People and Pets

Don’t forget about your furry friends this holiday season!

By Lisa Lelas

Photography by Ira Nozik Photographers

Despite this being the season of joy, the holidays can bring stress to all of us, and pets are no exception. When routines are disrupted and new activities occur, your pet may be the first to notice.

More than half of all families in America today are pet owners. It’s important to give pets special attention during the holiday season. Many will get stressed with the added hustle and bustle of holiday guests and new routines. Always provide plenty of food and water and a quiet room where they can escape the social commotion and get some Z’s.

While the holidays are a popular time for welcoming a new furry friend into your home, make sure your entire family is on board with the decision. Surprises are not best for the pet involved. Consider opening your heart to the many homeless animals waiting for adoption right now at your local animal shelter and/or donating pet food and supplies to the shelter.

With the premier of this new annual feature, West Hartford Magazine welcomes you to send in a favorite pet photo pictured with you or as part of your family. Deadline for submission is June 30. Selected photos will appear in next year’s Holiday issue.

Submission details listed below

Photo Submission & Contest Rules

Send us your favorite pet photo pictured with you or as part of your family and your photo could be chosen to appear in our next Holiday “Pets & Their People” feature story!

Deadline for submission is June 30, 2014.

Send to: Operations@westhartfordmagazine.com, and put “Pet Photo” in subject.

Please include your name and address. You must be a West Hartford resident to submit. Don’t forget to include a photo caption of pet’s name, age, breed, and any family members included in the photo.

Four notable ‘pets and their people’ from the area offer a few words of wisdom on taking good care of your pets this holiday season!


Nicky, an adorable 2-year old terrier mix, shares an important message with everyone this holiday season:

“A short while ago, I was petrified, roaming the streets of West Hartford with no where to go. The Animal Control Center took me in, giving me food and a warm place to sleep. I am now happy go lucky, playing with my toys and awaiting a new home and loving family to adopt me! Please don’t forget about us this holiday. My furry friends and I at the shelter all need permanent homes!”

Thanks to animal control officer, Karen Jones, Nicky at least now has a temporary roof over his head. Despite sometimes being depicted as the bad guy in Disney movies, Karen assures us that animal control officers really have compassion for animals in their community. Rather than having a stray animal endanger itself or others, they are taken into their facility and cared for.

“We feed them and advertise to find their owners. Our number one mission is to find the owner. Only then, after waiting a period of time, we will put them up for adoption.” Karen reminds pet owners that all dogs in Connecticut must be registered in their town. No license registration is required for cats. There are many animals waiting to find permanent homes. Interested parties can log onto www.petfinder.com with links to local pets in the community or throughout the state and farther. Each pet listed has photos and a description of their personality or needs. There is a $50 adoption fee, which includes a voucher for spay/neutering and some vaccinations.

“Now, with the internet,” she explains, “getting a pet is so much easier but it doesn’t mean it comes without head-aches. People are getting animals they’ve never met. They have no idea what their behavior is or how they would blend in with their family. And people should not forget that there are so many pets available locally right here in the West Hartford community.”

Karen adopted her own pets from a shelter, too. Her dog, Giada, a Mastiff mix and Dharma, her cat, came from her facility. “Even my first dog as a child came from a shelter. ‘Dusty’ was a collie-shepherd mix I got when I was about 12 years old. I loved collies because of ‘Lassie’!”

“If anyone is considering a new pet for the holiday, make it a group decision.” Karen says to make it your grocery list (priority list) of what’s important for your family, whether a dog that is active, quiet, good with kids, and so on. “Like shopping for cars. If you have a family of 5, a tiny sports car is probably not the best decision.”

The animal control facility in West Hartford has many different animals for adoption throughout the year, aside from dogs and cats, including bunnies, guinea pigs, exotic birds, parakeets, and reptiles. The town of West Hartford does things right, according to Karen, “the animal control facility here is part of the town’s law enforcement.” As a division of the West Hartford police department, animal control officers are armed. They undergo extensive background checks, must pass lie detector tests and be finger printed. “It’s a long process,” admits Karen, “but one worth the time!”

“I love my job!” she smiles, “I always knew I wanted to work with animals and wildlife. I especially love dogs.”


With a degree in biology and looking for a job, Karen responded to a help-wanted ad for an assistant animal control officer at the West Hartford facility along with 300 other job applicants… and she landed the job. Karen, now the senior animal control officer, has been at her job for 19 years. The Animal Control center is a division of the West Hartford Police Department. www.petfinder.com

Best advice from Karen for adopting a new pet: “The personality of the pet needs to fit the personality of the family to make a life long success story. We want it to be a win-win situation for all involved!”



Meet Tyson O’Brien. Tyson is a big lovable 7-year old yellow lab that helped inspire the creation of überdog!

Many might say that other people helped them kick start a new career. For Dan O’Brien, owner of überdog, a pet care facility, inspiration came from a different source. He explains, “the catalyst for my business was my dog, Tyson and his needs.” When he and his wife needed to find pet daycare for Tyson, they were unhappy with the facilities available in the area. Soon after… überdog was created. What started out as a necessity for Tyson turned into a wonderful gift to the community.

“People in West Hartford have very high expectations. We know they want the very best for their pets. We don’t let them down.” Dan says.

¨überdog is an ever-expanding facility offering overnight care, grooming, and ‘play-care’ during the day. Currently, under expansion, the center will soon boast 13,000 square feet.

“It will soon be the largest pet care center in Connecticut.” Dan says, “We were simply running out of space.”

“It’s the alternative to typical kennels. We don’t believe in an old fashioned stale environment. Everything is over-sized at überdog. Plenty of room for each dog to run and play. There are even luxury dog dens with people beds, complete with chandeliers!”

überdog is unique in that each dog has its own indoor and outdoor play area. “We let dogs out by groups”, he explains. Divided into age, breed or size, careful that each dog in a playgroup gets along well with the others. All pets are supervised by “wagologists”, trainers that are all fully experienced and knowledgeable in pet first aid, CPR and animal behavior.

überdog runs on a very transparent policy. There are look-in windows and even webcams so people can check in and see their dog while on vacation. Just as people can get stressed when schedules get busy, Dan reminds us, “over the holidays, people don’t always take into account that when they travel or have extra guests and swarms of people at their home for parties, dogs get stressed out also! Give them a vacation too! They need quiet time. Time to rest.” Just ask Tyson!

He warns pet owners to keep an extra eye on their pets this time of year. Dogs can get sick from drinking tree water and table scraps.


Need a special holiday gift idea? überdog has gift certificates available…think about giving your pooch a fun weekend retreat while you have a house full of guests or need to do some holiday traveling.

überdog, 635 New Park Avenue in West Hartford. www.myuberdog.com.

Dan admits he was always an animal lover but never had a pet growing up. “The first thing I did when I moved out was to get a dog.” Tyson came into his life at that time. Now, seven years later, his family also includes his wife, Isabella and their two sons, 2-year-old Finn and 3-month-old Tate.



It is estimated that 52 percent of all households in America have pets and although Bella and Phinneas are two very happy English Labs, pictured with their family, there is an increasing number of pets that are homeless and available for adoption.

Jason Humphries, owner of Bella and Phinneas…and Pet Supplies Plus, offers advice for people thinking about getting or giving a pet as a holiday gift: “Families need to think about the well being of the pet for the life of the pet. Think about their medical expenses, exercise, nutrition, spay/neutering…everything. This should not be a decision made on a whim.” Because there are so many pets in need of homes in shelters throughout the community, he doesn’t want to rule out taking in a pet as a holiday gift, as long as it’s a family decision.

When the snow starts falling, Jason reminds pet owners to use pet-safe snow removal products, such as Safe Paws, for melting ice on your walkways. Always keep fresh water out for your pets and never leave them out in the cold, whether in your yard or in a parked car.

Jason proudly works with several local pet charities, including making regular pet food donations to the Hartford Food Pantry.

Providing the community with healthy, reliable pet friendly supplies and services has been Jason’s mission for almost 20 years. Known as ‘the neighborhood retailer’, Jason explains they take care of their neighbors with the best products at great prices. “We even have carry-out service, where we’ll carry bags right out to your car!” With almost 9,000 square feet and over 60,000 products, Pet Supplies Plus is more of a grocery store for holistic and health food supplies for pets. If you are looking for virtually any brand, chances are good that they will have it. For example, in a regular grocery store, Fancy Feast, the number 1 selling cat food in the world typically carries 12 flavors. “In our store, we have 57 flavors!” he says.

Everything you need for your dog or cat can be found at the store, including some small mammals and reptiles, such as fresh water fish, bunnies, and iguanas. “We don’t sell dogs or cats,” he explains, “but we promote local adoption agencies for new pets.

We also have licensed vets and technicians that visit the store for affordable vaccines.”

“There is a full supply of gift ideas for pets now throughout the holiday season,” Jason says, noting that business picks up this time of year because even non-pet owners shop for their pet-lover friends. “We have a wide selection of Christmas and Hanukkah themed toys for dogs and cats, as well as a great apparel selection and our exclusive ‘made in America’ section of rawhide products.”

Jason opened the first New England franchise back in 1996, and was the youngest franchisee at the time, being just 27 years old. “My wife, Marcie and I were living in

Michigan when I was introduced to Jack Barry, the original founder of Pet Supplies

Plus. I had been contemplating a career change and I saw this as a good opportunity. We came out to Connecticut on a fluke and loved it. We’ve lived here in West Hartford ever since!” Soon after the grand opening of the West Hartford store, and one in Manchester, he opened several more stores around the state. Most recently, last month, he opened another store in Wethersfield. But it doesn’t stop there, as Jason has his sights on more locations throughout middle Connecticut and the shoreline. Between his stores, Jason employs more than 150 team associates, assuring an extremely knowledgeable, fully trained staff available at every location.

Pet Supplies Plus is located in West Hartford at Bishops Corner, 2480 Albany Avenue. Open Mon-Sat 9-9, and Sundays 10-6. www.petsuppliesplus.com

“Marcie and I have always had a love for animals. I remember my first childhood pet was Dickens, a Yorkshire Terrier.” Now, Jason, Marcie and their two teen daughters, Stephanie and Ilana share their home with Bella and Phinneas, as well as 2 cats,

Americat and Ashley.



Sally and Shelby are two very appreciative rescue dogs. They have found the perfect family! A mom and dad with three active hockey-playing boys…life couldn’t be better! And to top off their lucky charmed life, mom is an animal doctor!

Dr. Lauren Mascola, of Pet Care Veterinary Services, says she was one of those girls who always had the dream of someday becoming a veterinarian.

“I definitely was a child who loved animals but I wasn’t sure I could do it.” She explains, “I went on to be a psychology major at UConn but didn’t love that. One summer I worked at an animal shelter in Nantucket and fell in love with the idea.”

From there, she enrolled at Tufts Veterinary School and eventually captured her dream. Lauren has been a veterinarian now for over 17 years, taking over her Pet Care clinic, here in West Hartford, in 2005. “It’s important to give your pets special attention during the holiday season,” the doctor reminds us, “dietary indiscretion is much more prevalent during this time.

Holiday plants, decorations and party food platters should be kept away from pets so they are not ingested. Put lights up a bit higher on your Christmas tree to keep your cats away from them. Also, I don’t recommend tinsel or sparkly garland, which can cause intestinal blockages if pets chew on them. Keep in mind that pets sometimes drink the water from the tree, which may cause it to dry out quickly, leading to a fire hazard.”

The holiday season is a time when many families welcome guests, who may feed your dog food he’s not used to. Food allergies in pets are also on the rise. Be careful and diligent with pet food choices. Never feed them grapes, raisins or onions which can be hazardous to their health. Uncooked cookie dough and chocolate can also be harmful to an animal’s digestive system. Lauren suggests all pet owners keep the toll free phone number to the Animal Emergency Control Center handy, 1-800- 213-6680 in case of any unforeseen pet emergencies.

Giving a pet as a holiday gift only works if the whole family is on board with it. “You can’t surprise somebody with a pet,” she states, “Do your research ahead of time. Know what kind of pet your family can handle. Parents of younger children need to be aware that they will be the ones who take care of it. But, that said, we should remind people that are many animals in shelters right now that need homes.”

Pet Care Veterinary Services, located at 64 Raymond Road in West Hartford.


Thinking back to her childhood, Lauren fondly remembers her very first family pets, “Max”, a Doberman and “Cinderella”, a Weimarana, and has made sure her own children would also experience the joy of family pets. Lauren and her husband, John Swift have been married for 16 years, and with their 3 sons, Cooper, Baur, and Easton, they share their home with Sally and Shelby, as well as a cat named Dory.

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