For our Model Pet contest this year, judges chose three grand-prize winners, one each in the dog, cat and "alternative" pet category, but with so many worthy best friends, we always have to bestow a few more unofficial awards. You'll find the full slideshow of all the pets that were entered right here.
Mister Bun Buns is an 8-year-old white mini rex rabbit with a mild manner and big blue eyes outlined in black. ""He gets along great with our dog,"" says owner Sharon Schulze. ""He likes to explore his surroundings, and usually stays close to us. He sits still when our dog comes over and licks his ears; after enduring his grooming he hops about once again.""
Honorable mentions: Patches McGee O'Houlihan, Captain Cody Tailbanger, Gnarles Barkley, Minnie Pearl Shenanigans
"When Swayze isn't busy fighting fires, she is a very loyal and loving house pet who loves to protect and serve her owners," says David Harris. "She was named for the late Road House king, Patrick Swayze, so you know she packs a punch, too!" She is an excellent retriever of plush toys, bones and tennis balls. She is also quite the flying-disc-catching athlete. She enjoys Jeep rides with the top off as well as kayaking, hiking and camping. David got Swayze when his dad was diagnosed with cancer. "She was a major part of my coping with his sickness and eventual passing, providing endless, unconditional friendship and unending smiles to this day. It has been close to three years now, and I will always remember her as a heeler pup in the back of a truck, begging me to be her best bud."
Honorable mention: Gnarles Barkley (left), Yatta and Anna, Uke Mochi, Gidget Roe, Leo and Piper
The host with the Glasnost
Gorbachev the pug is better known as Gorby, and his favorite things include laying in the sun, going to day care, and snuggling next to his mom and dad. He's a pro in front of the camera, and has an adorable face with big, how-can-you-say-no eyes, and a great personality.
Gemma is an 8-month-old wild child, and her favorite thing is to bite on the back legs of her big brother, 2-year-old Marco. He was adopted from Legacy Boxer Rescue in June. Gemma and Marco are best friends and love spending every moment together.
Honorable mentions: Siggy and Dietz Fowler, Adele the border collie and Darby the Lab, Indy and Sonny Huckaby, Gidget and Moondoggy.
Goes best with milk
Graham Cracker the Australian shepherd rescue is a therapy dog that loves to dig in the back yard and take naps on the couch. He's an early riser and doesn't like to sit alone early in the morning so he barks at Sara Tierney and her husband until they get up. "If that doesn't work, he doesn't hesitate to hurl all 55 pounds of himself on top of us!"
Karlee Belle is a rescue dog of dubious lineage, but she's a sweetheart that loves to play. "Outdoors, she loves her Frisbee, which she will throw into the air herself if no one is around to play with her," says Linda Vandiver of Paris. She's always ready for her close-up, and she's usually "smiling."
Honorable mention: Precious Duncan
Most unexpected tear-jerker
This was a poem submitted by Robbie Wright for the family's dog, Tucker.
We lost our Jack Russell that we'd had for ten years
The unexpected news brought our whole family to tears
Our youngest son Brad felt like he lost his best friend
He held Calloway's little paw right up to the end
The house was empty; we could stand it no more
We all jumped in the car and headed to the pet store
There was Tucker chasing his tail
We couldn't resist that little puppy smell
It was obvious that Brad was immediately attached
He and Tucker were perfectly matched
He loved Calloway, but Tucker melted his heart
The connection was obvious, right from the start
Then came the night we were headed for bed
"Who could be calling so late?" my husband said
He bowed his head as he hung up the phone
There had been an accident - God took our son Brad home
Our hearts were broken, and our lives so empty,
As some time had passed came this strange epiphany
I do believe the reason Tucker came
In some sort of way was to help cushion the pain
Our hearts are still broken as we go through each day
But I truly believe that in some strange way
I think God sent Tucker from above
As a fuzzy daily reminder of Brad's love
Priscilla Kenyon says that Elvis Poopsley, her 18-month-old French bulldog, is a role model. He proves that a dog with epilepsy can have fun, play, and attack that sprinkler, like any other dog. He was diagnosed with epilepsy at 4 months old, and, says Priscilla, "at times it's rough, but he is worth every bit of money, time, and effort I put into caring for him. All the money in the world pales in comparison to the love and joy I get from my Frenchie!"
When Judy Hall submitted Elvie for the contest, the kitten was 9 weeks old, "and full of orneriness." She and four others were dumped in a box in someone's front yard at just a few days old and then taken to the animal shelter, left with a mama cat to feed them. Elvie and her four brothers were rescued a week later, and after several health issues, they are all "big, energetic and healthy babies waiting for their furrever homes."
Olympic sporting medalists
Gold: Sometime after rescuing 16-month-old Jester the whippet, Olivia Wade Alexander of Arlington and her family discovered the canine sport of lure coursing. They went to see if he'd be interested. "After Jester pulled my husband into an immediate face-plant in the dirt while holding his leash," Olivia writes, "we decided he was." Jester has become a champion with several titles to his name. "He simply lives to run, and it is a joy to behold. Jester is an extremely gentle, loving and precious companion. All he needed was companionship with other hounds, someone to stay home with him often, and an outlet for the speed and agility he was born to express."
Silver: Bengi Barnes, for agility.
Bronze: Bogey, a golf course dog, a surfer, and a master relaxer.
Belle of the ball
The sweet, energetic Miss Scarlett always keeps Sandy Henley's life full of surprises. Sandy's home is in Texas now, but she's a University of Georgia alum (mascot: the bulldog), and has missed her Georgia family. She found the missing link through Miss Scarlett, who got her name because she has Scarlett O'Hara's stubborn attitude. "The best thing about life with Miss Scarlett is that when I'm having a bad day or not feeling good, she somehow senses my feelings and will come and lay her head on my leg or arm and I know things will get better. She has brought my Georgia heritage to me in Texas. The missing link is finally home with me - it's Miss Scarlett."
Beau Brummel, man of style award
Only a week after adopting Ben the bull mastiff, Lindsey Price and her husband learned that the pup had a bone deformity. He had corrective surgery on his legs, but it didn't completely correct the problem. They were told his life would be a short one. "We will never forget the day they took the pins out of his legs and he ran to us. Yes, that's right, he ran! Tears of joy flowed down our cheeks and we took our boy home. Ben does have a little "hitch in his giddy up" but for the most part, in the three years we have owned him he has been able to get around just fine."
About a month ago, Ben was diagnosed with even more serious health issues; one of them is chylothorax, a rare disease where lymphatic fluid fills the lungs. "We have been battling this disease for about a month now and are trying to maintain a positive outlook but aren't really sure of the road ahead. We know that Ben is by far the strongest, kindest, most loving animal that ever lived. Ben has taught us how to be parents (as we one day hope to be), he has taught us strength, and most importantly love."
SAD NEWS UPDATE: We're heartbroken to report that we heard from Ben's mom, Lindsey, who tells us that she and her husband, Jason, lost Ben on July 18. "When it was his time," Lindsey wrote, "my husband and I sat beside him and gave him lots of love and affection and he went very peacefully. I wouldn't have wanted it any other way."
Pretty bird supreme
Sunny is a 4-year-old Catalina macaw with a huge vocabulary. Her favorite activities include opening presents, getting new toys, shopping garage sales, First Monday, Home Depot, PetSmart (where she has told the clerks "I'm-a bird,") and anywhere else she is allowed.
Owner Lisa Perry says her husband took Sunny along running errands and pulled through a McDonald's drive-through window, where he ordered iced tea at the speaker. When he pulled up to the pay window, Sunny leaned out the window and yelled "french fries" at the startled cashier. It made the cashier's day, and Sunny did get her french fries!
Sunny is also a hero; she yelled "Fire, Fire!" to alert the family when a pan flamed up in the kitchen.
The bluest eyes
Morgan the Siamese mix had a tough start in life. He was found by his future owner at about 6 weeks old at Morgan's Point Resort on Lake Belton in the cold, wet weather. He was malnourished, weak, stricken with ringworm and shaking from both the cold and from fear of the unknown. Fortunately, Keisha Leatherman of Burleson swooped in, picked him up and cradled him into a blanket. He landed a spot in her home and heart.
In these two years, he has become a fun-loving, strong, independent, blue-eyed bundle of joy. He's smart, talented, and has even mastered the traditional canine art of fetching. "Could he be a dog disguised as a silky gray Siamese-mix cat? Well if that is the case, he is the best 'dog' a gal could have!'"
Most awesome ears
Beauregard the basset hound came into Valerie Kelton's world thanks to her daughter, who was going away to college and thought that Mom and Dad might get lonely. After falling in love with the wrinkly look of basset hounds, she researched the breed, and then plastered puppy photos all over Valerie's bathroom mirror. One night, she stole away with her dad to a local breeder. Writes Valerie of her daughter: "She sat down on the ground, told the litter that the first one to come to her was going home and there began the story of Beauregard!"
Honorable mention: Parker Durham
Abby is a pit/boxer mix that turned out to be just what the doctor ordered for Micah and Sarah Melton of Fort Worth. Micah, 26, is an Army veteran who has served in Iraq and is now diagnosed with depression and PTSD. The doctors said that the companionship of a dog would help. Micah found Abby on Craigslist, and she proved a saving grace. "Whenever Micah is upset or feeling down, Abby will come to him, lay on her back and 'smile.' She is always there with Micah, just like a shadow, following him around all day," Sarah wrote. "A year later, Abby has worked her way into our hearts and we can never thank her or love her enough for everything she has done for our little family."
Honorable mentions: Cinnamon, and Colin Trostle
A client brought Winky to the clinic where Loni McNeese works as a veterinarian assistant. The Chihuahua's left eye was hanging out; a collar was embedded into her tiny neck. She had been found in a Wal-Mart parking lot. Her eye couldn't be saved, so she had surgery first thing the next morning to have it removed. Loni doesn't know what happened to Winky, or how long she was alone, but the dog recovered wonderfully and was always a happy, cooperative little patient. "I guess I fell in love with her on Day 1 and adopted her from our client shortly after her recovery," Loni wrote. "For a creature all of 5 pounds, she is mostly all heart. Definitely a trooper in my book."
Honorable mentions: Reno the bulldog, Kona, Lucy Furr Freeman-LaFave
Best dog's-eye view
"Written" by Odie, with an assist from Gretchen Meyer: "My mama left me and my brothers when I was 6 weeks old. We wandered around lost in Parker County until a congenial duck named Henry let me follow him to his house. Henry's peoples gave me food and a bed. Plus, there were extra shoes to chew.
One day, Henry's peoples drove me to a new house. I had been adopted by
FoodLady, TreatGuy, RedHeadGirl and BoyWhoSleepsAlot. My vet explained I was a Labrador and would grow up to be 65-70 pounds. Six years later, I am now 161 pounds. Oops!
I have an awesome life now. We watch the Texas Rangers, my favorite team, until it's time for my walk around the neighborhood. I don't bark, dig holes or jump on people -- I just want to give all people my Odie Hugs."
All the Better to Kiss You With award
When Michael and Rachel Ward rescued Piper "Moo," she had heartworms, intestinal worms, was malnourished and weighed less than half her current weight. Today she is a fat, happy dog. "She loves everyone and everything, and we call her a love sponge," they write, adding that Piper actually knows more people in the neighborhood then they do. "When we take Piper out to walk, all of the kids run up to us and say: 'Oh, Piper, we haven't seen you in forever!' as they are hugging and kissing her.'"
Honorable mention: Suki Vinson
Distinguished reform school alumna
"[ Stella], the tick-infested, ragamuffin mess of a puppy that I adopted, had a penchant for destruction," wrote Jodi Theodore. "She ate everything in her path: shoes, carpet, expensive sunglasses, books, even the siding of our house."
As months passed, Stella grew calmer and extremely affectionate. She seemed to have found her inner model dog. One day at the dog park, Jodi noticed Stella was bypassing all the dogs and heading straight for the people to lavish love and tail wags on them. That's when Jodi realized her potential. Six months later, Stella became a certified therapy dog and she visits nursing homes and hospice facilities.
"I'm proud of what she has become," Jodi wrote. "No longer Stella the Destroyer, she is Stella the model pet and lover of all."
Most recovered racer
Audi the greyhound spent the first three years of his life either locked in a cage or racing around a track for the entertainment of humans, says his owner, Cheryl Woolnough. In 2007, he was deemed no longer suitable to race because he had developed lupus. As sad as this diagnosis might seem, it was truly a blessing; he was put up for adoption.
The minute Cheryl met Audi, she knew there was something remarkable about him. He was a dream to work with, learning the rules of the house in record time. "One afternoon I took Audi with me to visit my elderly father, who had severe mobility issues. My father reached out and took Audi's leash from my hand -- I held my breath, Audi could have easily pulled him over. I watched in amazement as my father took an unsteady step gripping his walker and Audi's leash."
The slow and steady steps continued until they were on the other side of the room. "I knew at that moment that Audi was meant for a different career path," Cheryl wrote. He's now a therapy dog that listens to children read at several local libraries, interacts with special needs children, and visits assisted-living centers bringing joy to the elderly residents.
Chico is half Chihuahua and half dachshund, which makes him a Chi-weenie. He's Mario Torres' sidekick on the DJ Mousie and Chico Show, on Tejano's Best (tejanosbest.com), an Internet Tejano radio station. Says Mario: "Everyone in the chat room loves Chico. When he is out in public, everyone wants to take a picture with him. Chico doesn't know he is a dog. He has been in all the bars in the Stockyards, and some other bars in the DFW area. Chico is loved by all and is called the panty-dropping Chihuahua by some, but to me he is my best friend."