and waiting in line at Omaha’s most-popular fish fries. The long wait—and the chance to meet new friends while drinking beer—is sometimes the most fun part of the evening.

Omaha Magazine has compiled a list of six must-try fish fries for every week during Lent. But the list is hardly exhaustive. Other excellent fish fries are plentiful in the Omaha area. For those in a hurry, seeking out lesser-known gatherings might even save on the wait time. Or you might just discover a new Lenten favorite.

HOLY NAME CATHOLIC CHURCH (2017 Best of Omaha Winner)

2901 Fontenelle Blvd., Omaha, NE 68104 . 402.451.6622 . holynameomaha.org

Omaha’s oldest Lenten fish fry event, the Holy Name “Fryday” is famous for its jam-packed line, fried Alaskan pollock, french fries, coleslaw, and Rotella’s bread. The BYOB line makes the event especially unique for the 21-and-over crowd. Those arriving at 6 p.m. can expect to find a line stretching out the church, through the adjacent Holy Name Elementary School, and circling around the building. A wait time of three hours is not unusual. The initiated come prepared with coolers full of beer to sustain drinking through the long wait. Upon entering the main building, a free cup of beer is offered. Another free cup of beer is offered if there’s a line out the cafeteria. More beer is sold inside the cafeteria, and a storeroom accommodates winter coats and coolers. Nebraska politicians are known to make appearances at the event, which averages an attendance of 2,300 people per night. Fridays (5-8 p.m.), February 24 (pre-Lenten) to April 7

MARY OUR QUEEN CATHOLIC CHURCH (2017 Best of Omaha Winner)

3405 S. 118th St., Omaha, NE 68144 . 402.333.8662 . maryourqueenchurch.com

A packed line meanders through the halls of Mary Our Queen School, where intermittent refreshment tables allow visitors to replenish their beer pitchers/cups in one of Omaha’s most-popular Lenten fish fries. Young volunteers walk up and down the school’s hallway to collect emptied pitchers. Popcorn is available in the line near the cafeteria. A drive-through allows motorists to avoid the packed halls. Food options include: fried or baked fish, macaroni and cheese, spudsters, fries, coleslaw, bread, with assorted soft drinks and desserts also available for sale. Fridays (5-8 p.m.), March 3 to April 7

ST. PATRICK’S CHURCH OF ELKHORN (2017 Best of Omaha Winner)

20500 West Maple Road, Elkhorn, NE 68022 . 402.289.4289 . stpatselkhorn.org

The fish fry at St. Patrick’s features fried or baked catfish and/or pollock. Margaritas and a variety of beers offer a change of pace from the adult beverages typically available at area fish fries. Cheese pizza, fries, coleslaw, macaroni and cheese, and dessert round out the available food options. There’s a drive-through, and there are clowns and face-painting for the kids inside. Fridays (5-9:30 p.m.), March 3 to April 7

ST. VINCENT DE PAUL CATHOLIC CHURCH

14330 Eagle Run Drive, Omaha, NE 68164 . 402.496.7988 . svdpomaha.org

A cheerful and welcoming atmosphere radiates from the jam-packed line snaking through the halls of St. Vincent de Paul Catholic School. The event features $3 cups, $8 bottles of wine, and $8 pitchers of Boulevard, Lucky Bucket, or Bud Light beer. For those seeking better quality beer on the cheap, St. Vincent de Paul’s fish fry is an excellent choice. Food options include fried or baked fish, cheese pizza, macaroni and cheese, coleslaw, and fries or baked potato, with assorted soft drinks and desserts also available for sale. Credit cards accepted. Fridays (5:30-8:30 p.m.), March 3 to April 7

ST. JOHN’S GREEK ORTHODOX CHURCH

602 Park Ave., Omaha, NE 68105 . 402.345.7103 . stjohnsgreekorthodox.org

Alcohol is not sold at the event; however, St. John’s offers possibly the most delicious food available at any Omaha area Lenten fish fry. The church also offers historic tours of its Byzantine-style building from 5:30-6:30 p.m. A kitchen full of volunteers (some of whom grew up in Greece and migrated to the United States) cook and serve plaki—a Greek baked cod with Mediterranean sauce. Also available: panko-fried cod, breaded-fried shrimp, baked salmon, and vegetable moussaka (an eggplant lasagna), spanakopita (a pie filled with spinach and feta cheese), and piropita (cheese baked in phyllo dough). Specialty cheesecakes and baklava sundaes await at the dessert bar. Fridays (4:30 to 8 p.m.), March 3 to April 7

HOLY GHOST CATHOLIC CHURCH

5219 S. 53rd St., Omaha, NE 68117 . 402.731.3176 . holyghostomaha.com

Clam chowder is one of the unique offerings at Holy Ghost Parish’s annual Lenten fish fry. The varied menu offers: shrimp, baked or fried cod, macaroni and cheese, or a combo dinner. Each dinner comes with baked potato, salad, fruit bar, and a drink. Beer, margaritas, and “watermelons” (a mixed drink) are sold. While the line is long, the wait is neither the longest nor the most beer-soaked in town. Expedited takeout service is available at the west end of the church. Fridays (4-8 p.m.), February 24 (pre-Lenten) to April 7.

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

St. Patrick’s Day Bar Crawl

February 23, 2017 by
Photography by Provided

It’s not mere luck that Omaha was ranked third overall of the nation’s best cities for St. Patrick’s Day celebrations (according to wallethub.com in 2016). If there is one thing our city is known for, it is rallying together to celebrate with friends, both old and new. Omaha has rich Irish heritage, and Omahans are eager to boast their love of the local Irish population. So, of course, the city turns green with pride on St. Paddy’s Day—from east to west. Festivities range from live Irish entertainment and personal pub food tours to black-and-tans and parades of whisky shots. Head to any of these highlighted hot spots to celebrate in local Irish style.


Central Omaha

Clancy’s Pub (7120 Pacific St.)

Clancy’s Pub has a longstanding tradition as a must-stop visit for St. Paddy’s Day. While the Pacific Street location has undergone new ownership within the last few years, it has still proven itself to be full of that Irish spirit patrons have grown to love.

Brazen Head Irish Pub (319 N. 78th St.)

If you are determined to settle in at the most authentic Irish pub in Omaha, look no further than Brazen Head. Named after the oldest pub in Dublin, this Omaha gem will transport you to the Emerald Isle. The Brazen Head opens its doors at 6 a.m. for a traditional red flannel hash breakfast. The day continues with authentic Irish entertainment and food (including fish and chips as well as corned beef and cabbage).


Benson

You’d be remiss not to stop by Benson’s oldest, continuously running bar and only Irish Pub—Burke’s Pub—for drink specials and their famous apple pie shots. While a few bars along the Benson strip (on both sides of Maple Street from 59th to 62nd streets) serve up green pitchers and Jell-O shots, neighborhood staples like Jake’s, Beercade, and St. Andrews (which is Scottish) feature specials on authentic Irish beers, such as Kilkenny, and Irish whiskeys.


Leavenworth

The Leavenworth bar crawl has become somewhat of a year-round tradition, especially on St. Patrick’s Day. Locals call it a convenient way to pack in a handful of bars in one strip—beginning at 32nd Street at Bud Olson’s or Alderman’s and continuing on a tour down Leavenworth toward The Neighber’s on Saddle Creek.

Marylebone Tavern (3710 Leavenworth St.)

The Marylebone is one of two Irish bars on the tour, recognized by the giant shamrock painted out front on Leavenworth Street. The bar is known for its cheap prices and stiff drinks.

Barrett’s Barleycorn Pub & Grille (4322 Leavenworth St.)

Barrett’s Barleycorn, the second of the two Irish bars on the tour, opens its doors at 8 a.m., serving sandwiches in the morning followed by a hearty lunch next door at Castle Barrett, with beer and specials flowing all day long. Barrett’s closes the parking lot to create an outdoor beer garden, while inside tables are cleared for what usually turns into a packed wall-to-wall party.


Old Market

The Dubliner (1205 Harney St.)

Toting the tagline, “If you can’t get to Dublin to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, there’s a little piece of Ireland nestled underground at 1205 Harney Street in the Old Market,” on the front page of their website, The Dubliner is one of Omaha’s oldest Irish pubs. Pull up a bar stool at this Harney Street haunt for a breakfast of Lucky Charms and Guinness and be sure to stick around for the Irish stew, corned beef sandwiches, and live music.

Barry O’s Tavern (420 S. 10th St.)

Slip onto the patio at Barry O’s to mingle with the regulars and the O’Halloran clan themselves at this family-run bar. Enjoy drink specials and stories from some of the friendliest characters you’ll meet. St. Paddy’s Day usually brings an entertaining mashup of regular patrons and “Irish-for-the-day” amateurs.

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Mexican
 Perfection

February 22, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When Anthony Bourdain was asked what food trend he would like to see in a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything), he said, “I would like people really to pay more for top-quality Mexican food. I think it’s the most undervalued, underappreciated world cuisine with tremendous, tremendous potential.”

At Hook & Lime Tacos + Tequila, North Downtown’s newest addition, you will find that top-quality Mexican food and all kinds of potential, though you won’t necessarily have to pay more for it.

Owner Robbie Malm says after selling his share in Dudley’s Pizza and Tavern, he wanted to do something smaller and more creative. With a little help from his wife, Erin, and his brother, Tim Malm, he has done just that.

Hook & Lime’s menu has a selection of a la carte tacos, small plates, and tortas, all for under $20.

But if you do want to spend some money and have a more decadent experience, you can try the family-style tacos or the tasting menu (with or without tequila).

For the family-style tacos, you can choose between the whole fish, which is currently fried, striped bass, or bone-in barbacoa, which is cooked for 72 hours, crisped in the oven, and sent to the table for you to pick apart.

Head chef Alex Sorens says the tasting menu is something he’s excited about because it gives his crew the opportunity to create dishes and test things out. If they’re good, they’ll go on the next tasting menu.

“It’s stuff that we wouldn’t normally serve to the public,” he says. “It will be a select amount of these things, and when we run out, we run out.”

The menu features a lot of fish, hence the “hook” in Hook & Lime. Sorens says he gets their fish from Seattle Fish Co. out of Kansas City, Missouri. He uses their program Whole Boat Harvest for some of the dishes, like the ceviche. The program sells the “leftover” fish from hauls, fish that would normally go to waste because they’re not as well-known as others.

“The reason for that is because I’m trying to do my part to not be in that same group that’s using all those super popular, over-fished species that are going on endangered lists right now.”

Sorens also tries to support other environmentally conscious businesses, getting a lot of their ingredients from local producers like Plum Creek Farms and Jon’s Naturals.

Malm says these are things you might normally only find at “higher-end, white tablecloth places.” He says their goal is to make that food available to everyone.

“We have this amazing menu, these amazing items, that we’re able to bring to people who normally wouldn’t get to experience them,” he says. “We’re trying to take that food, that approach of sourcing locally and treating these items with respect, and make it more approachable. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a suit and tie or flip-flops, we welcome everybody here.”

Malm says he has been “very, very fortunate” in finding the team to do that.

“Everyone seems to be really excited about their role in this,” he says. “So I quickly found out that my best role is really to enable them to just dive in.”

This enthusiasm extends to the front of the house, where bar manager Brian van Egmond works to create original cocktails using ingredients made in house.

“It’s a fusion between speed and craft,” he says. There will be a couple margaritas available on tap, but the fresh juices are added after they’re poured.

So far, van Egmond says they’ve made their own orange brandy, orange liquor, syrups, and crème de cassis. He is currently working on a strawberry tequila for their strawberry margaritas. They also have a hibiscus-infused reposado, which is used to make the Roselle cocktail.

“That’s one I think both Negroni and Cosmo fans will appreciate.”

Van Egmond says they also have a well-curated spirits list, and plenty of beers to offer, including many from local breweries. There are also several wine options.

Of course, if what you’re really looking for is some straight up, premium tequila, Hook & Lime has you covered.

“Tequila is my favorite thing to drink,” Malm says. “It is my favorite thing to drink,” he repeats, laughing. “And I’m a fairly recent convert.”

But once he fell in love with tequila, it became a little bit of an obsession. He talks excitedly about touring tequila distilleries in Mexico with his wife. He says they toured five different spots, including Cuervo and Herradura.

The restaurant’s offerings reflect his enthusiasm, with more than 100 tequilas on their list and four different styles of flights available if you want to do a little sampling before you commit.

“They say there’s no zealot like a convert,” Malm says. “And that is definitely true when it comes to tequila.”

Undoubtedly, Hook & Lime will do their share in creating converts, both to tequila and to a greater appreciation of top-quality Mexican food.

Hook & Lime is open Sundays through Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., and 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Thursdays through Saturdays.

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Encounter.

Year of the Rooster

December 23, 2016 by
Illustration by Matt Wieczorek

Chinese Lunar New Year falls on January 28 this year. The holiday is like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s all rolled into a week of celebrations. This year will be my third Lunar New Year in Omaha. Since relocating to the Midwest, I have developed a small go-to list for dishes that taste like home (or at least satiate my appetite until my next return visit to Hong Kong).

When coworkers ask me to recommend “real” Chinese food, I often probe how adventurous they are with eating. Authentic Chinese cuisines do not usually come with a thick brown or red sauce. Sometimes, signature dishes also feature uncommon ingredients. Although I never fancied chicken feet, I know several European Americans who will gobble down the dish (which translates to “phoenix talons” in my native Cantonese language) at any opportunity.

Chinese cuisines vary depending on region. Sichuanese (from western China) is known for its “mala” numbing spice. Cantonese (from Hong Kong and Guangdong) is famous for fresh seafood and dim sum. Dumplings, maybe even more than rice, are beloved in northern Chinese cuisines. You might even say Americanized Chinese food is authentic in its own way, with its distinct flavors and history woven into the story of Chinese migration.

1. Fresh housemade dim sum

I was excited to see barbecue pork and duck hanging on display upon entering Canton House Restaurant during my first visit; the Cantonese diner reminds me of the typical Hong Kong-style café (also known as a “cha chaan teng”). The chef started his career in Hong Kong decades ago and has brought a long list of authentic Hong Kong dishes to his restaurant in northwestern Omaha. Dim sum—bite-size breakfast hors d’oeuvres—are freshly made to order; I highly recommend ordering a variety and enjoying them with a group of friends. Stuffed eggplant, fish slices in congee (rice porridge), and sliced beef with pan-fried rice noodles are among my top three choices.

4849 N. 90th St., No. 1, Omaha, NE 68134

402-505-9446

cantonhouseomaha.com

2. Savory Shandong cuisine

Tucked in the corner of a strip mall on 72nd Street, Blue and Fly Asian Kitchen is a homey eatery that is crowded with Chinese students every night. The traditional Chinese menu features a range of quick-fried and fish dishes that are iconic of Shandong cuisine. A bilingual handwritten menu beside the kitchen offers a further selection of seasonal delicacies. The owners are generous in sharing their cultural heritage with patrons; for example, in the last Mid-Autumn Festival, they gave out handmade “mooncakes” to diners to share celebration of the Chinese holiday. I have yet to order anything I do not enjoy at Blue and Fly (and I am definitely a frequent patron). My personal favorites include spicy shredded potato (a cold appetizer), spicy pig intestine (an entrée), and a specialty dessert—caramelized sweet potato.

721 S. 72nd St., Omaha, NE 68114

402-504-6545

blueflyasiankitchen.com

3. Cantonese-style barbecue duck and barbecue pork buns

Order a Cantonese-style duck (half) to go with a bowl of rice, and you will get an authentic Hong Kong lunch experience. Grand Fortune Chinese Restaurant also has an extensive dim sum menu—the baked barbecue pork pastry and baked barbecue pork bun are must-tries as you may only find the steamed version in other dim sum shops in town. Steamed barbecue pork buns are known as “cha siu bao” in Cantonese. Cha siu bao, pork and shrimp dumplings (“siu mai”), and shrimp dumplings (“har gow”) are regular fixtures of dim sum brunch anywhere in the world.

17330 West Center Road, Omaha, NE 68130

402-697-9888

grandfortunecuisine.com

4. Dim sum brunch after church

New Gold Mountain is crowded with families after church on Sundays. The restaurant has an intimate atmosphere. Its fried items—such as salt and pepper shrimp, deep-fried minced pork shrimp dumplings, and crispy fried tofu are all finger-licking good. Meat lovers can try barbecue pork with five spiced beef. The meat platter is a common dinner staple in Hong Kong, and is best enjoyed with a bowl of rice and some stir-fried vegetables.

15505 Ruggles St. No.105, Omaha, NE 68116.

402-496-1688

newgoldmountain.com

5. Mouthwatering tofu dishes

People may not associate Three Happiness Express with authentic Chinese food. But its kung pao tofu is a good representation of Chinese cooking. The tofu is perfectly fried to form a crispy crust; the dish is not drowned, rather it is drizzled with a light brown sauce. The restaurant’s steamed dumplings are also authentic, as long as you skip the sweet and spicy sauce and dip it in soy sauce. Friends from the neighborhood have professed a deep love for the crab rangoons, Princess Chicken, and Loc’s Chicken Wings (and these dishes are definitely American Chinese inventions).

5107 Leavenworth St., Omaha, NE 68106

402-558-8899

facebook.com/threehappinessexpress

6. Classic American Chinese food

Golden Palace has an old-school menu and an Oriental interior design that suggest the restaurant has been passed down through generations. The restaurant serves polished classic American Chinese food. The barbecue back ribs are the absolute bomb.

4040 N. 132nd St., Omaha, NE 68164

402-493-2777

goldenpalacene.com

7. Unlock the secret menu 

The “secret menu” of Jade Palace offers authentic Chinese cuisines. Even if you don’t read Chinese, pick a protein and ask the server what he/she recommends. The owner suggested we try “water boiled fish”—beware though, the Sichuanese dish is cooked with a lot of red hot chili peppers. The heat index of the fish is a challenge (southerners, like me, are not known for eating spicy). Be sure to discuss the level of spiciness before ordering.

1702 Galvin Road South, Bellevue, NE 68005

402-558-8899

jadepalacebellevue.com

8. Hot pot special

China Garden Restaurant has a winter hot pot special. The communal dish is popular in colder months. Select meats and vegetables from a list, and the server will bring a pot of broth and a portable stove for you to cook the food in. The restaurant offers most of the favorites of Sichuanese cuisine. To drink, ask the server if sweet-sour plum juice is available. Other thirst-quenching options include Tsingtao beer and canned Chinese herbal tea, “Wong Lo Kat.”

8315 Tangier Way, Omaha, NE 68124

402-397-1995

chinagardenomaha.com

9. Fusion Chinese food

P.F. Chang’s modern take on Chinese food results in a range of light, savory fusion cuisine. I highly recommend the chicken lettuce wrap.

Westroads Mall, 10150 California St., Omaha, NE 68114

402-390-6021

pfchangs.com

10. Oldest Chinese restaurant in town

The interior design of King Fong Cafe resembles that of Chinese courtyard houses. The wood carvings and chandeliers (imported from Canton, the old name of Guangzhou) are well-preserved—the visual enjoyment is a feast in itself. The restaurant is not only the oldest Chinese restaurant in town, it is the longest-running restaurant in the city.

315 1/2 S. 16th St., Omaha, NE 68102

402-341-3433

facebook.com/pages/king-fong-cafe/117861274906131

* Note: King Fong Cafe announced its temporary closure in 2016 and had not announced a reopening date at the time of Omaha Magazine‘s publication deadline.

Another great way to discover new dishes is to ask the server what Chinese customers have ordered. If something looks delicious at another table, ask your server what it is. For anyone looking to celebrate the Lunar New Year with a Chinese feast, please note that restaurants may close during the festival, so check ahead to confirm if they are open.

Authenticity aside, I absolutely love when fortune cookies arrive with the bill. The American Chinese invention (or American Japanese, depending on the origin story) coincides with Chinese affinity for auspicious signs. Happy Lunar New Year! May your fortune cookie bring good luck!

How do you say Happy New Year in Chinese?

“Gong hei fat choi!” That’s Cantonese (the language of Hong Kong and Guangdong).

“Xin nian kuai le!” That’s Mandarin (the official language of mainland China and Taiwan)

mattsrooster2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…and for a preview of the 2017 Nebraska Chinese Association Lunar New Year Celebration:

Johnny Rodgers

August 26, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Johnny Rodgers turned 65 this year. He looks great. The 1972 Heisman Trophy winner and Husker football legend is also busy. He likes it that way.

“Well, I think that retiring, to me, is being in the position to do the things you want to do. I don’t think that retiring is getting somewhere and doing nothing,” Rodgers says. He then adds with a chuckle: “The law of use says, ‘If you don’t use it, you lose it.’ And I’ve found that a lot of people, as soon as they retire and start doing nothing, they die.”

Rodgers is far from retired…and he’s aiming to live to age 100. He works as vice president of new business development for the U.S. and Canada at Rural Media Group Inc., which operates both RFD-TV (the huge rural-focused television network) and Rural Radio on SiriusXM. He also recently published a book and audio book, titled, Ten Minutes of Insanity. The self-help book and audiobook provide insights into moments when a person can “mess themselves up” or “set themselves up.” Rodgers speaks from youthful personal experience coupled with an older man’s perspective.

Referring back to his college years, a “mess yourself up” situation is “like the gas station fiasco that I was involved with,” he says. The opposite, positive kind of moment is “like the punt return against Oklahoma. You’ve got to be pretty insane to stand back there and wait for them to come.” He adds that each scenario “presents dramatic results, just in a different way.”

Johnny-Rodgers1Rodgers has a website in the works (which should be live this fall) aimed at providing help and perspective to business leaders, entrepreneurs, and athletes. “What I really want to do is to help athletes—professional athletes of football, basketball, baseball, all of them—transition from sports to public speaking,” he says. “And to be able to set up mechanisms for them to be able to tell their stories.”

Denny Drake, who has worked with Rodgers for more than 20 years on a variety of charitable and business projects, says Rodgers has always been open to trying new ideas, and to receiving critiques and wisdom from others. Drake is the president and CEO of the marketing company Performance Solutions Worldwide. He is also connected to the Jet Award (named after Rodgers), which honors the top return specialist in college football, and the Johnny Rodgers Youth Foundation. Rodgers serves as the youth foundation’s president; Drake is its CEO.   

“Johnny is a really good idea guy. He’s a good visionary of things,” Drake says. The two men are also working together on Authentic Collegiate Jeans, a venture to provide jeans with school and university logos that should launch this fall.   

With all that is going on in his life, Rodgers says he remains thoughtful about maintaining himself, too. When he was young man, it was about being a high-caliber athlete. Now, it is about being a quality person. He’s a fan of fish and organic chicken, but might only eat one traditional meal a day. For additional nutrition, he consumes kale and greens, frozen cherries and blueberries, and other healthy foods in liquid form in the morning, and fruit or protein bars in the afternoon, prior to dinner. He also tries to drink at least a half a gallon of lemon water every day. 

Rodgers plays tennis, golf, and racquetball weekly, and plays at a higher level now after having knee replacement surgery this past year. Rodgers says (with a smile) that 60 is the new 40.

“At 60, you’re smarter than you’ve ever been,” he says.  “And at 20, you’re about as dumb as you’ve ever been.”


Johnny Rodgers has long been known for his unique take on many subjects. Below are some of his quips to reporter Tim Kaldahl.

On Mike Riley, the University of Nebraska’s head football coach:
“Mike is probably a mix between Osborne and Devaney, as I see it.”

On the future of Nebraska football:
“I think our future is so bright that we’ve got to wear shades.”

On current concerns about the safety of football:
“I can’t think, overall, that it’s any more dangerous than it always has been, and I think that that risk factor is what people liked all the time. The possibility that, you know, you could get jacked.” (Rodgers chuckles.)

On good habits for life:
“And you don’t want a habit that’s taking you down. You want to create the type of habits that build you up, so you have to make a change.”

On staying mentally focused and goal setting:
“Thoughts are not just things. Thoughts are the cause of things. So if you can hold a thought long enough, you can have it.” 


Visit thejetaward.com for more information. Sixty-Plus

Alexis Shorb

May 20, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This article appeared in the May/June 2015 edition of Omaha Magazine.

You could almost call her the mother of the aquarium. She nourishes the animals. She cleans up after their messes. She keeps them safe, all the while with eyes in the back of her head.

Lead aquarium keeper Alexis Shorb of the Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium’s Scott Aquarium graduated from Coastal Carolina University with a degree in marine science. She cares primarily for the sharks and stingrays, a duty close to her heart.

“I like animals that could potentially hurt me, I guess,” Shorb quips. “I remember when I was a kid and I was first allowed to watch Jaws. It actually made me want to go to the ocean. I guess I was one of those
weird children.”

Originally from Fairfax, Virginia, Shorb grew up spending summers at the shore. She began working in landlocked Omaha more than three years ago at the beginning of the aquarium’s $6.5 million renovation. She helped built the eel tank from the ground up. “Being part of the renovation and wearing that hard hat has been another lesson that I never thought I was going to be able to do.”

Her past jobs, which include Disney’s Epcot Center and SeaWorld, have led her to hand-feed leopard sharks, bonnetheads, and stingrays. And yes, she did get bit.

“When you’re feeding anything with a mouth, it’s only natural that sometimes they will get you.” She dismisses the experience as a “glorified paper cut.”

Twice a week at feeding time, Shorb and crew raise the side curtains in the shark reef. “It makes a physical cue for the animals that they are about to get fed,” she says. The sharks politely line up in conveyer belt fashion to enjoy a selection of blue runner, bonito, mackerel, salmon, or squid.

“We use long tongs to hand-feed,” Shorb explains. “We’re actually able to distinguish which shark is which by individual birthmarks,” which allows the zoo to monitor keep accurate records on food intake.

For reasons other than what one might expect, she loves tank-cleaning time. “My favorite part is just being in the water and having a zebra shark swim by me and having the kids just watch with those big eyes. I like showing people that sharks aren’t man-eaters.”

Shorb’s broad duties include being responsible for one million gallons of fresh sea water (mixed on site) and over 1,000 sea creatures. “Pipes break. Floods happen. Nothing like getting a radio call saying there’s water dripping into the gift shop,” she says.

She also plays Cupid with a pair of tasseled wobbegongs, a species of carpet shark. “I’m kind of like Match.com. I want to put him in with her and hopefully we’ll have some babies.”

Shorb finds early mornings at the aquarium magical. “Everything’s peaceful and all of the lights are just coming on. All of the animals are waking up and are just starting to get active.”

Just like a mother relishes her cup of coffee before the kids awaken, Shorb begins another day with her beloved sharks and stingrays.

AlexisShorb

Omaha’s Historic 
Drag Scene

December 17, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In 2004, The New Yorker published a story entitled “Homecoming Queens.” “Compared with most Midwestern towns,” writes author Mark Singer, “Omaha has an active gay demimonde that’s not so demi.”

Well, it’s been around for a long time, Mark. Take, for example, the Miss Max pageant. Rumored to be the longest-running drag queen title in the United States (though who first said this and where remains to be discovered—still, it’s a nice story to repeat), the pageant is produced every January at The Max on 14th and Jackson. It’s been that way since 1984.

“It’s kind of a coveted title,” says Chad Bugge modestly. He’s Miss Max No. 26 and the recipient of three of Omaha’s biggest drag titles. He won his first, Miss Divine Diva, six years ago, followed it up with a Miss Max win, and finally reigned as Miss Gay Omaha in 2011.

Or, rather, Anna Roxia did. “I started out as Anna Rexia,” Bugge explains, “because I used to be really, really skinny. But Anna Roxia is a little more rocker chick.” Anna is a shock queen with edgy performances to match. She’s been birthed on stage and shaved her head in front of a live audience, all while maintaining a high-level of makeup and body—the pads, hair, and so on. “It’s not beauty,” Bugge says, “not true female impersonation. It’s more of an artistic expression.”

Expression is what drag boils down to and what Omaha has fostered in its gay heart for more than 30 years. For Bugge, drag was the chance to overcome a shy persona and rock some confidence with an alter ego. For Steve Knox, it was about revisiting the allure of theater.

Knox is Miss Max No. 28, the current Miss Gay Omaha, holds a degree in theater, and calls himself Nicolette NuVogue: The Actress of Omaha. “He can probably recite every Miss Max by name and number,” says Bugge with a smile. “Drag is almost romantic for him—when you talk with him, you can see it.”

“If you ask anyone who came to the bars here 30 years ago, they would be talking about the Miss Max of their day. They were the top thing in Omaha their year. Everybody in Omaha knew who they were.”
— Steve Knox

Knox does have a bit of an encyclopedic knowledge of the names in Omaha drag over the years. “If you ask anyone who came to the bars here 30 years ago, they would be talking about the Miss Max of their day,” he asserts. “They were the top thing in Omaha their year. Everybody in Omaha knew who they were. The minute you’re Miss Max, you’re a celebrity in gay Omaha. Reina del Mundo, No. 23…she was 21, nobody knew her. The night the crown went on her head, everybody knew who she was, and it changed her life.”

Each city’s drag scene is different, Bugge says. “In Omaha, it’s very close. We help each other run for pageants, and the formers of all the pageants are a sisterhood. And then there are the families and houses that are all there for each other. And then not having as many bars to perform in, well, we’re all working in the same place.”

But, he adds, it’s becoming less of a stigma for gays, specifically queens, to be in straight bars. He compares the older years of Omaha drag to the pre-WWII years of the geisha. “It was this secretive, artistic performance for the elite,” Bugge says. “After the war, it sort of broke out and became more mainstream. That’s what’s happening right now with drag. Before, a queen would walk down the street, and people would be rude and catcall.”

He adds that negativity still happens, “but now more than anything you get stopped for pictures. The crowds that we get are mostly straight at, like, the casinos. And when I travel out of state, those crowds are mostly straight.”

The fascination with men dressing as women is certainly nothing new. “Drag hails from Shakespeare,” Knox says, matter-of-fact. “Men would go on stage to play women’s roles, and the script would have a note that said Drag. Dressed As Girl.”

Omaha’s drag scene may not quite go back to Shakespeare’s days, but Knox and Bugge are nonetheless proud to add to its history. “You want to share your art with everyone,” Bugge says.

“To be part of the legacy….” Knox shakes his head. “Alexandra Stone, No. 14; Dominique Divamoore, No. 19; The Amazon, No. 17. Those girls are the ones I used to watch and be like, you are so amazing.” He’s still not quite used to younger queens approaching him for advice. “It’s so weird! But it’s a level of respect now. I’ve earned my place in this.”

The Language

Like any subculture, drag has its own vocabulary. Chad Bugge (Anna Roxia) and Steve Knox (Nicolette NuVogue) shed a little light on a few phrases.

Audience whoring. “I don’t audience whore,” Knox says. “That’s when you go into the audience and flirt with the tables to get tips. No. You have to come to me.” Tipping is of course good form, but Knox and Bugge agree that if someone is clearly enjoying the performance, that’s perfectly acceptable. Just don’t try to have a conversation during a queen’s show. “It’s no different than being at a dinner theater,” Knox says.

Bio-drag. When a bio woman or trans-woman performs in traditional drag. “It’s turned into a melting pot,” Bugge says of Omaha’s drag scene. “I can’t speak for other cities, but if you wanna be on stage here, you’re welcome to, you just need to have something to show.”

Fish. The opposite of the old way. “It’s more of a natural girl look,” Bugge says. “Not the huge hair, not the crazy costumes, no body.” The word comes from fishy, as in “something’s fishy about that girl.” The more fish a queen is, the more she looks like a real girl.

Mothers and daughters. A more experienced queen will sometimes take a newcomer under her wing to teach a few tricks of the drag trade. “I’ll answer any questions and occasionally lend some things out,” Knox says. “But don’t lend anything out if you don’t trust them! Queens are shady—you spend two hours backcombing hair, you lend it out, you get it back, and…that’s not what I gave you at all.”

Nationals. These are the big, nationwide pageants, like Miss Gay USofA, Miss Gay America, Entertainer of the Year, Miss Gay United States, and Miss Continental. “Those queens are spending, gosh, over $50,000 for their dress, their package, their talent,” says Knox. “I went to EOY, and these girls were coming out with like Broadway revues.”

The old way. “I consider it the only way,” Bugge says. If a queen follows the old way, she puts on full body along with full makeup. Hip pads, breasts, the nails, the hair—it all goes toward a general polished look of perfection.

Shock queen. “Eye makeup to Jesus,” Knox explains. “Everything is over the top.” Edgy hair, edgy costume, edgy makeup, edgy performance.

Tipping around. “Not performing, just going out in drag,” Bugge explains. It’s a way to get a few supporting fans before trying out for a pageant. “Letting people soak it in, asking who you are. You get a buzz going.”

Unclockable. “Nobody can top what you’re doing,” Bugge says. “You are perfection itself.” In pageants, judges clock every mistake by a contest. “If you got the hemline just right, if there are no loose threads—you’re unclockable.”

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.

20130411_bs_0619

“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.

20130411_bs_0472

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.”