Tag Archives: hamster

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.


“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.”


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.


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.”


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.”


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.


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 Hancock Menagerie

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.



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.



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.



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.”