We call them pets — those creatures who cohabitate and bond with humans. They tend to love their person, even one who is crotchety or crazy. Dogs don’t judge—they evidently love doctors and pastors, evil dictators and lunatics the same. Each summer, in anticipation of the September issue, we ask readers to tell us about their pets. Then editors are deluged with emails and letters. The photos are striking and funny. The stories, heartwarming. Your love of your pets is evident and something to which animal people in every culture and community can relate. While pets are no substitute for human relationships, they do offer a sort of unparalleled, unshakable and near-mystic camaraderie. Writer-naturalist Henry Beston explained it eloquently when he wrote, “They are more finished and complete [than us], gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other Nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time.”
Just what the doctor ordered
An upper floor at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital is sterile, bleached and serious. Men and women in scrubs and lab coats stride quickly, purposefully in and out of rooms. Grave-faced visitors sip coffee in the waiting area. It plainly is a model patient care unit, but it could use a touch of … Chili.
Ding. The elevator opens and off steps an 89-pound black Lab. A pretty blond woman, Barbara Sanders, leads the dog down the corridor; the effect is profound. Nurses and techs stop mid-stride to greet the hound and scratch her head. If they pause long enough, the dog rolls over, inviting a belly rub. All the stern faces soften at the sight of Chili. A white-haired man on a gurney pops up, his eyes brightening, and he says, “I have a 91-pound lab at home.” He leans over and strokes Chili’s shiny ebony coat. “Hey, girl! What a good girl,” he coos. A young woman accompanying the older man drops to her knees and hugs the dog. After a moment she looks up at Sanders, eyes damp, and says, “Thank you.”
Chili is a registered therapy animal with Pet Partners. Known as the Delta Society until 2012, the organization’s animal-assisted activities program is rooted in the idea that animals can positively impact human health and well-being. Several studies evidence the physiological and psychological benefits of animal-human interaction, according to Pet Partners literature that Sanders presents: Pet owners on Medicare visit the doctor less (1990 Delta Society study), pet owners live longer after a heart attack (1996 Delta Society study) and wounded veterans can benefit mentally and physically when partnered with dogs (2007 experiment), just to name a few examples. But anyone can see that the dog’s presence is a soothing balm in the stressful hospital environs. Sanders, a Lake Highlands resident and a producer at Fast Cuts media production company, adopted Chili about four years ago. Chili initially demonstrated her sweet temperment via her relationship with Sanders’ young son, Austin, now 7. “Austin lays on her like she’s a sofa,” Sanders says, “and in the pool, he just hangs on to her as she swims and pulls him along.” Sanders had a friend who joined Pet Partners with her golden Lab. Chili would be perfect for the volunteer job, she thought. After taking an online course and undergoing an evaluation, Sanders and Chili started visiting Presbyterian on Sundays. They see patients who request them. “We really like the maternity wing, and also the psychiatric unit, where the patients really flock to Chili and enjoy her.”
The patient in 315, Carol Veach, has a shih tzu at home whom she misses terribly, she tells Sanders. She cradles a tiny stuffed puppy in one needle-poked arm and allows Chili to lick her opposite hand. Sanders listens and asks questions about the shih tzu, Princess, and Veach’s other pets. Sanders promises Carol that if she is still there on Sunday, she and Chili will visit again.
Support for this issue of the Advocate provided by:
Carriage carting was not his thing
The equine eye is a deep dark sea in which man can glimpse not only his own reflection, but also the animal spirit — one of this horse’s eyes, the partially blue one, betrays his joy in the life he leads these days. “Baron has a half-blue eye. Every once in a while that blue eye gets really big and bright, usually when he’s excited … in that moment you just know he’s happy doing his job, and that he’s loving his life,” says his owner Nicole Foster.
Pleasure driving is a fancy horse-competition category during which old-fashioned carriages are hitched to ponies, who then prance around a ring. An American saddle-bred gelding called Frankie Flowers was supposed to be the next big thing in pleasure driving, explains Foster, a Lake Highlands resident who owns Foster Farm South, but Frankie Flowers “did not live up to expectations … he just did not have enough pizazz to be a bigtime show horse.” The horse’s understated stage-presence turned into a win for Foster and her farm. In 2007, his original owners donated Frankie Flowers — since dubbed Baron — to the Hutchins-area ranch. Baron now spends his days carrying children who are just learning to ride, which clearly is his calling, Foster says.
“He has surpassed all expectations as a beginner/intermediate show horse,” Foster says, “and has garnered championship ribbons for dozens of up-and-coming young competitors.”
Baron is one of Foster’s seven horses, but Foster says Baron is her favorite pet and even calls him a part of her family. “Most trainers have one or two special horses they will keep forever. For me, that’s Baron. He is just an all-around amazing horse — fun to ride, nice to be around in the stall, a wonderful show horse and safe enough for just about anyone to ride. Horses like him don’t come around every day, and everyone knows he’s something special.”
“Sure, I’ll wear a hat if that makes you happy”
Labradoodle Archie is enormous and as silvery and fluffy as a cloud before a spring storm. If you are on the other side of his front window, he is just as bold. But upon meeting a new person face-to-face, this guy is super shy. He hides behind a chair and observes newcomers with suspicion and an unbearably sweet face.
“If you sit down, he will warm up to you faster,” says his owner Nicholas Scott apologetically.
On most evenings, Archie and Scott, along with Scott’s roommate Dustin Sherman and his dog Kennedy (whose unbridled friendliness more than makes up for her buddy’s standoffishness) run as a jubilant pack through their L Streets neighborhood. The thing about Archie is, he is up for just about anything. He runs wherever the others lead (even with that fluffy coat, even in the stifling heat), swims in White Rock Lake and never objects to donning costumes or funny hats on holidays or birthdays, because the humans seem to like that.
Scott and Sherman concur that life without dog is just sad. Scott says that after his longtime canine companion Tucker died, which was “horrible,” he went about a year without a dog, mostly because his sales job required extensive travel. He adopted month-old Archie four years ago. Archie was ecstatic when Kennedy moved in, the humans say.
“He isn’t always that crazy about people,” Scott concedes, “but he loves other dogs.”
Lewis and Megan
The escape artist and his lovely assistant
Houdini would be an apropos nickname for Lewis, the dark-coated canine whose breed his owner, Eric Feldman, assuredly defines as “something.” Eric and Sara Feldman married two years ago and live in a well-kept Lake Highlands abode for which Lewis exhibits a subpar level of respect — he ate the carpet, explains Eric, “so we had to put him in a crate during the day.” Somehow — they don’t know how — Lewis escaped the crate. “So we went and bought zip ties. Somehow — and we still don’t know how — he broke out of the crate, even when it was reinforced with zip ties.” Lewis, now pushing 3 years old, is an energetic pup — he loves to run and swim in the lake. “Actually, what he likes to do is run through the lake — run into the water and out of the water. Into the water and back out again. In and out …” After a while, Sara and Eric realized Lewis, whom Eric adopted from Austin Pets Alive!, needed a compadre. The couple adopted Megan, a blonde (possible) Great Pyrenees-mix puppy, from the Collin County Humane Society. It quickly was clear that Megan was Lewis’ soul mate. The yin to his yang. “Lewis immediately loved her,” Eric says. “They are now inseparable.”
The laid-back hipster
Unlike his namesake, a television protagonist who has just 24 hours to save the world, basset hound mix Bauer doesn’t really seem to have a care in it, and he is in exactly zero hurry to get anywhere, except perhaps when he is benignly pursuing one or more of the cats who live with him in a charming L Streets abode. He can build up some speed when he’s chasing the cats, say owners Andee Pittman-Clark and Colin Clark. He’s perfectly content sleeping all day. In the evenings he might move from napping in the house to relaxing in the front-yard hammock. But he also is up for adventure. “Bauer loves to canoe, explore, play with other dogs and kids,” Andee says. He also happily rides in the sidecar of an antique bicycle taxi the couple refurbished after it landed in the bicycle shop they own. The shop, Switching Gears Cyclery near Fair Park, happens to be one of the very few things Agent Bauer, basset hound mix, does not like. “There are loud noises. People coming in and out. I guess it just makes him a little nervous,” Andee says. “We joke that he hates work.”