Fetching personalities: Pets in our neighborhood

People love their pets.

Like doting parents, owners hold forth on the virtues of their domesticated mammals, “… makes my world a better place,” “… changed my life,” “… has the sweetest soul.”

And most Americans back those warm sentiments with cold cash. We will spend some $58 billion pampering our animals this year, according to the American Pet Product Association. Around the Oak Cliff area, we have our pick of posh pet hotels and pooch patios, doggie bakeries (barkeries) and upscale grooming services.

We took a close-up look at a cross section of neighborhood pets to find out what makes them so worth it.

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Sasha Fierce is a sheltie who sticks out

Sasha Fierce: Photo by Danny Fulgencio
Sasha Fierce: Photo by Danny Fulgencio

Sasha Fierce can’t sit and stay because she’s so old that her hips can’t stand it. She’s not a candidate for obedience training, like the other three members of neighbor Jill Peterson’s pack of shelties.

But Sasha, 13, can do other things, like practicing scent training.

“We play at games that she can do,” Peterson says.

Even though Sasha is old, she’s only been part of Peterson’s pack for a year. The endodontist, who lives in Kessler Park, was sitting on the floor at a dog show in July 2014 when Sasha came and sat in her lap and gave her two licks.

“So I thought, ‘Oh, I guess you’re supposed to come home with me,’ ” Peterson says.

Sasha’s owner in Lawton, Okla. had died, and foster parents had a hard time placing her because of her age and health — she had kidney disease and joint problems.

Peterson had just lost an old dog to cancer, and she figured Sasha was in her last days. So she decided to take her in and give her the best end to her life as possible. But then she took her to the vet for kidney treatment, and the dog’s health improved. They decided against knee surgery, but Sasha has a doggie chiropractor who makes house calls, Peterson says.

“Now I can probably have her in my life another two or four years,” she says.

Peterson has had shelties since she was 4 years old, and Sasha is her ninth. Another of her pack, Phoebe, is an American Kennel Club national champion. And her other two dogs are obedience stars.

Sasha is a blue merle, and she has one blue and one brown eye. Since bringing her home, Peterson says, she’s become an advocate for adopting older dogs because Sasha has made her life better.

“She’s taught me attention, focus, love, all these lessons that we need to be reminded of as humans,” Peterson says. “I’m truly blessed to have her in my life.”


The Duke abides

Meet Duke, the winner of Advocate’s annual online pet photo contest: Photo by Danny Fulgencio

After suffering a stroke last year, Les Spradlin sometimes gets confused about where he is, even in very familiar surroundings.

Recently, he walked out of his back door in Beckley Club Estates and forgot where he was, but his faithful dog, Duke, reminded him.

“He came and got me and showed me where the back door was,” he says.

Spradlin, 55, also has trouble climbing the stairs in his two-story house. He knows to put one foot on the step and pull himself up, but it’s like his mind can’t convince his body to do it. So when he’s home alone, Spradlin could spend 15 minutes to an hour getting upstairs. No matter how long it takes, though, Duke never leaves his side. Sometimes, when Spradlin resorts to scooting up the stairs on his bottom, the chocolate lab puts his head under Spradlin’s armpit to nudge him up.

“When we finally get to the top, he just wags his tail and is so excited,” Spradlin says. “It’s like he’s celebrating.”

Spradlin and his partner, Greg Hutchinson, find Duke’s helpfulness all the more amazing because he’s never had any training as a service dog. In fact, he was a dog someone tried to cast off. Their pal in East Texas found Duke as a puppy after someone dumped him near her rural property.

Spradlin also found out this year that he has the beginning stages of Parkinson’s disease, which afflicted both his parents as well. And Hutchinson, a real estate agent, recently took chemotherapy for skin cancer on his scalp. So it’s been a rough year for them.

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“You just have to stay positive and enjoy the good days,” Spradlin says.

Having a loyal dog by your side doesn’t hurt, either.


Kai, the puppy who wouldn’t be caught, captures hearts

Kai: Photo by Danny Fulgencio
Kai: Photo by Danny Fulgencio

There’s nothing like a stray puppy to pull Oak Cliff neighbors together.

Christy Nielson of Kessler Park noticed a wretched little mutt in a field near Sylvan and Singleton while on her way to an appointment one day last year.

On the return trip, she stopped to look for the puppy and didn’t see it, but she couldn’t stop thinking about it. So she got on the neighborhood social media site Nextdoor and found that several of her neighbors had mentioned they’d seen the same puppy, too. She started chatting online with her neighbor Anna Duke-Bettin, whom she’d never met before, and they decided to go look for the pup.

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The two of them took turns on a feeding schedule for the stray in hopes of gaining its trust so they could capture it. They also chatted up the guys who worked at an adjacent truck yard. It took about two weeks, but those guys are the ones who eventually caught the dog, and they called Nielson to come get it.

Nielson, who is a volunteer with street-dog rescue nonprofit Duck Team 6, already had a 14-year-old black lab and a 5-year-old border collie. She and her husband were wary of adopting a third dog.

“You think three isn’t that different from two, but it is. Three is a lot different than two,” she says.

But the dog, which turned out to be a female they named Kai, was too sweet. Her underdog status was too irresistible. So they welcomed her into the fold anyway.

She had a lot of bad habits including digging, jumping and getting into the trash.

But her “big brother,” the border collie, Kodi, sets a good example.

“She saw Kodi doing the right things, and she learned from him,” Nielson says. “He was her mentor. She still feels more comfortable and more confident with him around.”

Duke-Bettin trains working dogs, so she offered tips to the Nielsons, including keeping Kai on a 20-foot leash around the house. That way they can correct her by pulling the leash instead of using physical touch or verbal corrections. That eliminated the negativity Kai associated with humans while still allowing them to train her, Nielson says.

Besides having a great addition to their pet family, the Nielsons also have great new friends. Duke-Bettin and her husband have become some of the Nielsons’ best neighborhood buds.

“She’s been awesome because she’s a trainer, and she’s also a good friend,” Nielson says.


Don’t buy the hype on Mean Bird

June "Mean Bird": Photo by Danny Fulgencio
June “Mean Bird”: Photo by Danny Fulgencio
Her real name is June.

Mean Bird is one in a long line of pet hens that Zac and Heather Lytle named after female singers. In Mean Bird’s case, June Carter Cash. But she picked up her nickname after developing a habit of pecking at two speckled hens in the flock.

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The Lytles are headed to Lilongwe, Malawi this coming fall for a two-year fellowship in global women’s health; Heather is an obstetrician/gynecologist who trained at Parkland. So in preparation for the move, they found a new home for seven of their 11 birds.

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Their Kings Highway neighbor and friend, Amanda Pounds, agreed to adopt them. And she takes her new poultry pets very seriously.

When the Lytles first moved into their house on Montclair in 2008, Zac threw together a chicken coop using scrap wood and an old door he pulled out of bulk trash.

When graphic designer Pounds took on the hens, she went over and measured their previous coop and built a brand-new one of similar dimensions. She wanted them to feel at home.

She says it tickles her that the hens “put themselves to bed” around dusk every day, like a bunch of old ladies. And since she’s had them, she rises extra early to open the door to their coop so they can start their day of scratching, laying and doing chicken things.

Pounds reports that Mean Bird, now separated from those two hens she bullied, is not even mean anymore. But the nickname prevails.

Mean Bird lays pretty speckled eggs, and Pounds says fresh eggs are a perk of raising hens. But that’s not why she’s doing it. She finds it meditative to sit and watch the little cluckers.

“I like watching them being busy doing nothing,” she says.

How to make a chicken sit
Photo editor Danny Fulgencio really opened up a can of worms for his photo shoot with Mean Bird. This isn’t Fulgencio’s first rodeo shooting portraits for our annual pets issue. So he knows only the finest mealworms will do when asking a hen to smile for (or in Mean Bird’s case, glare at) the camera.

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