Truman and Oliver:  photos by Kim Leeson

Truman and Oliver: photos by Kim Leeson

We call them pets — those creatures who cohabitate and bond with humans. They tend to love their person, even one who is crotchety or crazy. Dogs don’t judge—they evidently love doctors and pastors, evil dictators and lunatics the same. Each summer, in anticipation of the September issue, we ask readers to tell us about their pets. Then editors are deluged with emails and letters. The photos are striking and funny. The stories, heartwarming. Your love of your pets is evident and something to which animal people in every culture and community can relate. While pets are no substitute for human relationships, they do offer a sort of unparalleled, unshakable and near-mystic camaraderie. Writer-naturalist Henry Beston explained it eloquently when he wrote, “They are more finished and complete [than us], gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other Nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time.”

Lady a boy’s saving grace

Lady: Photo by Kim Leeson

Lady: Photo by Kim Leeson

Her thick, 8-foot-long tail brushes the ground as she exits the stall, towering over her human, 13-year-old Jake Carrell. The glowing chestnut mare and “love of his life” stands more than 16 hands high. On this hot morning in July, she’s stamping her hooves into the ground, raring to go. Jake gently strokes her snout.

“She’s feisty but calm when I ride her,” he says.

Clearly, Jake still is in awe of Lady after more than a year since becoming her owner. He always has felt a special connection with animals, including his dog, Trigger, his fish tank full of African cichlids and his late hamster, Bandit. He devours books on animal-related subjects and wants to become a veterinarian.

As he walks Lady around in small circles, he searches for just the right words to describe the admiration and respect he has for these creatures that roam the earth alongside us.

“It’s something else that’s alive besides humans,” he explains.

And when faced with the notion of death, Jake turned to horses.

The summer before second grade, he arrived home from camp to the news that his mother, Mary-Elizabeth, was dying of an inoperable brain tumor. The doctors had given her two to five years.

Jake was too young to understand what that meant but knew it was serious because his older brother was crying.

As his mom underwent treatment and fought for her life, Jake became more and more obsessed with getting a horse.

“He asked, and he asked, and he asked,” Mary-Elizabeth says. “He was really patient. He started asking once a week instead of every day.”

Although dizzy and weak from radiation, she felt well enough to pick Jake up from school one day. He politely reminded her about the horse. So, she finally made a move.

“I said, ‘Why don’t we go over there now?’ ”

She drove Jake to the Park Lane Equestrian Center, where he began riding and never stopped.

“Through all that radiation and recovery, he’d be riding. That was his escape.”

Four years later Lady came into his life from Chicago. He rides her twice a week and plans to compete in shows this season.

Mary-Elizabeth survived her battle with cancer. The tumor shrank to an “insignificant” size, the doctors say, but they still watch it. She receives an MRI every four months.

Still, she had plenty of time to reflect on what would happen to her family had she not lived.

“Jake was so happy when he was on the back of a horse,” she says. “I could just sit and watch him for 45 minutes. I thought, ‘If I die, my life is pretty good.’ It gave me a peace that he’s going to be OK.”

Liberty the stray from Afghanistan

Liberty with Linda Brooks: Photo by Kim Leeson

Liberty with Linda Brooks: Photo by Kim Leeson

Life isn’t easy for stray dogs in war-torn Afghanistan, where they often are abused for dogfighting and other cruel games.

“They hate dogs over there,” says Linda Brooks, a Preston Hollow resident who works with Puppy Rescue Mission to save the dogs from such a fate. “When a [U.S.] solider finds a puppy, they say, ‘This reminds me of home.’ ”

Soldiers aren’t allowed to keep strays on base (they sometimes hide the pups in their sleeping bags), so volunteers like Brooks organize the transport of the dogs to the United States for the troops to adopt when they return home.

Liberty was scared and malnourished when she turned up in a litter in Wardack, Afghanistan. She arrived in the States in October 2012 under Brooks’ foster care. The soldier Liberty was waiting for returned, but medical issues prevented him from adopting her. So Brooks kept her, along with her retired therapy dog, Simon, who made regular visits with military veterans at the Dallas Veterans Affairs. That’s where Brooks learned about Puppy Rescue Mission.

The national nonprofit organization launched four years ago after a group of dogs on a U.S. post in Afghanistan alerted soldiers to a suicide bomber, thus saving their lives. One of the dogs, Sasha, died in the attack. Shortly thereafter, as bonds began to form among the soldiers and the dogs, one of the soldiers’ fiancés, Anna Cannan, raised money to bring the pups home. The effort extended from there, and Puppy Rescue Mission has saved 460 dogs in four years.

Petunia the pot-bellied talk of the neighborhood

Petunia and her owner, Weezie Margolis: Photo by Kim Leeson

Petunia and her owner, Weezie Margolis: Photo by Kim Leeson

Petunia and her owner, Weezie Margolis: Photo by Kim Leeson

Petunia and her owner, Weezie Margolis: Photo by Kim Leeson

The first thing one might notice about Petunia the pig, as she snoozes the day away on the living room sofa, is that she doesn’t stink. That’s one of the biggest misconceptions about the messy farm animal-turned adorable pet.

“They don’t have sweat glands,” says her owner, Weezie Margolis. “[On farms] they roll around in the mud to keep cool.”

Margolis never has been much of a cat or dog person. Plus, her husband is allergic to both.

“So, I got a pig instead,” she says.

And, a star was born.

On a typical afternoon walk down Meadow Road, drivers slow down and make U-turns to get another glimpse of the Vietnamese teacup potbelly strutting her stuff. Some people even step out and snap photos with her.

“It’s still somewhat of a novelty,” Margolis says.

Petunia was just 1 pound, 11 ounces when Margolis brought her home. Today, she’s 4 years old and 100 pounds. She eats a steady diet of salads and inhales pecans during the fall (do not get between Petunia and her nuts).

Since pigs are some of the smartest animals on the planet, raising one is no easy task.

“It’s like having a 3-year-old in the house,” Margolis says.

She has defied baby gates and opened kitchen cabinets. If someone’s purse is within reach, she holds it down with one hoof and unzips it with her snout to gobble up whatever treats lie inside.

But it’s worth all the trouble, Margolis says.

“They say a dog is a man’s best friend. I think a pig is very much the same.”

Lucille: Photos by Kim Leeson

Lucille: Photos by Kim Leeson

Lucille an old girl with a spark

She used to be called Lucy. But when her jet-black face began showing flecks of gray, the 14-year-old Labrador/blue heeler mix took on a more mature, distinguished moniker: Lucille.

“She’s such a grandma,” says her owner, Allison Thomas. “It just seems to go with her look.”

Lucille has been there for just about every significant life event: Thomas’ marriage to her husband, Scott, three moves around North Dallas and the birth of their now-7-year-old son, Hudson.

Before Lucille came along, Thomas “was never really a dog person,” she says. Then one day, an acquaintance found a 6-week-old stray puppy in a Blockbuster parking lot.

“He brought her over, and there was no way we could turn her down,” says Thomas, who was living in a townhouse with Scott, her fiancé at the time. “We just had to take her in.”

There was a bit of a learning curve, but Thomas fell in love with Lucille in about a month. These days, Lucille is “getting up there,” but she hasn’t lost her spark.

“You can see the gradual decline,” Thomas says, but “she still has a lot of puppy in her. Her body can’t keep up with her personality.”

She loves car rides and gets overcome with excitement, but Thomas now has to pick her up and put her in the car.

“It makes me sad, because she used to jump on in,” Thomas says.

Despite the aches and pains, the senior life is a good one. Lucille eats an early dinner and retires to her “happy place” on the edge of Thomas’ bed by 8 p.m.

When Thomas’ 71-year-old mother stays over in the guest bedroom, Lucille is by her side.

“We call it the senior lounge,” Thomas says. “She loves it when my mom is here. She takes comfort in being with my mom.”

Lucille is healthy for an older dog, but Thomas knows the day will come when her pup is no longer waiting for her in the chaise lounge near the front door.

“I’ll miss her greeting me,” she says. “The happiness in her. All her sounds and smells — you get used to certain things about your pet. I can’t picture my home without her in it. Maybe we just have to move.”

Truman and Oliver snuggle buds

Truman and Oliver:  photos by Kim Leeson

Truman and Oliver: photos by Kim Leeson

When a fluffy orange rabbit wandered into Martha Justice Moore’s friend’s yard a few months ago, an unlikely friendship formed.

Moore took in the bunny, which “clearly was someone’s pet,” she says, because he’s friendly and approaches everyone — including Moore’s 1-year-old English sheepdog, Truman.

“The rabbit is not afraid of him, and he’s not afraid of the rabbit,” she says.

In fact, they play and snuggle on the regular.

“It’s quite entertaining. I’ve never seen that before,” she says. “[Truman] licks him and grooms him. He’s parenting him.”

Moore took the rabbit, which her family named Oliver, to the vet, who agreed that he was a high-end $50 pet. She posted signs around the neighborhood, but no one claimed him. So Oliver is taking up residence with Truman and with Moore’s sons, who are 9 and 11.

“He wants to be around people,” she says. “If the boys sit down by his bed, the bunny will come over and sit right next to them.”

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