Life is Better with Pets

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By Colleen McTiernan and Elayza Gonzalez | Photos by Indigo & Co. Photography and Tanya Consaul Photography

Whether you are a horse lover, a feline fanatic or a true pup parent, there is nothing quite like the unconditional love of a pet — something these eight Alachua County residents are more than aware of! From rescues to therapy animals, these pet lovers are sharing what makes their relationship with their animals so special!

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Jhanna and Ryan Gilbert with Daisy and Davis

After losing their two senior dogs, Jhanna Gilbert swore that she and husband Ryan were going to wait before getting another dog. But when they found Daisy, a 2-year-old German shorthaired pointer, through a Humane Society in North Georgia, they knew she was meant for them.

Just one month later, they decided to find a friend for Daisy and adopted Davis, a 1-year-old rescue from Alabama who had spent his whole life chained outside. Ryan made the drive on Dec. 23 so they could bring Davis home just in time for Christmas.

Although adopting two large breed dogs within two months on top of having three young children may have been hectic, Jhanna said that Davis and Daisy have been amazing additions to their family.

“They have provided our family with new opportunities to get outside and play, allowed our children to help care for them and given us an abundance of love and puppy kisses,” she said.


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Bhakti Cohen and Guara

Bhakti had been looking to adopt a canine assistant to help with her work as a therapist when she got a call from Pepe Peruyero, of Pepe Dogs, saying he found a dog born to work with her. Thus, Bhakti’s almost seven-year relationship with Guara, a Chesapeake Bay yellow Labrador retriever, began.

After a rigorous 10-week training program, Guara became a certified therapy dog. When she worked with children, Guara become a confidant to whom children could tell their troubles. Now, Bhakti regularly brings Guara to her practice, where he sits with clients during sessions.

“His level of empathy is extraordinary,” she said. “After working with very intense or emotional clients, he exhibits a level of exhaustion that’s palpable. At those times, he gets extra special TLC and then he quickly rebounds with renewed enthusiasm.”


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Kristen and Julian Crisp with Jake and Tippy

Though Kristen Crisp had always identified as a dog person growing up, with the addition of Jake and Tippy in her life, she and her husband Julian now proudly identify as #crazycatpeople.

Julian adopted Jake, an American shorthair tabby, in 2008 at the Alachua County Animal Services after he was found abandoned in an empty apartment with nothing but a bag of Cheetos. Julian, who grew up with a host of different animals, said that Jake is the most intelligent animal he has ever had, comparing him to an aerospace engineer. Three years later, Tippy, a snowshoe Siamese, joined the Crisp family. Though she was overweight and sluggish when they first got her, Tippy has since lost the weight and now “dances” around the house.


Kristen said having pets change the energy in your home, and Jake and Tippy completely changed her family’s routine while bringing extra love to the table every day. “Cats are super independent, sneaky, crafty, and frankly, a little bit creepy, but they bring so much joy into our lives every day that I can’t imagine going through life without them,” she said.


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Terry Biehl and Beau

Terry adopted Beau, a 4-year-old Goldendoodle, when he was just 12 weeks old. When her youngest daughter left for college, Terry wanted to find something that would allow her to give back to the community with Beau’s help. She contacted the Alliance of Therapy Dogs and in about two months Beau and Terry became a registered therapy team. Now, when they are not working at Skinner Vignola McLean, Inc. (where Beau is Senior Barkitect/Head of Squirrel Security) the two spend their time volunteering with UF Shands Hospital, Reading Education Assistance Dogs and HOPE Animal-Assisted Crisis Response.

“Beau has opened my eyes to the amazingly beautiful and powerful animal-human bond,” said Terry. “His unconditional love of life and joy in the simple things inspire me. With Beau, I can just be and that’s OK. He is everything I never knew I needed.”


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Brittany Forbes and Milly

Brittany was on Craigslist looking through the farming section when she found the ad: “Companion Horse Free to Good Home.” It piqued her curiosity — why would someone be giving away a horse for free? Brittany had always toyed with the idea of getting a horse, so she asked her friend, Kelly, to go with her to meet Milly.

When they brought Milly out of the pasture, they saw that she was nothing but skin and bones, but beyond well mannered. As they were leaving, Brittany was still undecided on whether she should take on the project of rescuing Milly. “I asked Kelly what she thought and she said, ‘Milly is on her last leg — she’s skin and bones. I can’t promise that she’ll live to next week in the condition she’s in, but if you take her home, it will be the best days of her life.’”

Milly, an over 30-year-old suspected Quarter Pony, was several 100 pounds underweight when Brittany rescued her, but through rehabilitation and diet change, Milly’s weight is back to normal, and she’s full of life and energy.

“I couldn’t leave her to die alone and suffer,” said Brittany. “It didn’t matter if she lived five years with me or five days — I wanted to make sure she felt safe, loved and happy.”


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Emily Pridgen with Daisy and Mocha

When Emily’s family moved into their house in Micanopy, they knew they wanted to fill it with animals. They went to Beauty’s Heaven Farm and Equine Rescue and immediately fell in love with Daisy and Mocha.

Daisy is a 7-year-old donkey that was surrendered by her original owners because she had a large cancerous tumor on her right eye that had to be surgically removed. After Daisy made a full recovery, the rescue got her a buddy in the form of Mocha, a now 3-year-old donkey they found at an auction. Emily adopted both of them, and the two donkey are now always together.

Emily said her favorite thing to do after working all day is to unwind by grooming and walking the girls because they love the attention and when she looks in their eyes she can feel their love. “I am very thankful we adopted Daisy and Mocha,” she said. “They are constant reminders that we all need to slow down in life and take time to enjoy and spend time with loved ones — humans or animals!”


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Hector Del Valle and Oso

Hector and his fiancé, Derek Baker, are the proud owners of 1-year-old Oso, a Havanese whose name means “bear” in Spanish. Derek’s mother breeds Havanese, and when it came time to find forever homes for the first litter, Hector and Derek were more than happy to help out with posts on social media. For their help, they were gifted an 8-week-old Oso.

From joining Hector at work, to cuddling on the couch while watching Netflix to going on road trips, Hector said that the super charming and sweet pup has been an amazing addition to the family. Even their older dog, Jack, has become more playful than he ever was before since Oso joined the family. “I hadn’t had my own puppy since I was a lot younger, so having Oso around has definitely brought back a lot of memories for me,” he said.


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Whitney Perkins with Khaleesi, DaDa Goat, Becca, Lady, Fluff Fluff, Elsa and Luna

For Whitney Perkins, there is no such thing as too many animals. Between her multiple dogs, horses and chickens as well as a donkey, a goat, a pig and a cat, her home has become a veritable menagerie — and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

The newest addition to her flock, a kunekune pig named Khaleesi, came home with Whitney just 3 months ago from Carson Springs Wildlife Conservation and quickly become a close companion to Whitney’s son, Sage. While she’s a tiny little thing now, Khaleesi will one day reach over 300 pounds!

Khaleesi is joined by many other animals, including Luna the donkey, Fluff Fluff the silky chicken and Hemmy the six-toed cat, to name just a few. While they mostly stay outdoors, Khaleesi and Fluff Fluff have both made their way into the house a few times with the help of Sage!

Although having so many animals can get hectic, Whitney said that it is all worth it to her when she sees children and even adults enjoying spending time with her animals.