Kids and Their Pets

BY Abby Cavenaugh

There’s an old cliché in show business which holds that children and animals are the hardest actors with which to work. For our fourth annual people and pets feature we took on the challenge exploring the many different kinds of animals that beach-area kids consider part of the family. From the “usual” cats and dogs to the not-so-usual snakes lizards and mice these pets — whether furry scaly or something in between — have one thing in common: They all brighten the lives of some of the area’s cutest children…and they’re all adored and cuddled on a daily basis by those same animal-friendly youngsters.

Stella Tharin and Lucky

About a year and a half ago Chris Tharin caught a blue racer in the backyard of his family’s Airlie Road home. Since the family often catches snakes to study before releasing them back to the wild Chris went to PetSmart and bought a tiny white mouse with bright red eyes to feed to the snake.

“My friend was over and we wanted to go get the mouse back out of the aquarium but we were scared to touch it ” says Chris’ daughter Stella who turns 10 on Feb. 18.

It turns out that the young girls needn’t have bothered. The mouse survived the night alone with the snake. Henceforth he was known as Lucky. And the fortunate mouse quickly became Stella’s favorite pet.

“He has a routine ” Stella says. “He sleeps he gets up and he eats then he runs on his wheel then he gets some water and he eats and sleeps.”

In between naps and meals Lucky enjoys hanging out with Stella climbing around on her hands or even in her hair. He spends a lot of time with Stella’s mother Susan too.

“He likes you ” Stella tells her mother as she scoops up Lucky in her hands and plants a kiss on his forehead.

“You’re lucky I like him too ” Susan replies.

A.J. Green and Squeezy

Within 24 hours after her 7-year-old son A.J. Green and husband Kirk Pugh brought home a red-tailed boa constrictor from the pet store Barbara Pugh found herself searching the family’s backyard on Middle Sound Loop Road after the snake escaped from his aquarium.

“I had to go get him and pick him up and put him back in the aquarium ” she says. “That gave me a whole new appreciation for snakes.”

An appreciation for snakes — or any kind of reptile really — isn’t something A.J. had to work at. “I wanted a snake because they’re related to dinosaurs ” the young reptile enthusiast says.

He’s learning to care for his pet by reading books Barbara says. He’s learned over the past two years that snakes only have to eat every 10-12 days. Despite its seemingly sparse diet the snake has grown about six inches since he was purchased about two and a half years ago.

His favorite food? Mice. Especially live ones.

“One time we got a live mouse ” A.J. says adding “He didn’t survive.”

And as for the boa constrictor’s name? Squeezy was a natural choice. Barbara explains “[A.J.] named him Squeezy because the first time he picked him up he wrapped himself around his arm.”

Nansi Holt and Katie Edith SaSa and Alex
(Not pictured: Lily Sister and Emmy)

“The thing with Nansi is that she wants to rescue every animal we see on the side of the road ” Stephanie Holt says of her 7-year-old daughter.

So far the Holt home in Landfall is filled with four dogs and three cats.

Alex the Weimaraner perhaps has the saddest story. Alex’s former owner had tried to breed her but when the mating was unsuccessful he kept her in a kennel — for seven years — until the Holts finally convinced him to let them take her home.

Edith a Corgi mix was also abused. “We found her near the Virginia line during a snowstorm ” Stephanie explains. “She had a rope that was nearly frozen around her neck and these boys were throwing rocks at her and shooting BBs at her.”

Katie the beagle mix was found in a fast-food drive-through “begging for hamburgers ” Nansi says. And then there’s SaSa (pronounced Say-Say) the foxhound who was a stray that took up residence at the family’s home as did two of the cats Lily and Sister. Nansi begged for Emmy a 19-year-old cat after the family saw her while taking one of the dogs to the veterinarian.

“There was a person who wanted to put her to sleep and we couldn’t let them do that ” she says.

Austin & Miller Diggs and Trooper

About four years ago Linda Diggs first noticed an orange and white cat at one of the rental properties that she and her husband own.

“He kept getting skinnier and skinnier so I just decided to adopt him ” she recalls

Linda was reluctant to tell her husband who would be less than thrilled with a new cat and so left the cat in her car to recover from neutering surgery while the family prepared to go out of town for Thanksgiving. In the meantime her husband had opened up all four doors of the car to pack up and so when they looked the cat was nowhere to be found.

More than three hours later the family stopped outside Richmond Va. for a bite to eat and heard a horrible screeching coming from underneath the car. To their amazement the cat had been riding on the spare tire the entire time. Henceforth he would be known as Trooper.

Trooper’s come a long way since then. “He’s fat and happy now ” Linda says.

And he’s a big hit with Austin 11 and Miller 9. “He can be mean and he can be nice ” Austin says adding that Trooper once “bopped” the family dog 13-year-old Kelsey on the head.

“If you’re running up the stairs he will chase after you ” adds Miller. “He’s fun.”

Amos Jones and Stinky

Stinky may not seem like an obvious name for an Australian bearded dragon lizard but for 12-year-old Amos Jones the name couldn’t be more logical for his favorite pet.

“When we first got him and he went to the bathroom it smelled terrible and his food smells even worse ” Amos explains.

The food Amos is referring to: live crickets of which Stinky eats 15-20 a day in addition to mill worms and lettuce carrots and apples.

“Eventually he will have a vegetarian diet ” Amos’ mom Blanche says. “But he won’t let you see him eat vegetables.”

Stinky she adds has a lot of personality. “He pays attention ” she says. “He watches you walk by with this sort of very indignant look.”

The family has always had a fascination with the little green lizards that frequent the yard of their Cypress Avenue home so Stinky was a natural choice as a pet for Amos. He’s grown about 11 inches in the year or so that Amos has had him and he’s expected to get about 24 inches long.

At some point Blanche adds Amos who enjoys making films with his friends plans to make Stinky a movie star. “One of his goals is to make Stinky Godzilla ” she says.

Kerri & Erin Hopkinson and FooFoo and Brownie

“I never would’ve guessed I would be the owner of a bunny ever ” says Palmetto Drive resident Tina Hopkinson.

Nevertheless Tina and her daughters — Kerri 10 and Erin 5 — are now the proud “parents” of not one but two bunnies FooFoo and Brownie. The mother and daughters attended a “bunny party” over the summer at the home of family friends the Starlings off Airlie Road.

“I told the girls ‘we are not taking any bunnies ’” Tina recalls.

However six months later FooFoo and Brownie are right at home in their cages just outside the family’s home.

“I love them ” Kerri says. “They’re easy to take care of and they’re fun. We bring them upstairs [to the living room] and let them run around.”

While the girls already each had a hamster and Kerri had a beta fish perhaps the family member who finds the bunnies most interesting is the cat Sassy.

“When they’re inside the cat will crouch around like ‘What is that?’” Tina says. “But she doesn’t bother them.”

The bunnies are very curious — but are currently a little rebellious Tina says. “When they were smaller we could hold them and pick them up but now they’re at that teen-age stage just like a 16-year-old ” she explains. “They do their own thing.”

Heather Dickey and Sassy

When she was younger Heather Dickey now a 13-year-old eighth-grader at St. Mark Catholic School was given her choice of a family pet as a reward for finally giving up her pacifier.

“I love ferrets ” she says. “They’re really playful and curious.”

As a result Heather’s favorite pet is now the third ferret her family has owned appropriately named Sassy Heather’s mother Sue says “Because she was sassy when we first got her. She was very full of herself and kept nipping at us.”

The ferret has calmed down her sassy ways from those beginnings seven years ago and now after a rocky start even gets along with the Dickeys’ three terriers. “They’ve gotten used to each other now ” Heather says. “They’re good friends.”

Because of ferrets’ penchant for digging holes Heather says Sassy “loves the beach.” So whenever the Dickeys spend time at their Lumina Avenue beach house Sassy gets to make the trip as well leaving behind the cage in which she stays at the family’s Landfall home.

Sassy also has another great love — for a certain kind of cereal. “She loves Lucky Charms more than anything ” Heather says.

Wilson & Sutton Horger and Marley

When the Horger family first got Marley from the New Hanover Humane Society wife and mother Shelli was told the 47-pound dog was nearly full grown. But nine years later Marley tips the scales at a whopping 127. “She just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger ” Shelli says.

Marley eats everything. “One time I was eating a muffin and I had the last bite of the muffin and I put it down and she ate the whole thing including the paper ” Sutton 9 recalls.

In addition to her regular dog food Marley eats oysters cereal cookies and cakes that are left unattended and even raisins that 13-year-old Wilson enjoys throwing into her mouth.

With her bright blue eyes and liver-colored spots the dog is probably part Catahoula hound but no one knows for sure.

“We had to look that up because we didn’t know what that was ” Shelli says with a laugh.

No matter what her breed Marley is considered another member of the family.

“She’s very protective ” Shelli says. “When Sutton was a baby Marley would stand between the stroller and the street to make sure nothing happened to her. She’s a very sweet dog.”