June 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Chris and Kim Hancock and their kids, Trevor, 13, and Sydney, 11, are an active family. “There’s always something going on,” Kim says. The kids go to school in the Omaha Public Schools district; Trevor plays baseball for Keystone, and Sydney swims with the Metro Omaha Swim Team.

With the kids so involved in extracurricular activities and Chris and Kim both working full-time jobs, it’s hard for the family to catch a moment together. “After we get back home from everything, it’s late by the time we eat, so we all kind of separate and go off to do our own things.”

But one thing brings them together during their hectic schedule—the love for their family pets.

Ernie

Ernie

The Hancocks have four pets: a Russian tortoise named Henrietta, a guinea pig named Ernie, a hamster named Pooh Bear, and a Boxer named Bella.

Bella was the family’s first pet. Chris had always wanted a Boxer, so when he and Kim found Bella on Craigslist, they felt like she was meant to be theirs. “Right when we got her, she got super sick with pneumonia, and we nursed her back to health,” Kim explains. “She’s been our baby ever since.”

Being like another child in the family is the reason why Bella’s inoperable cancer diagnosis hit home so hard. “We found out last year,” Kim says. “They could’ve done an expensive biopsy and leg reconstruction, but we decided instead of putting her through treatments and all of the pain that we would just enjoy the time we still have with her. As long as she seems happy, that’s enough for us.” She adds that Bella used to sleep in a kennel, but the moment they heard about her cancer, she began sleeping in bed with her and Chris.

Bella

Bella

With Henrietta, Trevor’s tortoise, Kim says they got her after “his fish committed suicide,” she laughs. “We wanted something that wouldn’t die so easily, so we did some research and learned that tortoises have long lives. They’re also low-maintenance.”

Ernie the guinea pig and Pooh Bear the hamster came along after Sydney got familiar with her friends’ pets and wanted some of her own. “She actually had another guinea pig and hamster before now, but they passed, so these are the new ones,” Kim says.

“Our rule with getting the kids pets has always been that they have to be able to hold them comfortably at the pet store and not get squeamish; otherwise we won’t buy them.” That’s because, in the Hancock family, the kids are the primary caretakers of the pets. “They clean out the cages once a month, make sure the animals are fed, let us know when food supply is getting low—they’re completely responsible.”

Pooh Bear

Pooh Bear

Sydney, especially, is very nurturing of her pets. “On Mother’s Day, she made a comment about how she wanted to get herself something because she thinks she’s a mother to her pets,” Kim says. “She also keeps cages for them down in the basement all the time because she’s very concerned about tornadoes.”

Kim didn’t realize how much Sydney loves her pets until after her first guinea pig passed away. “She cried and cried, and she truly mourned her pet like it was a family member or her child. I don’t want to say it’s funny, but there’s something very sweet about how emotional she gets.”

Apparently, Sydney also has a tendency to throw elaborate funerals for each of the family’s lost pets. “She plans the burial. We have a service with speeches where we each say something special about the pet, and then there are flowers and songs. She even bakes a cake for a little reception after. They don’t last long, but they’re very…quirky,” Kim laughs.

Henrietta

Henrietta

Kim thinks that having pets really makes their family feel more complete and teaches her children valuable lessons. “It helps the kids understand responsibility. They learn how to show love and take care of something other than themselves.

“I think having pets makes us a little less selfish.”