It’s official. For the 25th year in a row, the Labrador retriever is the most popular dog in America. Cat lovers put the Exotic, a plush teddy bear of a cat, at the top of a recent survey for favorite cat.
But not everyone wants to own a popular breed. Meet seven Columbia families who went way outside the top 10 to find unique pets who fit their lifestyles.
Patrick Hall with King, his 2-year-old Cane Corso. This Italian breed is known for its intelligence, confidence and instinct to protect.
Weighing in at 125 pounds, King is a 2-year-old Cane Corso, commonly known as an Italian mastiff. Highly intelligent, trainable and confident, Cane Corsi are natural-born protectors that are always eager to please. The breed name comes from the Latin word “cohors” which translates as “guardian” or “protector.” While they were bred for hunting and guarding, they are great with children and are devoted to their families.
Patrick Hall, owner of Dog Daze, had a client who could no longer take care of King so he decided to care for him and give him a good home. “My favorite thing about King is his personality. King is always happy to see people and loves to be petted. I love to see people’s reactions when they meet him for the first time … they are always in awe of his size,” Patrick says. These enormous dogs have a muscular and athletic build yet move with considerable ease and elegance. Before 1988, the breed was relatively unknown outside of southern Italy and was considered quite rare.
Patrick has been training dogs professionally since 2005, so while King is an easy dog to teach obedience, he also knows a thing or two about training even the most difficult breed. “I would recommend people do as much research about the breeds that they are interested in owning before deciding what breed they think best fits their lifestyle,” he says.
Dr. Jon Hansche with Shirley and Laverne, Chinese Crested littermates that are surprisingly athletic.
As a veterinarian at Cherokee Trail Veterinary Hospital, Dr. Jon Hansche sees a lot of wonderful dogs and cats. But when a client brought a pair of Chinese Crested dogs to his practice in San Diego about eight years ago, he was smitten. “From the minute I met them, I loved their personalities,” he says. “They’re the most gracious little souls. Sweet like a Lab, but much smaller.” He’s not kidding. At between 5 and 12 pounds, a full-grown Chinese Crested is about the size of a Lab puppy. Many are hairless, sporting nothing more than a mop of silky tresses on their head, feet and tail. “Believe me, you don’t get a Chinese Crested for its looks,” he laughs. Many may remember this breed from the antics of Kate Hudson’s character in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.
Jon and his family, who now live in Columbia, own two Chinese Cresteds: Laverne and Shirley, littermates who have stolen his family’s hearts. “All they care about is being with their family,” he explains. “It doesn’t matter if you’re playing ball or working on the computer. They love their people and want to be with you.”
Like most purebred breeds, Chinese Cresteds are prone to a few specific health issues, mainly eye and knee problems. Unlike most dogs, they’re also very prone to sunburn. “They can burn up, so it’s important to coat them with sunscreen if you’re going to be outside for a while,” notes Jon.
When he first got Laverne and Shirley, Jon was surprised by the athleticism that the dainty dogs showed as they bolted around the house, levitating to reach sofas and laps he thought would be out of their reach. “They’re really up for anything,” he says. “When they look at you, it’s always with interest and anticipation, almost like they’re saying, ‘Where’s the next party?’”
Heidi Cooley with Marmalade, a Devon Rex known for its gigantic eyes and ears, relatively small head and slender frame.
Heidi Rae Cooley never really planned to have a cat, but since she got her Devon Rex, Marmalade, she can’t imagine life without the “smart and devilish” feline. “My brother rescued her –– she was a failed show cat,” says Heidi. “She turned out to not be such a great match for a household with small children either, so he gave her to my parents. My parents gave her to me.” The runt of the litter, Marmalade came to Heidi sick and stressed out. “She only weighed 6 pounds and had lost most of her hair,” says Heidi. “We got her on the right food and put her in a stable environment. Before long, she developed into a sweet little gremlin with short, ruffled fur.”
Developed by accident in England in the 1950s, Devon Rex cats are known for their gigantic eyes and ears, long skinny necks, relatively small heads and slender frames. Turns out that their elfin looks perfectly match clownish, mischievous personalities, often said to be more canine than feline. Devon Rex cats are often taught to come when called, fetch balls and walk on a leash. They also become very attached to all family members, including children and other pets.
“You really have to make time for this breed because they’re quite demanding — at least, Marmalade is,” says Heidi. “Unlike most cats, they require interaction. When she calls out, she fully expects a response, and when she wants to play, it’s time to play. She’s an absolute delight.” Marmalade actually enjoys interaction so much that Heidi found herself setting up play dates with Marmalade and Pumpkin, a mixed-breed cat owned by her then next door neighbor, Mark. The cats weren’t the only ones who got along: some time after the play dates began, Heidi and Mark began dating.
Kathy and Jeff Ortlund with Berrin, their 160-pound Irish wolfhound, who found his calling being a therapy dog.
Standing nearly 3 feet tall at the shoulder and weighing nearly 160 pounds, Kathy and Jeff Ortlund’s Irish wolfhound, Berrin, takes up a lot of space. “He follows me everywhere, which is fine, except that he’s in the way a lot,” Kathy laughs. “He’s like a giant shadow.”
As gentle as he is massive, Berrin has found his calling as a therapy dog, visiting schools, libraries, hospitals, rehab centers and nursing homes all over Columbia. “It started when I took him to visit my mom when she was going through rehab after she’d been sick,” says Kathy. “He was 19 months old and so good with her and the other patients. He was also absolutely fine with the wheelchairs and other equipment, even at that young age. I decided that when I retired I would get him certified as a therapy dog so he could help others.”
That happened in 2014, and in that time, Berrin has become something of a legend. “People have never seen such a big dog,” says Kathy. “One young teenage boy at the Children’s Hospital bonded with him so much that they pulled him out of quarantine and covered him in sterile draping just so he could get a hug from Berrin. It was that important to him.” Berrin even outshone Santa one year at the library. “Berrin was surrounded by kids, and when I looked up, there stood Santa, all by himself. He told me that all the kids left him when they heard Berrin was there. Then he asked me if he could take a selfie with him.”
Sienna, Amy Shenkar’s black and tan Shiloh shepherd, is exceedingly gentle and one of the world’s newest dog breeds.
Sienna, Amy Shenkar’s black and tan plush coat Shiloh, may be a giant of a dog, but according to Amy, Sienna is also exceedingly gentle. “I can’t imagine a better dog with my child,” she says. “I got Sienna before I had my son, Ryan, and have never had a bit of worry. She’s the most kind-hearted dog I’ve ever been around. She acts more like a golden retriever than a shepherd. My only problem with her is that she’s so big she can scoop whatever she wants to eat off of the kitchen table.” Sienna is also a shedder, but Amy says that since the hair tends to come off in clumps, it’s not difficult to clean up.
One of the world’s newest dog breeds, Shiloh shepherds came into existence in the 1970s, when breed founder Tina Barber struck out to recreate the healthy, stable and intelligent shepherd dogs of her childhood. Although the resulting dogs closely resemble large German shepherds, Shilohs are actually a mix of malamute and a line of German shepherds called Texas Woolies. Among other things, the additional new genes brought skeletal integrity to the new breed, helping it avoid hip dysplasia and other problems that have long plagued German shepherds in the United States.
Typical of her breed, Sienna’s back is straight, without the sloping line of German shepherds. Amy says she also has a softer temperament, although she thinks that might just be Sienna. “My dad has two Shilohs, and they’re definitely more protective than Sienna. My vet tells me she would protect us if push came to shove, but we’re not sure. The breed as a whole has a much softer temperament but will usually protect their family or ‘pack.’ I think she’s just a big, goofy exception.”
A silver Bengal’s mosaic coat resembles a leopard’s.
It’s an age-old story. A child goes off to college or gets a new job and misses the family pet so much that they’ve soon purchased a dog or cat of their own. After a year or so, when the child realizes that the pet isn’t getting the attention it deserves, “Mom and Dad” become the new owners … and end up loving their new addition. Such is the story of Pia, a silver Bengal cat that Jane and Dana Rawl’s daughter, Jordan, purchased when she was in medical school. “She got a cat because she knew that a dog would be too much,” says Jane. “One of her professors recommended the Bengal breed because they’re hypoallergenic and independent enough to be okay on their own during the day.” They’re also beautiful, with silver mosaic coats that resemble a leopard’s. Although they’re not related to Bengal tigers, Bengal cats do have a wild ancestry: the original Bengals were the result of breeding domestic cats with wild Asian leopard cats.
All went well with Pia until Jordan moved to Galveston, Texas for her residency. “She’d sometimes be gone for days, and Pia got lonely,” says Jane. “So we took her.” These days, the elegant feline spends her days in the Rawls’ home, playing with toys, stalking family members and getting into anything she can. Like most Bengals, she enjoys playing fetch and is standoffish with strangers. “She’s the most fascinating thing I’ve ever seen,” says Jane. “She’s incredibly agile and curious and can get into anything. She adores water and loves to splash in the shower or any faucet she hears. It’s hysterical.”
Each of Kathy Armato’s Whippets carries the suffix “De Sud” and loves to be curled up on the sofa with their owner.
It’s been more than 25 years since Kathy Armato purchased her first Whippet, and she is still enthralled with the breed. “I have always thought they were elegant and beautiful, but it turns out that they are wonderful family companion dogs as well,” she says. “They’re calm, quiet and adore their people. So don’t get a Whippet unless you’re looking for another family member. They are house dogs who love to be curled up on the sofa with their owners. If you don’t want your dogs on the furniture, forget it. It’s their favorite place.” Kathy should know: since getting that first Whippet, Kathy has become a top Whippet breeder. Her dogs have won titles at dog shows all over the country.
Long, lean and aerodynamic, Whippets were bred to have a curvy body style with a deep chest, wasp waist, powerful hind quarters and a flexible spine. The combination of these traits allows them to reach speeds of up to 35 miles per hour. A long graceful neck lets them scoop up what they’re after when they inevitably catch it. Legend has it that the speedy canines were originally bred in England to be poaching dogs. “Working people would send the dogs onto land owned by the local gentry to catch them their dinner,” she explains. “Whippets are sight hounds who can’t resist a good chase. Since they kill their prey by shaking it, there were no shots fired and no blood evidence that royal rabbits had been pilfered. They’re tougher than they look.”
When they’re not running or playing Frisbee, Kathy says that Whippets can generally be found napping. “Give your Whippet a good run or jog every day, and you’ll find they have two speeds,” she says. “High and off.”