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People and their pets
Pet owners in the Carolinas talk about their four-legged friends

by Mark Smith

  According to a survey by the Humane Society, 73 percent of U.S. households own pets. That’s a lot of dogs and cats. The survey didn’t cover other pets like birds, fish, rabbits, ferrets, iguanas, boa constrictors, tarantulas, pot-bellied pigs — you get the picture.

Another study, by the Gay and Lesbian Consumer Online Census, says that nearly four out of five gay and lesbian respondents own a pet. Lesbians were more likely than gay men to have a pet (87 percent vs. 71 percent); gay men were slightly more likely to own dogs than cats (41 percent vs. 38 percent), and lesbians were more likely to own cats than dogs (60 percent vs. 53 percent).

Another interesting fact in the survey by Witeck-Combs Communications /Harris Interactive indicated that 66 percent of lesbian and gay respondents owned pets, compared to 63 percent of heterosexual respondents.

In other words — queers are much more likely to have pets than their straight counterparts.

We talked with a handful of owners in the Carolinas who shared their stories about the animals they chose to adopt.

Lin Benfield with a few of his feline friends.


How many cats can a record store have?

Lin Benfield owns Central Records in Charlotte’s Plaza-Midwood neighborhood. He’s also a popular DJ around the state, frequently playing at Warehouse 29 in Greensboro and Illusions in Charlotte.

His day job is Central Records — where he sells dance-oriented music of just about every variety. Currently sharing the store with Benfield are 10 felines — most adults, but a few kittens as well.

“I don’t know how this all got started exactly,” says Benfield. “I guess it began with this feral cat out back when I first opened the store. She had kittens and there was this one that just wasn’t quite right. She wasn’t as aggressive as the others and she was kind of slow. One day that kitten just froze and let me pick her up, so I adopted her and brought her into the store to live. We named her DJ.”

DJ is still with Benfield today, frequently making her personal home spot in the storage cabinets underneath the shelves that hold CDs and records.

“She was the first,” Benfield continues. “People would come in and see her and talk about cats and word got around. Eventually people started bringing cats they found in or kittens they couldn’t keep.”

The largest the cat population has ever reached at Central Records is 13.

“I try to keep it down,” Benfield explains. “Most of them come here and stay for awhile until someone comes along and decides to take them home.”

In addition to DJ — the nine other cats that make up the feline “Brady Bunch” are Howie, Gilbert, Rocky, Russell, Abe, Wise, Neuton, Fluffy and Pogo.

“A couple of them are unadoptable — they’re so scared,” says Benfield. “But there was one — when he first came in — if you even looked at him he would run the other way. Now he’ll come up to you and let you pet him and feed him. It’s great when you see them come full circle like that.”

Benfield is always on the lookout for potential new pet owners who might be interested in making a home for a cat or two. If that sounds like you, give him a call at 704-334-1788.

Tonya Jameson and Koru.

A writer and her dog

Charlotte Observer pop culture writer Tonya Jameson is the proud owner of a Labrador-mixed breed dog named Koru.

“That’s the name of an Irish fern,” Jameson offers with a chuckle. “It also means ‘everlasting friendship.’”

Jameson says Koru came into her life two years ago when a co-worker discovered the abandoned pooch. “He was two years old then — so that would make him four or so now. He’s the greatest. He loves to play and he’s very friendly.”

According to Jameson, Koru is an excellent companion.

“He’s my running partner. We also cruise girls together. At Freedom Park, in a coffee shop — he’s a total chick magnet.”


Murray Webster and his rabbit Sunny.

The Professor and the Hare

Murray Webster, a sociology professor at UNCC, loves rabbits. At times he’s had as many as four — though these days he only has one.

A floppy-eared female rabbit known as Sunny shares Webster’s home.

“For somebody who lives alone and travels a great deal, they’re great pets. Very self-sufficient.

“She uses a litter box and she likes to go around the house some, but she mostly stays in my bedroom.”

Webster was introduced to rabbit ownership several years ago while living in D.C. “I was at this pet store and I went in to the snake room. There was a boa constrictor and a rabbit. The owner had planned to feed the rabbit to the snake — but instead he asked me if I wanted her. I knew what was going to happen to her — so I took her home.”

According to Webster, Sunny has developed a morning routine for herself and her owner.

“She jumps up on the bed right before dawn to wake me,” he says with a laugh. “I don’t think I would get up quite that early — but it’s okay. I think she wants to be petted. She’s the most people-oriented rabbit I’ve ever known.”

Latifah Muhammad and Scuttles.

Scuttles the wonder turtle

Latifah Muhammad has always been fond of turtles. There’s a turtle made of wood hanging on a swing on the front porch of her home. There’s one sculpted from metal just a few feet below that one and more artistic renderings of all sorts of turtles inside the house.

“People at work call me turtle because I’m so slow sometimes,” Muhammad laughs. “Slow and methodical. It may take me a while but I always get it done!”

The most important turtle in Muhammad’s life is slightly larger than the palm of your hand and spends most of her time in an aquarium in the living room.

“Some friends of mine found her one day when they were out fishing,” Muhammad recalls. “She was so tiny — just a baby. They knew how much I liked turtles, so they decided to bring her home to me.

“I named her Scuttles because she is the fastest turtle I’ve ever seen. If I take her out of the aquarium when I’m cleaning it she will run across the floor,” says Muhammad.

Scuttles is a semi-aquatic turtle and a relatively common breed known as the Red Eared Slider.

According to turtle experts, she could conceivably grow up to a foot in length and live as long as 75 years.

There’s no questioning Muhammad’s fondness for the turtle — she’s provided it with a sizable aquarium and never stops short of lavishing her little friend with endless attention.

“She has a little basking log that she likes to crawl out of the water onto,” Muhammad explains. “She likes to lay there and sun herself. When she gets too hot she’ll go back underneath the log to cool off.

“Turtles don’t like a lot of handling,” Muhammad continues. “If I have to pick her up her legs start going like crazy. It’s interesting though, I can tell she has learned to respond to my voice.

“I’ll say ‘Scuttles, Scuttles’ and she calms down. If she’s under her rock I’ll call her name and she’ll come out. She swims over to the edge of the aquarium and scratches on the glass like she’s trying to get out.”

For the busy Muhammad, a Quality Improvement Analyst at the Youth and Family Services Department of Social Services and a member of the Board of Trustees at Charlotte’s gay and Lesbian Center, Scuttles is a perfect pet — she doesn’t require a lot of monitoring.

“You wouldn’t think a turtle could have a lot of personality,” says Muhammad. “But this one does. She’s a busy little turtle and she can get noisy, too. It’s so cute to watch her eat sometimes. You feed her these pellets and she likes to break them in two pieces with her little paws.”

Dan Mauney with Spike and Stiletto.

Dogs and shoes

At Dan Mauney’s shoe store Step in Dilworth you’re always sure to be greeted by two miniature dachshunds when you step through the door. Known as Spike and Stiletto, the two have captured press and media attention for their role as the store’s official mascots.

“Step was chosen as one of the top shoe stores in the U.S.,” Mauney explains. “I thought they would put a picture of me and my business partners in the article, but instead they ran a photo of the dogs.”

If you keep your eyes peeled, you might just see Spike and Stilletto on television, too.

“There’s a new Nascar TV show called ‘Stilletos and Stickshifts,’” says Mauney. They were in here shooting one day and the dogs just kept getting in the picture — so they decided leave them in.

“I like having the dogs in the store — they run around and entertain the kids. It’s a lot of fun.”

For the single Mauney, who’s also a board member of RAIN and a founder of Takeover Fridays, they’re a source of constant companionship.

“They’re like my kids,” he says. “They’re very important to me.”

Like children, Mauney also sees to it that his pooches are attired properly for the holidays.

“They get poinsettia collars at Christmas time and I dress them up for Halloween as hot dogs,” Mauney laughs. “They get to wear styrofoam hot dog buns. One is with mustard, the other’s ketchup.”

According to Mauney, Spike is something of a male chanteuse.

“He loves to throw his head back and sing with Sonny and Cher and Maroon 5. It’s funny — he can be asleep and Josh Groban will make him wake up and howl. I try not to play Josh Groban very much anymore. I think it’s something about the notes he hits.”

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