“Breathe deeply,” pet a cat

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A delightful “Cats & Mats” yoga class took place recently at the Sharonville SPCA with cats joining participants for deep stretches. For a donation of $10, participants enjoyed yoga, light refreshments and “fantastic SPCA Cincinnati felines to interact with after the yoga class comes to an end,” according to organizers. “Cats are great yogis and they love to practice their moves alongside others.” Pictured on stage, from left, are Jane Minges of West Chester; yoga instructor Marta Streit of Florence, Ky.; and Jake Fisher and Taylor Bolser, both of Hamilton.

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Vet does heavy lifting for needy pets

Vet does heavy lifting for needy pets

UPF3United Pet Fund’s Dr. Zekoff, on truck, with a helper, moving donations. UPF secures and organizes donations to distribute to the 150-plus “mom and pop” Tri-State groups that serve animals in need.

BLUE ASH, Ohio–At his veterinarian school, it is unlikely that “fork lift operation” was listed as an elective.

Dr. Zeke Zekoff could have used it.

As founder and president of United Pet Fund (UPF), the veterinarian often transitions from performing surgery, to moving semi truckloads of donations by forklift at the non-profit’s Costco-like warehouse here.

“United Pet Fund (UPF) supports an army, the lesser-known army of people who help animals in need,” explained Zekoff, a full-time veterinarian who started UPF 10 years ago.

UPF secures and organizes donations to distribute to the 150-plus “mom and pop” Tri-State groups that serve animals in need.

Dr. Zekoff explained animal rescue groups often suffer from “compassion fatigue,” overwhelmed by needs.

UPF’s volunteers support these groups by providing donated products, so volunteers can focus on caring for animals, he explained.

For needy animals, he described UPF as “a combo” of Matthew 25: Ministries, the international humanitarian and disaster relief organization headquartered in Cincinnati; United Way and the USO, which provides support for military members and their families.


A sampling of donations received from corporations, manufacturers and individuals includes five semi truckloads of Bounty Towels from Procter & Gamble.

A national pet food organization, Rescue Bank, has delivered semi-truckloads of pet food from Iams and Alpo, and Blue Buffalo often contributes large food donations.

Also, as part of UPF’s community-sharing philosophy, Matthew 25: Ministries donated 1200 domed litter boxes from Kao that can be transformed into feral cat shelters or housing for smaller animals, such as ferrets.

Aside from supplies, UPF supports continuing education for volunteers and rescue group personnel. UPF also provides handyman services; pet health day events in under-served areas, such as Over-the-Rhine; and emergency funds.

Further information is at www.unitedpetfund.org.


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PROFILE:

Dr. Zeke Zekoff, 58, known as “Dr. Z.”

Title: Founder & President, United Pet Fund (UPF), Blue Ash.

He also has owned and operated Towne Square Animal Clinic, Blue Ash, for 30 years.

Education: DVM from Auburn University School of Veterinary Medicine in Alabama. He also earned his BS in Animal & Dairy Sciences there.

Routine: Up at 3:45 a.m., Dr. Zekoff arrives at his clinic at 5 a.m. to do two hours of UPF paperwork. He then performs spays/neuters from 7-9 a.m., sees patients all day, and leaves the clinic at 5:30 p.m. for the UPF offices and warehouse. There he meets with groups and distributes supplies, among other things.

Family: Wife Barbara and Dr. Zekoff hail from the South. More than 30 years ago they considered Cincinnati to be a temporary stop after vet school. The couple have three children. Alex, 29, is working on his MBA from University of California at Berkeley and looks to return to Deloitte as a consultant; Austin, 26, graduated from Miami University and works at Ernst & Young in New York City as an advisory assistant; and Ashley, 22, graduated from the University of Cincinnati with a degree in marketing and operates her own fitness training business.

Pet: The “pawed” love of his life,” a 5-year-old Cavapoo dog named Hunter, often is with him daily.

Hobbies: Weather permitting, he plays golf on Thursdays, “my day off.” Often on those Thursdays and weekends he travels with volunteers to pick up donations from as far away as Wisconsin.

Bottom line: “Pets are my ministry.”

My Furry Valentine

Pet adoption event breaks attendance records, finds homes for hundreds of animals

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Paige Moore, left, and Wesley Larson of Batavia, Ohio, adopted Vadar from Ohio Alleycat Resource (OAR).

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CINCINNATI  – A record-breaking 13,500 people attended the 2016 My Furry Valentine pet adoption event here recently. About 630 pets found homes over two days, according organizers.

And there’s more good news. Hundreds of adoption applications still are pending and pet lovers adopted more than 50 animals before the event began, because of pre-event promotions, according to spokesperson Elysa Hamlin.

In its fifth year, the event held this year at the Sharonville Convention Center represents the Tri-State’s largest annual animal adoption event.

Despite snowy weather conditions, the event saw a 35% increase in attendance.

The event has found homes for more than 2,600 pets over the past five years.  My Furry Valentine brings together animal rescues and shelters from throughout the region to showcase adoptable pets to potential owners at one location on the Valentine’s Day weekend.

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Isaac, left, and Wes of Harrison adopted Jamaica from Homeless Animal Rescue (HART).

The event also aims to encourage community members who are looking for a pet any time throughout the year to think adoption first.

“Many people would be surprised to learn just how many great family pets they see in their neighborhoods that are actually rescue animals, including purebreds,” said Carolyn Evans, founder of My Furry Valentine.

“Our goal is to dispel common myths about shelter animals and educate people about the many resources where they can adopt,” Ms. Evans explained.

“Saving an animal by choosing adoption is easy,” she said. “There are so many great local animal shelters and rescue groups that are open and hosting adoption events every weekend. There are always thousands of wonderful animals looking for a great homes.

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Mariemont High School students Emma Worple, left, Riley Hayes and Amanda Lewis volunteered at the event.

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Mya, left, and McKenna Roeske of Wyoming, Ohio, adopted their puppy, Jenny, from Stray Animal Adoption Program (SAAP).

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Shellie Webb of Chesapeake, Ohio, adopted Dory from Louie’s Legacy.

“Vadar” photo caption left to right: Paige Moore and Wesley Larson, residents of Batavia, OH adopted their new kitten, Vadar, from OAR at the fifth annual My Furry Valentine adoption event.
Audrey, left, and Sloane Green of Dayton adopted Cosmo from Barely Used Pets.

All Photos provided by My Furry Valentine.

CINCY RANKS #1 PET-LOVING CITY IN THE U.S.

Virginia might be for lovers.

But for pet lovers, Cincinnati is ranked #1 in the United States.

For the second year in a row, thank you very much.

Out of 100 of the nation’s largest cities.

So go give your pets some sugar, Cincinnatians.

The 2015 ranking is based “across 16 key metrics” by Wallet Hub, a financial website which describes itself as a “one-stop destination” to help consumers and small business owners make better money decisions.  In 2014, Cincinnati also came in first.

In WalletHub’s “2015’s Best & Worst Cities for Pet Lovers,”  Wallet Hub,  the website explained: “With current and aspiring pet parents in mind, Wallet Hub compared the creature-friendliness of the 100 largest U.S. cities across 16 key metrics.

About 79.7 million Americans own a pet, whose care costs between $235 to nearly $2,000 annually, according to the report.

“Our data set ranges from the minimum pet-care provider rate per visit to the number of pet businesses per capita,” according to the article.

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My Furry Valentine, Cincinnati’s largest pet adoption event, is just one of the many volunteer activities that support animal welfare. At the event it was love at first sight for John Thomas of Batavia, left, who adopted 96-pound Samantha, 5, an American Bulldog. At right, Amanda Cantrell, director of the Humane Society of Adams County, had fostered Samantha for two months. The event featured rescue exhibits from various breeds, such as the pictured Buckeye Bulldog Rescue.

Cincinnati ranked #2 in the most-veterinarians-per-capita category.

Other metrics include average home square footage; number of animal shelters; pet-friendly trails; outdoor environment and amusement; and the number of pet businesses and caretakers.

WalletHub, launched in 2012, offers other lists, such as The Best and Worst Cities for Families; the Safest States to Live In; the Best and Worst Cities to Retire; and the Most and Least Educated Cities.”

In the top 10 of the best pet-loving cities for 2015, behind the illustrious Queen City, came St. Louis; Colorado Springs, Colo.; Tampa, Fla.; Richmond, Va.; Tulsa, Okla.; Las Vegas; Reno, Nev.; Boise City, Idaho; and Madison, Wis.

Ranking 91-98 as the worst cities for pet lovers are Philadelphia; Jacksonville, Fla.; Boston; Chicago; Jersey City, N.J.; Memphis, Tenn.; Detroit; and Santa Ana, Calif.

From prison to pedagogy, puppy becomes Miami U. “student”

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Winks learned to stay close to his puppy raiser, student Lauren DuVall, whose sister, Taylor DuVall, left, serves as a puppy sitter.

OXFORD, Ohio –Even with no dog treats in sight, Winks behaved beautifully while attending English class here at Miami University.

The seven-month-old, Golden-Labrador Retriever lay patiently at the foot of her puppy raiser, Lauren DuVall, of Eaton, Ohio, a middle childhood education major involved in the “4 Paws University” program.

Professor Mark Bernheim

Professor Mark Bernheim

“I love having her reclining in the class for 80 minutes looking up at me from the corner of her eyes,” said Professor Mark Bernheim, who welcomed Winks into his Children’s Literature class.  Bernheim recently retired after 45 years.

Thanks to a Xenia, Ohio-based organization, 4pawsforability.org., trained dogs, such as Winks, are placed worldwide with children suffering disabilities that include seizures, diabetes and autism.  The program also serves certain veterans.

For example, to assist children with seizures, dogs are trained to notice the seizures before the outward signs are available, according to the website. Diabetic-alert dogs are trained to smell the chemical body changes that occur as insulin levels increase or drop.

A prison was Winks’ first training ground in the segment of the training program called “Mission Pawsible.” There specially qualified inmates at Ohio prisons in Warren, Lebanon, Pickaway and London give the puppies their first months of foundation training, according to the website.

After that, Winks arrived for her semester at tree-lined Miami, described by the poet Robert Frost as “the most beautiful campus that ever there was.”

Winks was DuVall’s constant companion, attending class, activities, meetings, shopping and events while DuVall integrated the training she received to help mold the puppy. DuVall’s roommate was co-puppy raiser.

DuVall, 22, who has graduated and plans to student teach in the fall, served as vice president of Miami’s 4 Paws University chapter and puppy raised two more dogs after Winks.

“I have high hopes of teaching sixth grade,” said DuVall.  “4 Paws was the other half of me in college, next to teaching.  It gave me an additional passion and allowed me to make the most of my college experience.  I wouldn’t change it for the world.  Separating from Winks and the other three dogs I helped raise was never easy.  It was heartbreaking.  But I know that no matter where I go, I will always carry a little piece of each one of them with me.”

Other universities participating in “4 Paws University” include Wittenberg; Kentucky; Wright State; Ohio State; Cedarville; the College of Wooster; Ohio Northern; and Manchester.

Hunks help save hounds through calendar sales


Photos courtesy of Mike Ruiz

If sex sells, then hunks can help rescue homeless hounds.

So goes the strategy behind the 2015 Hunks and Hounds calendar, for sale recently at a pet adoption event at the Sharonville Convention Center.

Amid the standard fare of leashes, pet food and electric fences for sale, the $10 calendar showcases well-oiled, bare-chested men with bulging biceps, ripped six packs and faint “come hither” smiles. All softened by the adorable shelter dogs they hold close.

Money raised from the calendar benefits Louie’s Legacy Animal Rescue founded in 2009 by Cincinnatian Emily Gear, 36, who lives in Monfort Heights with her dogs Joey, Cyrus Jones, Sandusky, Louie Jr. and Herbie.

The calendar is a production of New York City celebrity photographer Mike Ruiz,  www.mikeruiz.com, whose   celebrity clients include Kim Kardashian, Betty White, Nicki Minaj, Kate Perry and Prince, among many others featured on his website.  The rescue calendar may be purchased and donations made at  www.louieslegacy.org.

“Mike is an animal advocate in his own right,” Gear explained.  “When Millie, our volunteer, suggested a calendar collaboration, he famously responded, ‘you get the dogs; I’ll get the guys.’  Mike has been unwaveringly supportive and generous beyond measure.  Having him on our team has been a tremendous blessing.”

Gear said her journey into animal rescue was life-saving personally, as well as for homeless animals.

A 1996 graduate of McAuley High School in College Hill, Gear earned a B.A. in Studio Art at Kalamazoo College in Michigan.  After spending eight months in Russia and the Middle East, she took a position as a curator/director of a museum in Staten Island,  N.Y.  With an interest in working abroad, she had planned to enter the U.S. Foreign Service.

However, all plans changed when she was physically assaulted in New York City.  “I was living with post- traumatic stress at the time that I adopted Louie,” she explained.  “Through adopting him and working to get him healthy–he came to me with heart worm disease–it reopened a previously closed door to empathy.  It reinstated a sense of self at a time when I couldn’t do enough to make myself invisible and detach from all feelings.  I can’t stress enough what an important bridge Louie was in my life.”

The experience so moved her that she decided to return to Cincinnati where she could rescue full time.  Her dog Louie died in 2009 and Louie’s Legacy began. Gear said the rescue group saves about 1,100 animals a year locally and in surrounding states. “…We can provide to our funders a high degree of transparency that people appreciate,” she explained. “Because of how we are organized, we are able to responsibly and safely place 1,100 animals a year into heavily screened, vet and home-checked homes.”

“I wish…..”

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“Truly, I wish people would spay and neuter their pets and stop funding pet stores and puppy mills. Buying a dog from a pet store because it looked sick or sad, while it tugs at the heartstrings, is not rescue. It is fueling the machine which will continue to create misery for millions.

I wish people put the time into their pets that they put into their Instagram accounts and Facebooking. Most pets are surrendered for entirely avoidable reasons…so many involving simple training that all pet owners should be doing.

Finally, I wish people thought of pets as sentient beings, but who communicate differently than humans…the misunderstanding between person and pet has tragic consequences at times and could be avoided with a little understanding.”

Emily GearFounder of Cincinnati-based Louie’s Legacy Animal Rescue, the inspiration behind the Hunks & Hounds fundraising calendar.

Gear promotes “Adopt don’t Shop!” and urges prospective pet owners to visit the following businesses during their regularly scheduled adoption events:

  • Eastgate PetSmart; Saturdays, noon-5 p.m.
  • Jack’s Pets (Beechmont Ave.); first and third Saturdays, 1-4 p.m.
  • Western Hills PetSmart; second and fourth Saturdays, noon-5 p.m.
  • Mason PetSmart; Sundays, 1-5 p.m.



Photos courtesy of Belle and Blanc for Cincy Chic

Lockland bank converted to clinic serving pets of the poor

Pictured is a little girl with her beloved dog in the waiting room of Pets in Need of Greater Cincinnati, a low-cost veterinary clinic.

Pictured is a little girl with her beloved dog in the waiting room of Pets in Need of Greater Cincinnati, a low-cost veterinary clinic.

LOCKLAND, Ohio — Freckles the Beagle lay quietly on the shiny examination table, her right eye swollen to scary proportions.

Veterinarian Stacey Benton of the clinic Pets in Need of Greater Cincinnati suspected glaucoma and possibly an eye tumor.

Yet, the eight-year-old, charmer-of-a dog allowed the eye exam to proceed without struggle, perhaps calmed by the reassuring coos and gentle petting of Dr. Benton and her two veterinary technology students.

At one point during the examination Freckles turned her head to lick one of the students.

“This is an awesome place,” said Barbara Clark of Covington, Kentucky, who is unemployed and could not afford to take her dog to a private vet.

Together since Freckles was six weeks old, Ms. Clark expressed gratitude that Pets In Need was there for her.

Founded in 2012, Pets in Need has served thousands of pets from homes where household income is at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level. Proof of income is required.

The non-profit clinic represents the only permanent resource for very low-cost veterinary care anywhere in the Greater Cincinnati area, explained Executive Director Ann Ramsey Hill. Pet owners come from a 150-mile radius encompassing 15 counties.

“People who are struggling still need the love of a pet,” explained Ms. Hill, a non-practicing CPA and former homebuilder who devotes 30-40 hours a week without pay to the non-profit clinic.

The owner of 10 cats and two dogs, Ms. Hill said “naysayers” complain, “if you can’t afford a pet, you shouldn’t have a pet. We don’t believe that.

“Sometimes life interferes with even the best of intentions,” according to the clinic’s mission statement. “Jobs or homes are lost. Families split up. Accidents and serious illnesses happen. Suddenly, money for a visit to the vet—or even for pet food-just isn’t there any more. Our mission is to help truly needy people and their pets.

We make it possible for those who need it most to have the joy of a pet in their lives.”

Ms. Hill said that helping owners properly take care of their pets also “raises regard for animals.”

Ironically, the building where Pets In Need permanently located in 2013 to serve the poor once operated as a bank, flush with money.

Ms. Hill, 58, conducts business from her windowless office in the former bank vault, one of her cats meandering in to curl up atop a file cabinet.

She said her accounting and business experience help her oversee the clinic’s $250,000 budget. Private donations constitute 50 percent, she explained, and fund raising, grants and copays make up the balance, with no government support.

Queen City PetsThe staff appears to operate as a kind of World War II MASH unit, doing the best it can with limited medical resources.

In the case of Freckles, Dr. Benton explained that she would consult a colleague who is a veterinary ophthalmologist to map out a plan.

In the meantime, Freckles would receive medication to help make her comfortable and to ease the swelling.

If surgery is required, the non-profit clinic sometimes refers pets to private vets who deeply discount their services and Pets In Need subsidizes the cost.

However, every qualified client at minimal cost can obtain basic health services for their animals and food, if needed (see sidebar.)

Three times a week the facility also serves as a teaching clinic for veterinary technology students at the University of Cincinnati, Blue Ash branch, Ms. Hill said. Dr. Benton was attending Freckles as an instructor in that program.

Services at Pets in Need of Greater Cincinnati

Applications are accepted weekdays between 10 am and 2 pm.

For a $10 copay, the following services are available by appointment for enrolled pets:

  • An exam by a licensed veterinarian
  • Vaccines
  • Testing for heartworm and feline leukemia
  • Treatment of minor skin, ear or eye problems.
  • Vouchers for low-cost spay/neuter surgeries

For a $5 copay, the following monthly supplies may be picked up on weekdays without an appointment:

  • Monthly flea and heartworm prevention
  • Food
  • Prescription refills
  • Booster vaccines

The clinic receives no government support. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, all donations are tax-deductible.
Donations may be made online at www.PINCincinnati.org.

Pets in Need of Greater Cincinnati is located at 520 W. Wyoming Ave., Lockland, Ohio 45215, telephone 513-761-PETS. Email is
info@PINCincinnati.org.

A graduate of the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Benton said the clinics give students hands-on experience and interaction skills with pet owners.

Lexie Stevenson, 49, of Anderson Township, volunteers several days a week at the clinic. Her family has adopted three, mixed-breed dogs and four cats.

In the recent past, she drove to the West Side to help a suddenly homeless woman care for her five German Shepherds until she found housing. The woman had been living beneath a bridge.

“She does the best she can,” said Ms. Stevenson of the client she continues to see. “She loves her animals.”

The dogs of Italy

I had a powerful loneliness for my dogs when I taught in Italy for two summers in recent years.  To cure this longing, I started to take photos of dogs and their owners as an excuse then to ask if I could pet their dogs and get my fix.  Almost all said, “si!”  Pet lovers, of course, are international and, in fact, in Italy dogs are allowed to accompany their owners into the most fashionable of stores, such as Prada.  Here are my photo memories: