Happy Tails

Ask any pet owner about the benefits of animal companions and you'll hear myriad answers. For parents, a family cat teaches children the basics of responsibility. A trusty dog can give peace of mind to an elderly couple. Even a simple fish can bring happiness to a new college student. And you could easily find a bachelor or two who thinks man's best friend is the ultimate wing man.

Pet owners often swear that interaction with their animal brings genuine happiness and health into their lives, and new research from a team of psychologists from Miami University and St. Louis University suggests that those claims may be more than opinion. In a study of 217 people, pet owners fared better than their petless peers in variables such as depression, loneliness, self-esteem, illness and activity levels. Further, the researchers found that when pet owners expressed enjoyment and satisfaction with their interaction with a pet, they also enjoyed better relationships with people.

Apart from the fact that it rains cats and dogs during hurricane season, Jacksonville is an incredibly pet-friendly city (ever hear of a little cat named Jaxson de Ville? How about a pooch named Southpaw?). Many pet owners around town have built upon the joy that their furry friends provide by starting businesses, charitable organizations and clinics to serve other pet owners and their four-legged family members. Here, we present a few of their stories.

A Good Tail
A handful of local pooches are settling into a second residence in Washington, D.C. Their new home? The Library of Congress.
The Dogs of Riverside and Avondale is a collection of photos and stories of dogs living in the historic district that not only represents the spirit of the neighborhood, but also the Lehosit family, who overcame tragedy to publish the book.Peg Lehosit says hearing from the Library of Congress brought “joy and heartbreak.” All the photos on the book's glossy pages were taken by her son, James, who was killed by a drunk driver in 2008. At the insistence of James’ brother, the Lehosits continued the project. James’ father, Charlie, designed the book, full of stories that Peg compiled. She describes the book as “local-centric,” having been self-published and locally pressed. It contains 349 photos of local dogs, including Jacksonville Magazine's own Bud, the Wonder Dog. The book is sold at stores around town, such as Cowford Traders and Chamblin's Uptown.  —W.M.

Puppy Love
Service dogs provide assistance and companionship to wounded veterans.
“I was honored to welcome home a young Marine who had given both his legs and one arm for his country, our country. [He] paid an unimaginable sacrifice for freedom, our freedom. I knew immediately how we could help. When he is ready, he will have a four-legged partner, and that canine will be called ‘Freedom.’”

That was Shari Worth’s pledge in August 2010, and one that she continues to honor as president of K9s for Warriors, a non-profit she founded with her husband, Bob (yes, that Bob Duval). The organization, supported by the Wounded Warrior Project and PGA’s Birdies for the Brave, trains and supplies service dogs to soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“With over 300,000 injured veterans, and one in five suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, the need is critical for service dogs to aid them in their return to civilian life with dignity and independence,” Worth says. Because each soldier has different needs, the dogs, who are given patriotic names like “Liberty Bell” and “Battle” are trained specifically for that individual.

Once trained, the dogs can perform up to 70 tasks, ranging from turning on light switches and opening doors to providing stability and balance while walking or pulling their owner's wheelchair. Equally as important to the physical assistance these canines can provide the vets is the emotional support and companionship they offer, especially those living with post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury.

Shari believes that if returning soldiers can reduce their reliance on others and make their transition back to the civilian world easier with a canine companion that will offer unconditional love and assistance, K9s for Warriors has met its mission.For more information, visit k9forwarriors.org.  —K.S.

Pat For a Pet In April, the Jacksonville Humane Society became an official partner with Pets for Patriots to shelter special-needs pets with U.S. service men and women in Northeast Florida. Through this partnership, individuals from any U.S. armed forces organization on active or reserve duty (and veterans, too) can receive information about pet adoption, discounts on veterinary care and a gift card for pet food and supplies through Pets for Patriots, while helping displaced animals from the Jacksonville area find a loving home.

“We sought out the JHS partnership after Southside Animal Clinic signed on to our program,” says Beth Zimmerman, founder of Pets for Patriots. “In order to enable veterans to adopt through our program, we needed a high-quality adoption partner. We felt that JHS would be a solid partner.”

Personnel are eligible to adopt cats and dogs two years and older, dogs 40 pounds or larger (no age requirement) and other at-risk dogs and cats. Zimmerman describes this program as providing both physical and emotional benefits for harder-to-place pets and their guardians. Service men and women interested in giving these pets a second chance must apply through petsforpatriots.org. Upon approval, personnel can visit the Jacksonville Humane Society to choose their new pet.  —M.F.

Mandarin business is for the birds.
Apparently, Polly doesn’t want a cracker anymore. These days, she wants a gourmet blend of red and white millet, cracked corn, buckwheat, cashews, papaya, canary grass seed, spinach and fruit-blend pellets.

Fortunately, DeViney Enterprises, an exotic bird food distributor based in Mandarin, carries their own line of bird food, made right in their shop, called Our Choice (with specific mixes for parrots, parakeets, macaws, pigeons, canaries, finches and cockatiels). Owners Michael and Anne DeViney primarily sell their products at bird shows around the country, but local folks can pick up all the seed they need “at show-discounted prices” at their warehouse (by appointment only). DeViney Enterprises sells other brands in addition to their proprietary mix, as well as chicken, horse and rabbit feed and catfish fingerling crumbles, which sounds more like a delicious appetizer at a seafood restaurant than pet food. For more info, devineypetshop.com.  —K.S.

Healthy Souls
Jacksonville dog lover Peyton Taylor began experimenting with baking healthy treats after one of her dogs developed diabetes. “I thought there had to be other people going through similar situations with their dogs,” says Taylor, “or just wanting their dogs to have really natural, healthy, fun and yummy treats. I decided to try [treat baking] with a little bit of Southern flair!”

Taylor launched Southern Inspired Treats (SIT—get it?) earlier this year. Her online dog treat shop (SouthernInspiredTreats.blogspot.com) sells handmade, low-fat goodies made with natural ingredients and no preservatives. And since she was born and raised in the South, her products include Southern specialties such as pies, sausage biscuits and banana pudding cookies. She also makes “celebration” cakes for special occasions. The treats are baked with local, organic ingredients, avoiding dog allergens such as corn, soy and wheat.Promoting the business is hard work, as she bakes treats per order to ensure ultimate freshness, but Taylor doesn't mind. “My greatest hope is once people (and their dogs) know about SIT and receive my products, they are happy and comfortable with the business and treats!” —W.M.

Animals Allowed
Most banks give treats to customers with children. For instance, a bowl full of lollipops in a bank lobby has two purposes—it makes children happy (read: quiet), which, in turn, allows Mom and Dad to focus on crossing the bank visit off of their to-do list.

TD Bank has taken the concept of catering to customers with kids a step further by extending an offer to pet owners who consider their pets as children. To make their bank visits more enjoyable, the company is pet-friendly.“It’s a great conversation piece,” says Kevin Gillen, TD Bank’s regional president for Florida. “It puts a smile on our customers’ and employees’ faces and makes our bank a great place to work and visit. A happy employee means a happy customer.”Gillen explains that every bank offers complimentary biscuits and fresh water for customers’ companions. While employees themselves cannot bring in pets, customers are welcome to bring animals of any size—or species. So far, Gillen says he’s seen everything from cocker spaniels to  parrots.  —N.W.

Where to go when your pet needs special treatment
Since most pet owners consider their animals part of the family, learning that Fido or Fluffy has a life-threatening illness such as cancer or a painful condition like degenerative disc disease can be every bit as devastating as if it were happening to your own sibling or parent. Fortunately, a growing number of local specialty veterinary practices, including North Florida Neurology and Southeast Veterinary Oncology in Orange Park, are taking the mental anguish out of serious diagnoses for owners and alleviating the physical pain for the pets themselves.

Veterinary neurologist Andrew Hopkins says about 70 percent of his patients are referred by general practice veterinarians for diagnosis and treatment of neurological disorders such as disc disease, spinal fractures, spinal and brain tumors and hydrocephalus. North Florida Neurology’s state-of the art facility allows doctors to perform CAT scans, digital radiology, spinal fluid analysis, electrodiagnostic testing and actual neurosurgery on site.

Despite the high rate of success with spinal surgery on dogs, Hopkins says, some owners won’t even consider it. “People with back complaints constantly associate their animal’s diagnosis with their own, but there is no parallel,” he says. Aside from dogs having a higher pain threshold than humans, he says, their spines are horizontal instead of vertical. In other words, a dog with a slipped disc is a far yelp from a person with one.

Jennifer Locke, a veterinary oncologist, experiences a similar mentality with pet owners when she even mentions the C-word. Because Southeast Veterinary Oncology uses the exact same chemotherapy drugs and radiation equipment to treat animals that are used to treat people, owners automatically assume their animals will also suffer severe side effects, she says. “In reality, we use about half the dosage in animals as in people, which alleviates 98 percent of the risk of side effects.”

Even more important for pet owners to know, Locke says, is that cancer isn’t necessarily a death sentence for animals. “We want them to know that treatment is possible, and oncology, as a specialty, is growing by leaps and bounds,” she says. “Our goal is always to balance treatment with quality of life.”For more information on North Florida Neurology and Southeast Veterinary Oncology, visit nfneurology.com and petcancercare.com. —K.S.

Catch and Release
When Tom and Wanda Madrigal-Hamilton moved from St. Nicholas to San Marco in November 2008, they noticed an overwhelming number of feral cats roaming the streets.

The same month that they settled into their home, the pair established San Marco Feral Cats, an organization that traps stray cats, then provides spay and neutering procedures (through a working relationship with First Coast No More Homeless Pets) before cats are released exactly where they were found.

Volunteers assist in the trap-and-release work of the organization, and to date, 642 cats have been spayed and neutered.

“It was hard to get off the ground,” Tom remembers. “We’re more reputable now that we've launched our website, SanMarcoFeralCats.com. We’ve become more accepted in the community to allow feral cats to be trapped and released instead of euthanized.”

SMFC offers cats for adoption to help further eliminate the problem of homeless pets. A $30 fee covers the spay and neuter procedure, and Tom believes that feral cats make great pets. He should know. He and his wife own six.

“We trapped them ourselves and brought them in,” he says. “Their names are Peanut, Gizmo-Gadget, Sri Lanka, Bear, Chinch and a baby one that we just call Baby.” —N.W.

Animal Instincts
Ever wonder what your doh is thinking? Eden Cross can tell you.
In the film Doctor Dolittle, based on a series of children’s books by Hugh Lofting, a veterinarian learns to speak 500 languages so he can communicate and treat animals from dogs, parrots and horses to the rare, two-headed Pushmi-Pullyu.

Eden Cross shares Doctor Dolittle’s special ability to communicate with critters, only they speak to her—and she is not a fictional character.

An animal communicator for more than 15 years, the Palm Coast resident first learned she had the gift when she sought solutions for dealing with her own dog’s behavioral issues. After studying the subject and working with other intuitives, she was able to tap into Samson’s thoughts and feelings, then realized she could do the same with other animals.

When we first heard about Cross, we immediately thought about one of our office dogs, Abby. Adopted by staff photographer Brad Stookey from Black Creek Veterinary Hospital six months ago, the 3-year-old Rhodesian Ridgeback (or mix) is very skittish and submissive and cowers to men—unusual traits for a dog originally bred to hunt lions.

So we invited Cross to the office for a sit-down with Abby (pictured), and they bonded immediately. Cross says Abby, who she described as “lost,” told her that she had been abused by a previous male owner and recently had a confrontation with a blond lab (Stookey verified the latter), but that she really liked Stookey’s cat, Steve. Since some of Abby’s issues may also be related to the fact that her puppies were taken away from her, Cross suggested to Stookey that he buy her some four-legged stuffed animals to satisfy her maternal instincts.

Explaining behavioral concerns isn’t the only way Cross can help pet owners. “What I do is I give a voice to animals. Sometimes owners want to know if their pets are feeling OK, and if they’re seriously sick, do they want to be put down,” she says. “Other times, they just want to know if their pet is happy or what they are thinking.”

Jacksonville Magazine’s creative director Bronie Massey jumped at the chance to find out what’s going on in the mind of her 15-year-old miniature dachshund (and magazine mascot) Bud. At Cross’ request, Massey e-mailed an image of her dapper, dappled little man for a photo reading (which, Cross says, can be just as effective, sometimes more so, than an in-person—or is that “in-animal”?—session).

Among the comments the “extremely chatty” Bud shared with Cross were that he loves  turtles and his grandma, who feeds him Goldfish crackers (all of which Massey confirmed); he hates when Bronie makes him wear hats (can you blame him?); and he wishes she would still let him eat pig’s ears (she won’t because of his sensitive stomach). He also referred to his red collar and leash, and his squeaky porcupine toy, though Massey’s still trying to figure out why he mentioned “Roger, wilco. Over and out.” —K.S.

Star treatment
If you want something done right, you’ve got to do it yourself. That’s the mindset of Ty and Laura Carriere, who opened Bark Avenue Pet Resort in late 2006. “We didn’t see anything that was really great out there…we wanted a nice place for the dogs to go,” says Ty.

The resort is anything but humdrum, with climate-controlled “suites,” cable television, recreation time and access to live video feed for owners to check in on their furry friends. It took almost two years to get Bark Avenue up due to slow construction, but other than finding the right piece of land, “It wasn’t really that hard [to start their own business],” says Ty. Together, the couple financed the entire business and remain the sole owners. The Carrieres are proud parents to Ruby, 10; Torgier, 5; and Bo, 3. —M.F.

Bark on Park
Jamee Yocum always hoped that one day she'd be able to combine her love of shopping with her love of animals (Yocum volunteers for the Humane Society and is a mommy to four Yorkshire terriers—Riley, 6; McKenszie, 5; Rhys, 3; and Kiren, 2).

She was able to realize that dream when she moved to Jacksonville with her fiancé and opened Bark Boutique in 2009. “I’m a shopper, so I thought buying dog products would be so fun. I love dogs and I knew the background of it [working in a pet boutique],” she says. “It’s something I always wanted to do.” Yocum had about a year of hard work ahead of her before she could open the doors of Bark Boutique. The building needed a lot of work; that was obvious. The labor didn't stop there, though.  She had family members helping her set up, but the concept, layout, inventory and financing all fell on her shoulders.

Business is good these days, which she attributes to a shift in the importance people place on taking care of their animals. Knowing the names of all your customers and their pooches doesn’t hurt either. —A.S.