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Pets and the family

Posted August 26, 2015 in Cover Story, Community Cover Story, Bondurant

Where can you turn for companionship, joy and unconditional love? According to four Bondurant animal lovers, all you need is a pet. There’s little doubt that the bond between people and pets is mutually beneficial, and there’s little doubt that the following interviewees count their pets as family members.

Meaningful menagerie

You might say Becky Parrish has a menagerie. There’s Lexie, a 120-pound Great Dane, and Geri, an umbrella cockatoo. They live inside Parrish’s home. Outside, you’ll find a donkey named Nacho, who shares a pen with three horses (Patty, Zazrok and Chips) and a large pet steer called Chaos. Three barn cats roam as they please.

Becky Parrish and her pet, Lexie, a 120-pound Great Dane. Photo by Todd Rullestad.

Becky Parrish and her pet, Lexie, a 120-pound Great Dane. Photo by Todd Rullestad.

In her spare time, Parrish volunteers at the Blank Park Zoo.

“The zoo is safe because I can’t bring those animals home,” states Parrish. “For many years I worked full-time and was busy with life. Now, I work part-time and can give back. I think the nurse part of me just wants to help others.”

Parrish and Lexie, a therapy dog, volunteer at Courtyard Estates Assisted Living in Bondurant and Pleasant Hill and at On With Life in Ankeny. Parrish’s mother-in-law previously resided at the Bondurant facility. At that time, Parrish owned an older Great Dane named Grace, who often tagged along on visits. After a while, the staff asked Parrish to bring Grace to the facility more often to visit other residents.

“That’s when I thought, I should have had her be a therapy dog, but at age 10, that was not the time to start,” Parrish says. “She was 13 1/2 when she passed away last year. We got Lexie when Grace was 10.”

When Lexie, a 7-week-old harlequin Great Dane, first joined the family, Parrish quickly enrolled her in dog obedience classes. After a year of specialized training which exposed Lexie to IV poles, crutches, strollers and wheelchairs, the Great Dane tested on 20 different items to become a certified therapy dog with Therapy Dogs International.

“One of the reasons I wanted to take her to visit others is because I get so much joy from her,” states Parrish. “I love her so much that I want to share her. I can’t imagine not having a dog. She’s always doing something goofy. She even sleeps with us. She’s just a gentle giant.”

Compassionate crew

Melissa Winger and her family own Pepper, a beautiful American shorthair tuxedo kitty, boasting a white tummy and paws. Up until recently, Pepper’s main playmate was Johnson, an 11-year-old black Lab rescued from the Fairfield Animal Rescue Group in 2005.

While pets provide immeasurable joy, they can also bring heartbreak. Fortunately, for the Winger children, their parents helped them cope when they lost Johnson.

“He started limping on a Tuesday,” says Melissa. “We took him to the vet, and we weren’t exactly sure what was wrong. We went out of town for a wedding that Friday after he got sick. The pets stayed with my parents in Des Moines. After the wedding, we drove back during the night to say our good-byes and reminisce. We all slept on the floor that night beside him to give him comfort.”

Noah, Addi and Mason Winger snuggle with Johnson (the dog) while Pepper (the cat) hangs out on the cat tree. Photo submitted.

Noah, Addi and Mason Winger snuggle with Johnson (the dog) while Pepper (the cat) hangs out on the cat tree. Photo submitted.

Shortly after Johnson passed away, Melissa’s mom gave 8-year-old Addi a purple locket that holds a few clippings of Johnson’s hair. Melissa added the dog’s picture to the sparkly keepsake that Addi now wears around her neck.

“Johnson liked to play hide-and-go-seek,” Addie remembers as she waves a long wand with a tasseled end just out of Pepper’s reach.

“I always thought of Johnson as my big brother and Pepper as my little sister,” adds Noah, who is 9.

Melissa explains that Noah and Johnson shared an unconditional love. Noah confided in Johnson, who listened and never judged.

Like people, pets have their own personalities. Melissa compares Johnson’s personality to a preadolescent boy’s – goofy and funny. She describes Pepper as a dog in a cat’s body with more dog mannerisms than cat. They’ve labeled Pepper the “sick whisperer” because when the kids are ill, Pepper cuddles close to comfort the ailing child.

When asked what the children have learned from having pets in the home, Melissa listed compassion and responsibility. Addi cleans the litter box and Noah feeds the pets. Everyone is on scoop duty.

“I think some people think that pets are a lot of work — cleaning up pet hair, cleaning the litter box, but they just give you so much love in return,” she adds.

Since their home just isn’t the same without a dog, a new pooch joined the family mid-August.

Plenty of perks

Jennifer Keeler and her family own two pets — Kimi (pronounced key-me), a high energy Siberian Husky, who joined the family at 7 weeks, and Ozzie, a cat from the Animal Rescue League. Ozzie arrived in 2013 at the age of 2 months.

“I was just dropping off old blankets and towels one morning to donate, saw hi, and thought he needed to come live with us,” says Jennifer. “By the end of the day, Ozzie was ours.”

Asked what she likes most about pet ownership, Jennifer lists the following perks: studies show that children have better immune systems when raised in a house with animals, the house never feels empty, someone is always happy to see you when you get home, and if you have a bad day, pets cheer you up.

“Kimi encourages me to get up and get her out for a walk to start the day,” Jennifer states. “Ozzie loves to sit with me at the end of the day, so they sort of bookend it for me with unconditional love.”

Daughter Alison, 9, loves running around the house with her animals, blowing bubbles for Kimi to chase and setting up items for Ozzie to knock down, yet she knows that pet ownership isn’t just fun and games 24/7. Like the Winger children, some of the pet chores fall on her young shoulders.

“I think I learned responsibility, because there is another creature depending on you,
Alison says. “I have to feed them and make sure they have water so they aren’t hungry or thirsty.”

The gift

For as long as Steph Bohlman can remember, she wanted a horse. As a young girl, she decorated her bedroom with horse pictures and calendars. When she turned 10, her parents gifted her with horseback riding lessons; however, they never occurred. The instructor cancelled the day of the lesson because she broke her arm falling off a horse. Finally, when Steph turned 13, her dreams came true — she headed to horse camp.

Steph Bohlmann rides her quarter horse, Hope. Photo submitted

Steph Bohlmann rides her quarter horse, Hope. Photo submitted

“You were basically in charge of your own horse for a week,” Steph says. “We learned everything about it. Instead of seeing all the work, I thought everything was awesome.”

When Steph met her husband, Chris, she told him about her love for horses, and one day he surprised her with her very own horse, Hope.

“She wasn’t even broke,” Steph says. “I was like ‘What do I do with this?’ I’d only ever ridden broke horses. I’ve basically taught her everything she knows.”

Hope isn’t their only pet. There’s also Western, another horse, and Nitro and Sassi, two German Shepherds. While Nitro is a rescue dog, Chris, like Steph, also dreamed of owning a specific type of pet one day, a purebred German Shepherd. Following her husband’s lead, Steph gave Sassi to Chris as a gift, but let him pick out the particular pup himself.

Two specific benefits to pet ownership that Steph values are meeting new friends at puppy classes and on trail rides and seeing how pets help relieve stress.

“If I’m watching a sad movie and cry, Nitro comes and puts his front feet on me and just lays there,” she states. “He’ll lick me and sense my sadness. He’s able to read my mood. When I get to the horses and they are out in the field, I yell their names and they come running. They’re probably just hungry, but it’s nice. I’m so busy thinking about my animals that my problems become the least of my worries. I’d say our pets are most definitely like family members.”

To the rescue

From reduced loneliness to increased exercise levels, pet owners reap numerous benefits from their animals, benefits that are readily available to most everyone. If you’re considering adopting a pet, why not rescue one?DSC_0016

When asked what she wanted readers to take away from this article, Melissa says, “Some people think rescue pets are mean or they’ve done something wrong, but that’s not the case. Often, it just wasn’t a good fit with the first family. I hope more people will consider getting a rescue animal.”

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