Real House Pets OF SOUTHWEST FLORIDA
SOME ANIMALS ARE BORN INTO THE GOOD LIFE WHILE OTHERS SLAM INTO IT head first through fortuitous happenstance or other times, via tragedy. Regardless of how they have arrived here, Florida Weekly has been given access to peek behind the brass doggie doors and into the lives of some of our region’s most pamperedpered critters. Some pet owners sparee no expense to ensure that their animalsnimals are at the center of it all, and theyhey have the painted paws, designerr halit. halters and private pools to prove it. Read on, and discover a world where gratuitous head scratching and baconthan baconflavored treats are worth more than champagne kisses and caviar dreams:reams: These are the Real House Pets of Southwest Florida.
LET’S CONSIDER THE RELATIVE SIMILARITIES OF CHILDREN AND PETS (FOR those who mistakenly believe that children and pets should be distinguished as distinct species).
Children eat a lot. So do pets. Children sometimes behave. Pets usually behave. Children have to be cleaned regularly and kept healthy, which requires a lot of work. Ditto for pets. Children sometimes show signs of higher intelligence. Pets often show signs of higher intelligence. Children learn (slowly) how to control their bodily functions. So do pets (quickly).
Most importantly, children respond to love, and they give it back. Pets have the same talent, either the four-legged kind (mammals) or the two-legged kind (birds).
That’s a fact based on empirical research.
“From my point of view, and this is supported by scientific studies, the pure interaction between humans and dogs or other animals in general decreases stress and anxiety, raises endorphins, helps create a stronger immune system and increases happiness,” says Dr. Nicole Heine, a widely respected veterinarian and animal behaviorist based in Naples.
Sounds like love to us.
With that concept in mind, Florida Weekly offers a glimpse of people who give their relationships with animals full sway in their lives; some might be inclined to say too much sway.
It’s a dog’s life
These animals (mostly dogs in this story, but they could be a multitude of others) have their own rooms in the house. They shop, travel, go to restaurants, go to the car wash or to the beach with their human companions.
Sometimes they do three-day vacations at Disney. “Disney-proper hotels don’t allow dogs but they have a special (residence motel) for them — the girls either get a villa, or next time they’re getting a suite,” explains Kathy Lustritz, who, with Aunt Peggy McDonough (Kathy’s sister), and Grandma Jean McDonough (Kathy’s mother), lives in Cape Coral with “the girls,” as she calls them: Bahama Mamma’s Coconut (Coco, the chocolate and cream), and Bahama Mamma’s Precious Gem (Gemma, all cream).
The girls, both Havanese, are 2-yearolds.
“The villa has a nice-sized room with a flat-screen TV and a little pottie patio area,” Ms. Lustritz notes.
Pretty good. But not good enough.
“The suite, though — there’s only four of them, by the way — the suite has a concierge service. We like the dogs in the room (and in the bed) with us, Disney doesn’t allow that, of course, but we can run over there a couple of times a day to see them.”
Or not. “What Kathy isn’t telling you,” adds her sister, Peggy, “is that up in the suites they have a camera to monitor what the girls are doing, so we can look at them any time we want. We’ve seen every breed there is up there, and we’ve even seen birds.”
That’s nothing. Some dogs, like “the world’s first canine supermodel,” as Kay Lorinc refers to Melanie, her Shih Tzu, have designers who make special halters and clothing lines for them.
Nikky Vann of Halters by Nikky, based in Cape Coral, has designed the “enchanted” line around Melanie, for example. (Of course, she has also designed halters with bows and satin ribbons, sun hats, visors, jackets and other everyday items for Coco and Gemma, not to mention many others.)
These dogs enter fashion shows and help sell products and command the cat walk, as Melanie did at last week’s Naples Fashion Show.
There, she appeared beside a woman as slender as a reed, as long as a cattail and as luminous and glowing as a polished chestnut — but who cares? Melanie was the apple of Ms. Lorinc’s eye, and everybody else’s, too, by many accounts.
Other dogs, including 20 dressed by Ms. Vann alone and some coming from as far away as Kansas City, appeared in their own fashion show, but Melanie walked tall with the two-legs, not small with the four-legs.
And how did she manage to get that gig? Well, she went to dinner with Wellington-based clothing designer Baron Siamanto Levon, and charmed Mr. Levon’s pants off, so to speak.
“Baron will tell you,” says Ms. Lorinc: “We were out to dinner with Melanie, and she was in his face. She was wiggly, she was waggly, she was in his lap!
“Finally he says, ‘You’ve got the job. You have it. OK?’
“And then she didn’t have anything else to do with him the rest of the evening.”
Melanie, of course (Facebook page: www.facebook.com\ melanie) has become an integral force in Ms. Lorinc’s Top Paws Modeling Agency, a business related to her Top Paws Travel Agency and real estate businesses (for high-end clients who put their pets’ interests first, or at least almost first when traveling or house-hunting), but she may have competition: her brother.
He made his first appearance on the catwalk last week, and Melanie was seen sniffing in jealous disdain, more or less. All paw-lotics is local
Some dogs, historically, have surpassed even the Melanies of the world, and gone to Washington, D.C., to help lead the nation.
President Bill Clinton’s chocolate Lab, Buddy, for example, was a member of that elite corps of canines — the few, the proud, the peeing — tasked with the almost unimaginable mission of befriending such politicians, as Florida Weekly has noted previously in these pages.
Right off the bat, about a month after Buddy got into the White House, he seized the moment, and it wasn’t a mere catwalk moment. In front of reporters and photographers, he marched proudly to the center of the room and defecated on the carpet. Then he marched proudly out.
Earlier in the same dog-gone century (the 20th), President Teddy Roosevelt’s pit bull terrier, Pete, attended a highlevel White House function hosted by the president for the French ambassador, one day. Without so much as blinking an eye, Pete sauntered over and tore the man’s French trousers right off his French bottom, almost creating an international incident.
There were other great public-service dogs, none of them as lovely as Melanie, perhaps, but all of them as forceful as Pete, in their own ways: FDR had a Scottish terrier who bit a senator, for example. LBJ’s mongrel, Yuki, peed on the Shah of Iran. And Ronald Reagan’s Bouvier des Flandres, a dog named Lucky, took one look at British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the socalled “Iron Lady,” on the White House lawn one afternoon and proceeded to drag the president right past her in an apparent attempt to escape into civilian life with the man she loved, somewhere out on Pennsylvania Avenue.
It didn’t work. Lucky’s luck ran out, and a somewhat emasculated president shipped her off to California.
All of it, though, is about love, and about animals who save lives or enrich them in their own sometimes quirky fashions, which is a form of saving them. Presidents may not realize that, but other people do.
The love train
In other words, some pets might wear dresses and sun hats and listen to opera, and others might pee on great empires or bark at illusions, but they give love when they do.
Really? Love? The love defined by Plato as acting for the good of another?
The short answer: Yes.
“My 17-year-old Tibetan terrier, Pebbles, has gotten me through divorces and deaths and illness — she’s been on brink of death many times, herself,” says Suzanne Brusseau, a revenue cycle manager for a Southwest Florida neurosurgical practice.
“I say to her, ‘Remember, we have this deal: you have to live until you’re 30.’
Ms. Brusseau was about to set out for a Starbucks on a Saturday morning last weekend, with her dogs and just before a Saturday night event in Naples where she planned to enter her little Yorkshire terrier, Lola, in her first fashion show.
She paused — sorry, pawsed — to offer this observation: “I think people have to have a passion, and these dogs are mine. They’re my children. I’d do anything for them.”
That’s love, all right. Even the experts acknowledge it.
“I do think animals can love — with a love based not just on food rewards. Some animals bond with humans on a relationship level, and it has nothing to do with food,” observes Dr. Heine, who should know.
In her case, she rescued (not a dog, this time) a ringneck dove named Nellie from a horse barn while helping provide equestrian therapy for sick children.
“I called him Nellie from the beginning because I thought he was a her, but he later showed me he was boy,” she says. “He wanted me to blow dry him, and he brought me flowers. I had roses on my table and one day he plucked the petals off and brought them, one by one, to lay on my chest.”
For many with animals, those gestures make all the difference, Dr. Heine concludes.
“Such people have a better outlook, they can give more, they are stronger and more emotionally grounded.”
What a Trouper!
People like Dot Lee, for example, a transplanted North Carolinian who is now, apparently, the property and most valuable possession of a raccoon named Trouper.
Trouper has his own run of the house, his own bedroom and two little pools. He has a lot of toys that make noise (he has to hear them, for reasons that will soon become evident). He has a backyard with a beach and seashells, a garden where he can dig up plants that will be replanted later in a family garden game, and a companion, Miss Lee, who even plays opera for him because that’s the music he prefers.
But that’s the least of it. Miss Lee also has to hand feed him every two to three hours.
A retired special education teacher and trained wildlife rehabilitator, she rescued the raccoon after a golfer waded into a rough with the express purpose of killing him (he was an 8-week-old pup, lost there).
The man hit him in the head with a golf club but managed only to leave Trouper permanently impaired. He can neither feed himself, see, or (get this for a raccoon) smell, and Miss Lee spent two years rehabilitating him, refusing to let him die.
“He fell in the neighbor’s pool and almost drowned, so I promised myself he was going to be a swimmer,” she recalls.
That’s key for a raccoon, because they use one body of water to swim, hunt and clean food — they’re fastidious and tidy creatures, Miss Lee says — and another body of water in which to relieve themselves.
Miss Lee took on the responsibility to love Trouper — a word that means someone who doesn’t give up, in this spelling — in North Carolina, even though having raccoons as pets there is illegal. And probably for good reason, she says. They’re wild and therefore unsuitable as pets.
But Trouper was different and Miss Lee is a law-abiding citizen, so she researched the matter and discovered that only in Virginia and Florida would it be possible to raise Trouper legally.
Thus, she found Lee County and the causeway between the mainland and Sanibel, where she taught him to swim (with permission).
Now, she has a license from the state to use him for educational purposes (she often takes him into schools to talk about the humane treatment of animals) and a license from the USDA to transport him across state lines, if she has to.
“On Sundays,” she says, “if you see a little raccoon with a pink floatie on the causeway, you’ll know it’s Trouper.
“He is the most laid-back, non-threatening, non-aggressive animal I’ve ever seen. He loves to be held, he has clear eyes, and he makes two little sounds when he’s happy. He has beautiful fur, and I give him baths with Alberto VO5, and file his nails, and he gets his teeth brushed every day.”
Marriages don’t get any stronger than this relationship.
“As long as I have a breath in my body,” she adds, “he will never live in a cage. I had an epiphany after the first five days I was with him, and I realized I was chosen to be with him. He battled and fought so hard to live. I almost euthanized him twice. The last time, he looked at me and spoke: ‘Don’t do it.’
‘”You want to live, don’t you?’ I said. ‘You’re a real Trouper.’
All of this is detailed in the book, “Trouper: The True Adventures of a Blind Raccoon,” by Fort Myers Beachbased writer and friend Kyle Miller.
Denise Carr is one of many who understand that level of commitment.
She got her first dog at 40, and now she and her husband, Jim Lowry, have five Scottish terriers and a mixed-breed rescue named Jack, their newest dog, saved from a Miami kill shelter by Dr. Heine (she tries to rescue dogs when she’s not working).
Dr. Heine brought the dog to a Naples parade in January with a sign that said, “Please adopt me,” which is where the couple noticed him.
“If nobody adopted him that day, she would have had to return him to Miami, and he would have been put down, so I told her, ‘If nobody else comes forward by the end of the day, we will,’” recalls Ms. Carr.
Nobody came forward, which is just how it is sometimes with human beings.
Except for Denise Carr and Jim Lowry.
Now, Jack’s protective of Mr. Lowry, and he mixes well with the Scotties — and all six dogs live in the house with the couple.
Or they live in their vehicles with them, gypsy-style. Ms. Carr and Mr. Lowry spend part of the year on Sanibel, and part of it outside Philadelphia, where they drive.
“It’s just over a 20-hour drive, and they all curl up in the car. It’s a comforting thing,” Ms. Carr reports.
Meanwhile, at home in the evening, “they’re on our laps, or wherever they want to be.”
There’s Scooter and Scotch and Owen and Topper and Jack and somebody else, and before Jack came, Scooter was an outcast.
Now he gets to play with Jack. Oh, and the youngest Scotty has adopted the oldest, who is 12 and can see out of only one eye, and the little one looks out for the old dog.
Makes sense. “They’re all individuals, but one of the characteristics of the (Scottish terrier) breed is that they’re very loyal. They’re also sweet tempered. And they can be stubborn. In a good way. They’re adventurous, they love to go for walks, they love to play with other dogs.”
And the downside?
There’s no answer to that question, because there isn’t one, a reality that has changed Ms. Carr’s life, she admits.
“I’ve learned how to live in the present, because that’s how they live.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned is that they’re all about love. They love you no matter what. They know if you’re sad. They’re always there for you, they’re always thrilled. So I think of their love in human terms.
Human terms, if you’re talking about a decent human.
“Even if you don’t have anything to give a dog, a dog will stick by you no matter what. And there are so many examples of that.” ¦