In an instant, the ambient chatter around him seemed to morph into a crescendo of strings as Rick Felder spotted a gorgeous, fur-clad creature across a crowded room. Sleek and angular, she had a tawny countenance that could launch ships. He knew he must have her. Or perhaps someone just like her?
“I was at a party in Atlanta,” Rick explains. “There was a vizsla there, and I just fell in love with her. It was an instant thing. I had never heard of the breed before.”
Rick had grown up with dogs and known all sorts of breeds, from the basset hound and Irish setter to the Boykin spaniel. Upon his introduction to vizslas around 2000, Rick acquired his first, whom he named Scout. You might say that once you’ve had a vizsla, you never go back.
Today, Rick is the proud owner of two 5-year-old vizslas, Lucy and Ethel. When offered the opportunity to get two puppies together instead of just one, he jumped at the chance. He acknowledges that professional dog breeders generally discourage getting littermates due to a little-known phenomenon called “Littermate Syndrome” in which siblings adopted together can form an unusual attachment and become anxious or even vicious if separated.
“You have to be really careful with them because they can bond to each other and not to their handlers. They also can get aggressive,” Rick says. For the first several months with the puppies, Rick took great pains to keep the dogs separated. He fed them separately and even walked them separately. It worked out well, but such a scenario requires double the work, and people should be aware of that.
Vizslas originated in Hungary and were bred as working and hunting dogs. They are athletic, energetic animals that require ample exercise. “Lucy and Ethel love open spaces to run and play,” Rick says. “It is fun to watch them do their thing. I take them out every morning. I have a friend who lives on about 12 acres with an open field and a pond where they can run off leash.”
Rick notes that Vizslas have a very short coat and will shed, though he doesn’t see much dog hair around the house. “They don’t have a dog smell either. Some people might call them self-cleaning. I rarely bathe them unless they roll in something.”
Lucy and Ethel are affectionate and friendly. Rick says their antics, such as rattling their food bowls at dinnertime, make him laugh every day. Ethel as the alpha tends to lead their playful shenanigans. Their loving manner will melt one’s heart.
“They call them ‘Velcro dogs’ because they love to be touching you all the time,” Rick says. And for the record, they’re not spoiled. “Everything we have is theirs. They just let us use it!”
Carol Holt-Cooper had a similar love-at-first-sight moment when she was a young girl visiting a friend’s home. The friend’s family had a borzoi, and she was transfixed. “I couldn’t believe how they glided so elegantly through the house,” she says. “Ever since, I have always wanted a borzoi.” Two years ago, Carol and her husband, Sean, adopted their 3-year-old borzoi, Lina, through the National Borzoi Rescue Foundation.
Originating in Russia, they often were called Russian wolfhounds because they were used to accompany horse-riding sportsmen on wolf-hunting expeditions. Members of the breed taken to America eventually were rechristened borzoi, which is Russian (borzyi) for “swift.”
The Coopers’ other dog, not a sibling but historically related to the borzoi, is Hank, a greyhound rescued after a successful career on the dog-racing circuit. “The Russians actually brought greyhounds over there to hunt wolves, but they didn’t have thick enough coats for the cold, so they bred them with collies and also, I think, a little bit of Russian mastiff, to create the borzoi,” Sean says. “They were very sought-after by Russian royalty.”
Sean notes that Hank’s official racing name is Kiowa United. “He comes from a very successful lineage of greyhound racers. He actually raced for a long time, up until we got him two years ago. Hank literally came off a track into a house environment and took to it very well.”
Hank was adopted through Greyhound Pets of America in Charleston. With tracks closing across the country and dog racing banned in many states due to alleged bad practices, Carol says the breed is getting a little harder to find. And while many people picture racing dogs as super lean and lightweight, greyhounds are actually quite large dogs. Hank weighs about 87 pounds.
“He’s not as tall and thin as many greyhounds but is very muscular and thick,” Carol says. “We call him ‘Hank the Tank.’”
Sean adds that greyhounds are very regimented animals. Once they have a regular eating, sleeping, and exercising schedule in place, they will alert their owners when it is “time” for an activity, nearly as accurately as a clock. Even after retiring from racing, greyhounds tend to stay pretty lean naturally and don’t need constant exercise as some might imagine.
“Greyhounds are basically very large couch potatoes most of the time,” he says. “They like to snuggle. They are very affectionate.”
While Lina has long hair, it’s not particularly high maintenance. “Lina sheds but doesn’t need to be groomed professionally,” Carol says. “If you brush her out every week, she is fine.”
Cats of Instagram?
Kim and Jennings Woods’ adorable, flat-eared kitty has a long and storied heritage traceable all the way to Scotland in 1961 and a specific farm cat named Susie, who is believed to be the first of its breed. Scottish folds are immediately identifiable by their signature folded ears. The breed grew out of a mutation formed when domestic cats and British shorthair cats mated.
“Jennings wanted one. He always talked about them,” Kim says. The couple located a reputable breeder in Bamberg and brought Keavy home in December 2018. Both Kim and Jennings have some Scottish ancestry. They searched the internet for Scottish names and chose Keavy, which in Gaelic means “fair and graceful.”
“She is so sweet and playful. She loves her humans. They want to be with their people all of the time,” says Kim. “We have three other cats and a dog. She gets along with all of them. She and one of our cats, Alfie, are BFFs. Alfie thought Keavy was her kitten as soon as we brought her home. She would clean and snuggle with her all the time.”
Although they are friendly and quite sociable with everyone, Scottish folds are known for bonding strongly with one person in the family. In the Woods household, that person likely is 2-year-old daughter Harvie. They are pretty inseparable.
“Keavy is very attached to Harvie,” Kim says. “She would sleep in her bassinet when we first got her. And if Harvie was crying, Keavy and Alfie would both come get us to check on her.” As a team, they were almost more reliable than a baby monitor.
Keavy provides constant entertainment for the Woods family, from striking a Buddha pose to standing up like a meerkat. She even has her own Instagram page, @keavy_ruth.
Professional mixed-media artist Flavia Isabella Lovatelli finally met her match when she brought home a Savannah cat, Mimosa — “Mimi” for short. Only 6 months old, Mimi is restlessly energetic and prone to manic bouts of whimsy that she no doubt considers “collaborations” when she alters Flavia’s artwork displayed throughout the house. “I am pretty hyperactive,” Flavia says. “In the morning, I hit the floor running.” And Mimi’s never far behind.
“I love all animals but really am a cat person. Mimi is definitely more hyper than my earlier cats. When she is awake, she is awake — and you know it!” she says. “Because of my artwork, she has so much to see and play with. Since we have had her, she has broken several pieces, but I have managed to put them back together again.”
The relatively new Savannah cat only became a registered breed in 2001. A hybrid mix between a domestic cat and a serval (a medium-sized African wildcat), the Savannah cat is the largest of the house cat breeds. First-generation Savannahs are known as F1 hybrids and have the closest traits to their wild ancestors. Subsequent generations are referred to as F2, F3, and so on. Mimi is an F7 so is smaller yet still sports the breed’s classic spotted coat, long legs, and large, expressive ears.
“Savannah cats have unusual canine tendencies. They are human-friendly. They like to be outdoors and to take walks. They play fetch, and I am trying to teach her to walk on a leash,” Flavia says. “While inside, she has the run of the whole house. She will run like a cheetah all over, jumping on furniture and up walls. She is very fast.”
Flavia has trained Mimi to answer to a whistle. Still, the lines often seem blurred between who is the master and who is the subject. “We are her people. There is no confusion about that,” she says, but Mimi is also very sociable. “When strangers come to visit, she is all over them wanting to get to know them. She is curious and loving. She purrs a lot.”
All in the Family
When it comes to unusual breeds, Gina Bruck owns a trifecta of furry housemates. First are her Cornish rex cats: 10-year-old Woolly (male) and 8-year-old Theo (female). Each weighs about 6 pounds and is striking with an egg-shaped head, Romanesque nose, and huge ears. At first glance, they look hairless, but they actually have an undercoat of very fine down that is warm and velvety to the touch. Gina got Woolly from a breeder in Connecticut and Theo from a breeder based in South Carolina.
“Woolly was kind of sickly, the runt of the litter,” she says. Because of their thin coat, this breed needs to be kept warm. “He lived in the pocket of my fleece pullover at first.”
Gina, who already knew a lot about cats, picked the Cornish rex because of desired characteristics that include very little shedding and their general aesthetic. “I liked the way they look. They are sleek, athletic, and have big ears. They are very social cats, and they are very smart.”
Rexes are not completely hypoallergenic but pretty close to it. The breed can be traced to a genetic mutation among barn cats in 1950s Cornwall, England. Because they need to stay warm, they are best suited to indoor living. “When they aren’t playing or eating, they are hanging out under a blanket,” Gina says. “They just want to be under a blanket somewhere. Even when it’s really hot, they will find that sunny spot.”
Neither cat is afraid of dogs, which is a good thing, because Gina also has a large Portuguese water dog named Lama. She’s 11 years old and weighs about 50 pounds. Gina got her from a breeder in Connecticut after spending time on a waiting list, which is fairly typical.
“I told the breeder I wanted a brown female. Brown is not very common for Portuguese water dogs. Most are black or black and white,” Gina says. “Lama was a deep, dark chocolate brown when she was a baby and now is brown with some silver hairs mixed in.”
These dogs were bred for water work, assisting fishermen. They are smart and relatively easy to train. Regular grooming is essential because Portuguese water dogs don’t have an undercoat and don’t shed. Their hair just grows longer and longer unless trimmed. Gina keeps Lama’s wavy hair in a shorter “retriever cut” as opposed to the thick sculpted “show cut.” Lama goes with Gina everywhere, no matter what she is doing.
“Portuguese water dogs can be hyper, but Lama has been pretty mellow since she was a puppy. She has her moments, but she has always been fairly chill,” she says. “She can be very well-behaved when she is agreeable to it. I take her hiking. She has been on a paddleboard, on a kayak … more people know her than know me.”