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Family Pets Are Family in Vienna

Local pet parents share stories of their special family members.

Preschool teacher Terry Ayotte with daughters Tallie and Amelia Uman and two-and-a-half-year-old family pet Sandy Neck, Vienna.

Preschool teacher Terry Ayotte with daughters Tallie and Amelia Uman and two-and-a-half-year-old family pet Sandy Neck, Vienna. Photo by Donna Manz.

Animals, from dogs and cats to chickens, rabbits and hamsters, come into the lives of humans and complete the family circle. Proud parents that they are, local residents described the attributes of their family’s pets.

*Jo-Lynn Westlund, Vienna: “We have a 9-year-old Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier. Basically, 50 pounds of fluff. We bought him about 4 1/2 years ago from a woman in Front Royal with two boys aged three months and four years. Her husband had been killed in a skiing accident about six months earlier and she was struggling to keep life going. Seamus had been her husband's dog. He took him with him to his store everyday in Middleburg. He was incredibly trained and very people oriented. In fact, he came to us two days before my future daughter-in-law arrived from Sardinia. It was love at first sight. We had him for almost six months before we ever heard him bark. He's a real love, although we unfortunately have ‘untrained’ him in many ways. If we are going out of town we have to be careful that he does not hear the zipper on the suitcase or he starts pacing and crying. When we open up the back of the SUV he bolts into the car fearing he will be left behind. Ironically, the only things he has chewed up have zippers. And that's what he eats...the zippers. He loves to play with his tug toy with anyone who is willing. Yet he seems to sense how hard he should play even with our 3 year old grandson, Tristan. When there is a party at our house he senses who loves dogs and will position himself next to those people. Recently, we finished a year-long renovation. We remained living amidst the chaos and Seamus felt the construction crew and subs were really coming to see him every day. I think they enjoyed him as much as he enjoyed the attention. As a part of the renovation we put in an invisible fence. Seamus loves it. He now goes out on the front porch sitting in his favorite wicker chair presiding over the cul de sac as a king would over his kingdom. In the back yard he sits on the patio and watch as the deer (sometimes as many as 8) feed on our neighbor's bushes without making a sound. He is a truly wonderful pet in spite of his chronic health issues...allergies, ear infections, sensitive skin and anxiety issues.”

*Michael Amouri, owner of Caffe Amouri: “Othello [aka OD] came to me just about two years ago. He was a rescue brought into my shop by Dr. [Ashkan] Ghaffari.

I had had dogs pretty much my whole life. About a year before I opened the shop, my German shepherd Dutchess—who our espresso blend is named after because she was ‘Sweet and Mellow’—died at the age of 13. I decided that I shouldn't have a dog while I was trying to open up a new place. After a year and a half, I thought that it would be great to think about getting one. I happened to mention it to Doc G. who I knew was active in dog rescue. Well, he started parading dogs into the shop. Most of them, however, were those little guys. Cute, but I was used to bigger dogs... German shepherds, golden retrievers, etc.

One day, Dr. G came in with OD. I still wasn't sure if I was ready for the responsibility of a dog so I asked if I could take him home for a bit of a ‘trial run,’ both to see if he liked it and if I was ready. The first night he was there, I was lying on the couch and he was standing there, looking at me... and then he decided to jump on my chest. This from a 60 pound dog. So, I was sold. He is a big goofball, so I guess we're a perfect match.

My understanding is that he was a couple of days away from being put to sleep in a shelter down in, I think, Charlottesville, and Dr. G. rescued him. I can't imagine this guy being in that situation. He's sweet, has the goofy personality and is all around a good guy.”

*Cindy Stewart, Vienna: “Buzz and I adopted ‘Tacitus’ from the Fairfax County Shelter four-and-a-half years ago, a little white cat with a large and feisty personality. He loves to sit out on our deck and sun himself, a habit we discovered was not in his best interest, health-wise, when we started to notice little black spots on the bridge of his nose that were later diagnosed as a type of skin cancer. We now understand that human companions of white cats and dogs need to limit the time their white-furred friends are exposed to direct sun.

Gratefully, there is a veterinary practice in the greater-metropolitan area that holds a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to administer a specialized radiation treatment that has virtually no side effects, except for loss of fur in the area treated. Cost is moderate, and Tacitus displayed no discomfort afterwards. Tacitus has had two treatments, with great success.

Shelters and rescues have wonderful animals like Tacitus and our other cat, Jake, whose lives can be saved by state-of-the-art veterinary care.”

*Preschool teacher Terry Ayotte, Vienna: “He was just a little peanut when we got him. We looked at cats online at HART’s [Homeless Animal Rescue Team] website. He was being fostered. He was orphaned and being bottle-fed which is why he was so small. When we saw him at HART’s location, we knew he was the one.”

Amelia Uman, 12 years old: “He’s pretty smart. I have allergies so he’s not supposed to be in my room. But he sneaks in and climbs the ladder to the top of my bunk bed and haps there. He likes it there because he likes being up high and there are things hanging from the ceiling.

He’ll jump up and bite you when he wants to play. If you want a pet, you should get a rescue animal instead of buying one because they need homes.”

Tallie Uman, nearly 10 years old: “I like his playful personality. He tries to reach doorknobs to open doors. He can reach underneath and pull it open. His color makes him special and he likes to bite and hide under his own chair. I would tell people to adopt a pet rather than buy one.”

*Kathleen Miller: “Gracie is a black lab mix who was adopted when she was only 7 months old from the Animal Welfare League of Arlington. She is now 10 years old. Gracie and her siblings were left in a cage in a field in West Virginia and the Welfare League rescued them and brought them to Arlington. Gracie is the leader of the pack. The other dogs know not to play with the stuffed animal Gracie has carried around since she was a puppy or to sleep in the spare bedroom where Gracie sleeps at night.

Emily is also a black lab mix who was adopted from the Washington D.C. Humane Society when she was 1 year old. She turns 10 years old this year. Emily and Gracie quickly became playmates and sisters. Emily enjoys going running with Kathleen as well as playing fetch when it involves swimming in the water to bring the stick back. She has been Kathleen's sidekick since she was a puppy and still follows her around the house no matter what. Emily also chooses not to take commands from anyone except Kathleen.

Olie is a collie mix who was adopted when he was 1 year old from a high-kill shelter in South Carolina. He was named after Olie Kolzig of the Washington Capitals because his parents are season ticket holders and Kolzig is his dad's favorite player. He is turning 5 years old this year.

He was transported by train to Northern Virginia where Kathleen and Kelly picked him up and brought him home. A few months prior to finding Olie, Kelly had to make the decision to say goodbye to his childhood dog of 15 years. This prompted him to begin looking for a dog of his own. Olie was turned in by his owner because they were welcoming a new baby to the family. Upon bringing Olie home, it was quite evident Kelly and Kathleen saved him from an abusive home. It has taken much time to get Olie to trust them and the people around him. Every day when Kelly comes home from work, Olie knows it is time for him to accompany Kelly to the mail box down the street and will wait impatiently by the front door to do his daily run.”

*Sandy Gerner and horse-companion Candya, Tucson: “Our largest pet is 1,000 pounds, Candya, the almost 33-year-old horse I have loved for the 28 years she has been a part of our family. She taught me to ride, taught our children to ride, and now lets our grandsons sit on her back.

We got her from a woman who was moving out of state. She wanted Candya to be a barrel horse... not a good idea, and her initial owner fell off when she spooked at something. Candya never did like cows, by the way.

It was a spur of the moment decision; we had a barn and I had always wanted a horse... never had ridden before.”