Tag Archives: pets

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.

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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Valentine’s Day

January 20, 2015 by and

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Paws to Angels

July 19, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Families dealing with the loss of a pet now have a helping hand—or paw or two—to turn to, in the form of Paws To Angels, the only full-service pet loss center in Nebraska.

Owner Cherie Fry started Paws to Angels after the death of her dog, Chadz. Fry considered herself a “pet parent,” to Chadz, and was shocked to hear what traditional pet death care consisted of—deceased pets are put into garbage bags and kept in a freezer until a garbage truck comes around.

“Two weeks later, [after Chadz’s death] I began my business plan. I made a vow to change the way things are for pet parents—to provide them a more respectful, dignified aftercare with a personalized touch,” Fry says.

Fry turned to other pet owners in the community, and found a coalition of pet lovers who were as eager as her to see a change in animal death care. With no centers in Nebraska that dealt with pet loss, Fry found herself on the forefront of a new movement in pet care.

“They [pet owners] want pets treated more like family. And we’re here to do that,” Fry says.

Keeping this community of pet lovers at the core of her business, Fry’s goal is to guide a family through the loss of their pet at their own pace, and make them aware of what options are available in animal death care.

While Paws to Angels specializes in organizing the final arrangements for their customers’ pets, they also offer a variety of services that are free to the public. Fry is on call 24 hours a day, and leads grief support groups for both adults and children.

It’s this personalized care that has gained Fry a loyal following. Sondra Akrin approached Fry around Thanksgiving when her 12-year-old cat, Louie, was diagnosed with renal failure.

Within days of her cat’s diagnosis, Akrin heard about Paws to Angels, and knew she wanted Fry to take care of Louie when he passed. Akrin was in and out of contact with Fry in the weeks leading up to Louie’s death in January, pre-planning for his euthanasia and final arrangements. While Akrin had lost human members of her family, it was her first time losing a close feline member.

“What I wanted to do was to honor the 11 years I had him [Louie]. He was like my kid, and so what was nice about the process was that Cherie was very flexible about, ‘whatever you need, I’m here for you,’” Akrin says.

Linda Hester had a similar experience to Akrin. Hester previously owned three other pets, and she buried them at Tully’s Kennel after they died. But when she put down her 14-year-old cat Cosmo in February, her veterinarian informed her Tully’s no longer did burials.

Grief-stricken, Hester received Fry’s phone number from a veterinary technician. Fry immediately picked Cosmo up from the vet’s office, and met with Hester and her husband. They opted to have a single chapel ceremony with Paws to Angels, before cremating Cosmo. They were able to incorporate some personal mementos into their ceremony, such as Cosmo’s favorite blanket.

In return, Hester has become a firm advocate for Paws to Angels. She even wrote a letter to talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, notifying her of Fry’s work. Hester believes that the help she received from Fry after Cosmo’s death helped prepare her for her mother’s death a month later.

“I’d been trying to help do a little bit of stuff for Cherie, paperwork or whatever, and I told her about it [my mother’s death], and she texted me every day to see if I was ok,” says Hester.

For Fry, that’s just another part of her job.  As the sole employee of Paws to Angels (with the exception of her two cats, Garfield and Cleya, who serve as the general manager and  grief counselor respectively), Fry has a lot on her plate, but she just wants to give pet owners the options that she never had.

“I have walked my grave journey, and it is really an honor for me to be here for families,” Fry says.

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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.

Dumplings, Leopards, and Sherpas, Oh My!

January 9, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Even Tiger Lily,” says Adia.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For the Love of Pets

December 12, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bennetts and Their Little Bit of Luck

September 24, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When is the Right Time for a Family Pet?

August 16, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pet-Proofing Your Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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