They aren't just cats and dogs (and rabbits), they are members of our family. • From Bruce the bulldog who could hardly walk after being locked in a cage at a puppy mill to a stray cat named Phineas who wouldn't let anyone touch him for a year and a half, animal after animal was saved from cruelty and loneliness only to be loved. • And what did they do in return? • The loved us back, of course. • We asked readers to share their pet stories. Here they are.
Patti Ewald, LifeTimes editor
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Never say never
When I had to have my wonderful kitty, Gracie, put to sleep when she was 14, it hurt so much I swore I would not get another cat. However, we are not always in control of everything. In August 2008, while at our North Carolina summer home, my wife called me from the back porch of our house in the woods. She pointed to a tiny black kitten in front of our garden shed. I got a flashlight and went out to look. There were no other cats around. Just the kitten, so small I didn't know what to do. I brought it in and made a bed for it in a box. The next morning I called the local vet. He thought she was about 2 1/2 weeks old. I nursed her with the bottle and then played with her and trained her to use the litter box. Four and a half years later, she is the kitty of my life, my Snooks.
Jim Wamboldt, St. Petersburg
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The Comeback Kid
We adopted Snooki after she was found in St. Petersburg with her ears cut, bloody and emaciated. When we brought her home, she was scared of everything — the fan, stove, mirror, TV, vacuum. You name it, she was terrified of it (except the cats; she chased them). We had another dog, Ruger, who died but not before helping Snooki. A little over a year later, she's no longer afraid. She loves dogs, kids AND even cats. Being abused at the hand of a human has not broken her spirit. Snooki is a poster dog for the pit bull breed.
Amanda Sandefur, Sarasota
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The Comeback Kid II
When we found our Bruce, he had been in a cage in a Pennsylvania puppy mill for two years. He didn't know what a toy was, or a walk, or a treat. He was 20 pounds underweight, infested with fleas, and so filthy that it took two baths before we knew what color he was. A loud sneeze could reduce him to cowering and it was weeks before he could walk without pain and stiffness. But watching this wonderful dog blossom into a confident, cherished family member has been sheer joy. Now Bruce struts down the street and picks and chooses his toys. When people compliment him, I use it as an opportunity to talk about the hideous puppy mill industry and to encourage people who are ready to share their lives with a dog or cat to adopt, never shop.
Jennifer O'Connor, Largo
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Lulu tells her own story
My story begins June 23, 2012, at the Citrus County Animal Shelter where I was left, scared, skinny, covered in mange and in pain. My furmommy walked into the door and it was love at first sight. In no time, I knew what life was meant to be like.
I am quite popular on Facebook, as every weekend, we do a new adventure ... kayaking, seaplane rides, dogpark trips, art festivals. I even go to the movies (but shhhhhh!!! That's a secret!). I am going on a big plane in a few weeks to go to New York City! I am so excited!
I have the nicest wardrobe, and I even get my nails painted every Sunday, after a long evening of playing at the dog park.
Please share my story and ask responsible, loving humans to visit their local shelters and save a life like mine. Adopt don't shop. My mommy says I saved her, too.
Lulu, owned by Jennifer Jensen, Inverness
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Saving Phineas like the Argonauts
Several winters ago, a litter of feral kittens showed up in our Palm Harbor neighborhood and our lives became entwined with two of them. Olivia, the luckier of the two, was socialized by a neighbor who couldn't take her in. We placed her with my wife's very elderly mom and aunt where she remains, earning her keep as a full-time comfort cat.
Phineas, her orange tabby brother, was never socialized but roamed our neighborhood. It grieved us deeply whenever we saw him huddled under a car during our frequent summer downpours.
A year later, I looked outside at the bowl of food we had put out for yet another stray and there was Phineas eating! He came back most nights but it took 18 months before my wife was able to pet him. The following winter, we moved him into our garage. When spring arrived, he was socialized enough to be stuffed in a carrier and taken to our vet. His roaming days were now numbered.
Last April, we found out that Oliver, our silver tuxedo tabby, had oral cancer. On July 21, Oliver died, and that night was the first that Phineas spent indoors at his forever home.
Mike Jones, Palm Harbor
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I found Oreo in my backyard garden in Warwick, R.I., in the summer of 2004. We immediately became friends. I tried to find his owner but I couldn't so I kept him. When we came to Florida for the winter, we had to leave him with our daughter because no pets are allowed in our mobile home park. He loved playing in the basements of our homes. (One important piece of advice for anyone who would like to own a rabbit as a pet: Don't leave them unattended where wires can be chewed.)
Last winter, Oreo started becoming less active and, after nine years of entertaining us, he passed away. My daughter held him in her arms and stroked him until his last breath. We gave him a good life and he gave us all a lot of happy times.
Dolores C. Galvin, St. Petersburg
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Three in a row
The three Lab girls: Erin, a former guide dog, gets a ride home in the jog stroller, flanked by Milka, 4, and Bit o' Honey, 10. Erin likes to walk the children to school with the other dogs, but isn't always up for the walk back home.
We have three beautiful female Labrador retrievers. The oldest is Erin. She is 11-1/2 years old, and she is a retired guide dog. We've only had her for about two months. She doesn't always have the energy to walk to and from the school with the kids so she gets a ride back in the jogging stroller. Bit o' Honey is our 10-year-old yellow Lab with a gorgeous big head. Milka is our 4-year-old chocolate Lab. She looks like a puppy because she is only 53 pounds. We are quite the sight walking these three well-behaved beauties.
Our son Keenan, who is 5, wrote, "Milka is silky. She is my dog. She sometimes kisses me in my face because she loves me. I love Milka."
Ellen Alence Matheson, Lithia
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This Bud's for you
I was on my way to pick up my daughter at her friend's house 20 years ago when I spotted a beautiful red and black dog racing up the street. I put my window down, and said, "Hey Bud, where ya going?" He stopped dead in his tracks, and looked at me like he recognized my voice. Then he took off. I said a prayer, hoping he would make it home safely. On my way out of the subdivision, I saw the same dog but now he was limping and walking very slowly. I stopped the car and went to him. He had no tags so I put him in my car and went door to door, asking if anybody knew the owner. Nobody did, so I drove home with the most appreciative and lovable dog anyone could ask for. We had him for 16 wonderful years. This May is the one-year anniversary of his passing, and I thought this would be a deserving tribute to him. We still miss him so much.
Melinda Klingel, St. Pete Beach
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A Hobo with a lot of class
Hobo, a small terrier mix with black fur and a top knot, proves that persistence is the road to winning. Once a homeless dog, then tied outside to a tree day and night by a former owner, he finally struck luck and riches when he selected my husband and me to offer him a forever home.
With exemplary persistence, Hobo slinked into our lives, took over running the household and getting by with a modicum of rules. Showing us day by day how life can be much more fun and less stressful living by his tenets, Hobo trained us instead of allowing us to train him, and rules I always considered sacrosanct for living with a dog soon became obsolete, if not ridiculous.
Hobo's irresistible demands on us and his distinctive management skills with cats and squirrels inspired me to write humorous fiction stories about him and publish them in the book The Richest Dog In Town.
Bruny Hudson, Ruskin
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Our water dog
Our black Lab, Morgan, was a true water dog. When we would go to St. George Island, he was always the first one in the boat when we went fishing and would whine and bark when someone caught a fish. He was a big dog, 90+ pounds, yet he had perfect balance when sitting in a kayak. Morgan even tried to help us gather scallops one summer. Unfortunately, Morgan passed away two years ago, just before his sixth birthday, but he lives on in our hearts and will never be forgotten.
Mark, Marianne and Annie Hays, St. Petersburg
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Taming of the Q
Suze Q is a soft gray and white feline who is currently the proud mistress of a five-bedroom, four-bath home in Vina del Mar, a far cry from where her young life began — in a back alley, not far from the beach.
Two summers ago, I came across an emaciated mother cat and her three newborns. I focused all my attention on improving the health of the mother, who was still nursing. She welcomed my daily offerings of food and we soon bonded. Two of the kittens mysteriously disappeared, leaving only the future Suze Q. When the mother became pregnant again, she lost interest in the kitten who was no longer fearful — as her loud purring attested — and would bounce merrily down the path on her elongated legs to greet me.
I didn't want to take her to a shelter and my condo does not allow pets but I had been gradually introducing her to a gentleman friend who ultimately agreed to take her in. She is safe, happy and much loved.
Kathy Sands, St. Pete Beach
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Walk this way
My careful planning to find the perfect dog vanished at first sight of a scraggly yellow, kill-shelter stray. She was a young female. I brought her home and named her Bella. She was trim, bursting with energy, and just the right size to be the walking buddy I wanted.
Problem was, she wouldn't walk anywhere. She'd prance a few steps, then freeze like Ole Betsy on the gold rush trail. She was afraid of everything — road signs, traffic, loud noises, lawn ornamentation of any sort, garbage cans, parked cars and anything camouflage.
But we were both determined. Many books, Internet searches and episodes of Dog Whisperer later, we go everywhere! I'm proud of what she's accomplished, and her newfound confidence shines.
Sandra Miraglia, Tarpon Springs
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Then he gave me a wink just like my husband did
Three months ago, our family said goodbye to our precious cat, Joseph. He was 17. This lovable boy came to live with me seven years ago when my daughter (who raised him) had to travel. She came back, but Jojo stayed. He was my constant companion and my joy. I would talk to him as he lay in my arms like a baby.
He often gave me a wink that reminded me of my late husband who used to wink at me across a crowded room. I felt his presence in Jojo's wink. When we had to make the decision to let Joseph go, my daughter made an appointment for Jan. 11 at 11 a.m., not knowing that was the day and time I had married her father so many years ago.
As we both held him in the vet's office, we spoke to him and he listened intently as he always did. Then he looked right at me — and winked.
Sylvette Fay, Belleair Bluffs
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Just lost our baby
Gizmo, a beautiful Chinese crested powderpuff, became part of our family in 2002. He was so cute he didn't look real! Being our first pet since getting married, Gizmo enjoyed all the love and attention a first-born gets. His expressive ears, pompom tail and energetic personality clearly communicated his feelings — almost always joyful, grateful, playful and friendly. He loved to snuggle and be cuddled. Intelligent, almost too smart, and intuitive, our sturdy guardian and funny friend comforted us in times of need or illness. We lost our Gizmo on April 17. The joy and love he gave our family was unconditional, steadfast and true and for that we will always be grateful to him.
Heidi A. Capozza, Valrico
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Woo-hoo, she's okay
Gillian Matheson, 8, wrote this about Mrs. Woo: "I am going to tell you how I got my cat. One day my mom came home with this small white kitten. You could see her ribs. We had to feed her with a small syringe. She was found in a Dumpster behind a barbecue restaurant. Her coat was pure white and she had sparkling blue eyes like the sky on a sunny day. After about two months, she can run like the wind. Then before you know it she is attacking everything from socks to trash. She is a funny little kitten. She loves to try to catch our dogs tails."
Mrs. Woo taught my children about perseverance and overcoming obstacles. I'm a veterinarian and someone brought me the sickly kitten to euthanize but I couldn't. There was just something about her. My children were 3 and 6 years old at the time, and they helped to nurse the kitten back to health. They rejoiced in her small accomplishments. I am thankful for the chance circumstances that brought her to me.
Dr. Ellen Alence Matheson, Lithia
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Loves the ladies
Penny is a therapy dog who delights seniors with a lick or the offer of a paw once a week at an assisted living facility in Clearwater.
She loves it so much that if she's outside and I call, "We're going to see the ladies," she comes running.
I had no idea how volunteering would change my life and enhance my relationship with my lovable goofball of a golden. It's been just wonderful.
Adrienne Archer, Clearwater
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A Boston from Alabama
After my daughter, Amanda, and I fell in love with a Boston terrier rescue that was already being adopted, we turned to my sister in Alabama who rescues dogs — she kept 29 no one else wanted — to help us. It seems that a Boston Terrier had just arrived at the Birmingham Boston Terrier Rescue. We met LuLu at the vet's office and it was love at first sight. With my sister's help, we were able to adopt her. We feel LuLu was meant to be with our family and feel so blessed!
Linda Green, Clearwater
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Daisy picked me
I was anxious to get a little puppy. After looking for a while, I spotted an ad in the newspaper for fox terrier mixes, one with a chihuahua, two with Shih Tzus. I couldn't visualize what they would look like. My daughter and I went to Lakeland to see the three puppies with wirey hair sticking out all over. I couldn't make up my mind; I wanted to take them all home. Finally, I held each one up, looked in its eyes and asked "Who wants to come home and live with me?" Only one puppy licked my face. She was the one. She is our Daisy, now 11 years old and just as cute as she was when she was a puppy.
Cheryl Ware, Zephyrhills
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Best dog ever waits for me in heaven
Chance was more than just a dog. I've had a significant number of dogs in my 70 years but Chance, a collie/border collie mix, was the best dog I ever had. From the time we spotted him at a pet adoption, he had won our hearts. His soft, sweet inquisitive eyes look straight into ours. We were told he had been found abandoned along the road near Pueblo, Colo. That was that. Even though we had a Wheaton terrier, Dobi, at home, and despite my wife's protestations that we didn't need another dog, he was coming with us. As it turned out, we needed Chance more than we knew, and he would prove it every day of his life with us. I am still moved by my memories of this great dog we had to put down after 13 years last December. Will Rogers once said, "I don't know where dogs go when they die, but I want to go there." Me too, to see old Chance and scratch his soft and downy ears once again.
Joel Boyd, Hudson
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Geordi was our mini poodle who had us believing that he was really a kid wearing a fur coat. He was incredibly smart and had the vocabulary of a toddler. My husband and I were wrapped tightly around his little paw.
He was a finicky eater. When I announced from time to time, "Mommy is cooking supper tonight," Geordi would dart out of the kitchen at full speed. When I wouldn't eat, my mother would say, "There are children starving in Europe" so I told Geordi, "There are doggies starving in China." He still did not eat. Finally, in desperation, I said, "They are eating doggies in China!"
Those were the magic words. Quick as a flash, he gobbled up his food!
Alison Rubin, Trinity
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Muffy had a ball at Rays game
Shortly after I moved to St. Pete Beach in 2000, I volunteered to be a puppy raiser. I was given Muffy, a "goldador" (half Lab, half retriever) from Southeastern Guide Dogs in Bradenton. Muffy went everywhere with me as part of her training, including a Rays game at Tropicana Field. We were sitting up high and a batter popped one up that was headed right at us. I put my arms around Muffy to shield her. The ball slipped from the grip of two fans before landing in my outstretched hand. Muffy was happy with her new prize.
Pat Gorman, St. Pete Beach
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Candu like a litte mom to our other dogs
Our 13-year-old pit mix, Candu, is the poster dog for loyalty and tolerance. About five years ago, we adopted a stray pit mix puppy with severe liver damage. We named him Marvin (like Starvin' Marvin) and Candu took over as his big sister and nurse. Marvin was having seizures one day and Candu, who was very protective of him, was agitated. When we took him to the vet, she seemed to know he wouldn't be coming back home like he always did.
Two years ago, we brought home another homeless puppy. Even with advanced age and declining mobility, Candu lets the new kid know who's in charge but is still always loyal and tolerant.
Marcelle Kirkland, Largo
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Teddy Bear has a crush
Our 3-year-old bichon, Teddy Bear, is such a lover! He has a girlfriend up the street — a very tiny poodle named Emmy — that he is crazy about. When we take him for a walk, he goes back and forth in front of her house until she comes out. Then lets her jump all over him, kissing him repeatedly, nose to nose. He likes to hug things — like a stuffed doll — when he takes a nap. He also loves to visit our elderly mom, Wilma Lane, at her nursing home in Clearwater, where he always has a big toothy smile for the residents and enjoys all the attention he gets.
Don and Carol Reno, Dade City
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That leaf was a raccoon
Our golden retriever, Oakley, barks at lots of things — leaves falling, egrets walking, the float in the pool, etc. As a result, we don't always immediately check out what has him wound up. One night last fall, we were eating dinner when Oakley jumped up and ran to the front window barking his head off but also wagging his tail. We figured it was just another leaf blowing by but he would not stop even after being corrected. So, I got up and turned on the front porch light. Sitting there as calm and unafraid as could be was a raccoon! The two gazed at each other for a while and then the raccoon calmly strolled off. It was an adorable moment we will remember forever.
Annie Chewcaskie, Dunedin
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Helping out a helpless pal
Our friends, Rick and Cindy Owens, are foster parents to two golden retrievers and we have two Samoyeds who think they're retrievers.
I was lounging by the pool reading one day watching the four dogs play their favorite games. Chudo, our boy, was chasing lizards and Keto, our afraid-to-swim girl, was standing on the top step of the pool cooling her belly.
The Owens' dog Colt was hiding tennis balls in the bushes and Alex, their ancient golden, was retrieving tennis balls from the pool as soon as they got close enough for her to reach from the side. One ball remained just out of her reach even though she kept trying to get it. Keto, who was still standing on the step, looked at Alex and then looked at me before slowly swimming off the step and across the pool (a first for her). She nudged the ball toward Alex with her nose, and then turned around and swam back to the steps. Alex was the happiest dog you ever saw. To this day, Keto has never again swam to the end of the pool. And Alex lived another five years before dying in his sleep — one happy dog.
Brenda Harris Nixon, Clearwater
Patti Ewald can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8746.