Top dogs

Winners of the SPLURGE! Cutest Pet Cover Contest

Written by Amy Palser

The votes are in, and our readers showed up in force on Facebook to select this year’s Cutest Pet Cover Contest winner! From the many entries we received — including lots of dogs, a few cats, and even some miniature ponies — we boiled it down to a dozen in our May issue. Then readers got a chance to make one of those precious pets our winner by voting on our Facebook page. Read on to find out more about each of these cute pooches!

Winner: Bella
Breed: Standard poodle
Age: 4
Owner: Roger Berry

Our readers chose Bella, an adorable charcoal gray standard poodle, as the first-place winner of our first-ever Cutest Pet Cover Contest! We’re tickled because not only is Bella stately, smart and sweet, but she was a constant companion to owner Roger Berry and his wife of 45 years as she battled Stage 4 lung cancer. Today, Bella continues to bring joy to Roger’s life and to remind him of Jane, who lost her fight to cancer in 2017 just weeks before Bella’s first birthday.

“Bella’s a fantastic dog — the best dog I’ve ever had in my life,” Roger said. “My wife passed away here in the house, and the dog was right here with her when she died. She understood what was going on. She’s smart as a whip.”

Today Bella is a neighborhood favorite in the west Wichita patio home community where Roger lives. When there’s a block party, Bella always gets an invite. “Everybody loves her in the neighborhood,” he said. “Everybody knows her and likes her and was excited she won the SPLURGE! contest.”

Bella goes to doggie daycare three days a week at Northridge Playcare & Boarding in Wichita, and she loves playing with the other dogs there. “She spends four hours at a time there and she barks all the way there. She’s so happy to go there and she’s so happy to go home at the end of the day,” he said.

At 48 pounds, Bella is tall enough to reach the kitchen counters, so her owner has to be careful to put away food and to keep the pantry doors closed. “There’s been times she ate a whole box of cookies or a loaf of bread,” Roger said with a laugh.

Before Bella, Roger had a pint-sized Chihuahua that he carted around with him everywhere. “I’m a pretty big guy and everyone thought it was funny I had this 3-pound Chihuahua,” he said. But after 16 years of having her, the little Chihuahua died in January 2015, and Roger was devastated. He continued to grieve the loss of his miniature companion until July of that same year, when the couple learned of Jane’s cancer diagnosis. “That’s when I quit worrying about the dog,” he said.

The Berrys’ life turned upside down with news of the aggressive cancer, and they set out to fight it with various treatments, traveling far and wide. Jane had always wanted a standard poodle, and though Roger wasn’t crazy about the idea, he wanted to grant Jane’s wish and found a poodle breeder in Nebraska. The pup was born in December 2016 and arrived at the couple’s home in January 2017.

Jane wanted a French name for her poodle, so Roger Googled “French dog names” and settled on Bella Sophia. The coal-black pup brought joy to Jane during her final, difficult year. On Nov. 17, 2017, Jane passed away, but Roger had a piece of her spirit in Bella.

Today, Roger and Bella have a new woman in their life: Genia Richardson, a woman Roger met at church who is now his fiancée. “Bella loves the life out of her,” Roger said. And for good reason — Genia bakes homemade dog treats for Bella. And she’s the one who discovered by accident the poodle’s favorite human treat: marshmallows. Bella likes to catch them in the air. “She likes me because I’m her owner,” Roger said, “but really she likes girls better, so she’s happy to have Genia around.”

Runner-up: Chopper
Breed: Alaskan malamute
Age: 5
Owners: Tiffany and Kendyll Garner

Tiffany Garner knows first-hand that if you do a good deed, life just might return the favor. Five years ago Tiffany and her daughter, Kendyll, were regular volunteers at the Kansas Humane Society in Wichita when they met Chopper.

“We were there to play with the puppies that day and he was in a litter that was brought in that was one week old,” Tiffany said. Kendyll, who was 10 at the time, wanted so badly to take him home, and Tiffany just couldn’t say no. It wasn’t long before Chopper made this mother-daughter duo a family of three.

“Our first dog was named Toaster, from the ‘Brave Little Toaster,’ and every animal since has been a kitchen appliance,” Tiffany said. “We had a Whisk, and Chopper was going to be Blender but he made a better Chopper.”

Chopper loves walks and gets a two-mile one each day. “You tell him to get his leash and he’ll get it off the staircase for you,” Tiffany said. He hates baths but loves ice and enjoys putting his head into a big water bowl with ice.

When he was a year-and-a-half, Chopper started having seizures and was diagnosed with epilepsy. He also has pancreatitis. Tiffany said that on a recent Saturday in the midst of the SPLURGE! Cutest Pet Cover Contest, Chopper had five seizures in a matter of 45 minutes and ended up in the ICU. He recovered, but is scheduled to see a neurologist in July. His meds have caused some other issues, so Chopper has to be closely monitored and goes to doggie daycare each day.

With his health issues, Tiffany said it’s difficult not to spoil Chopper. “He’s for sure a mama’s boy,” she said.

Third place: Ozzie
Breed: Golden retriever
Age: 2
Owners: Celia and Mark Ralston

Ozzie was a gift for Celia and Mark Ralston’s 35th wedding anniversary, so it makes sense that the golden retriever is a lover. “Ozzie is the sweetest boy and so gentle,” Celia said. “He’s a kind soul.”

The Wichita couple has another dog — a 16-year-old dachshund named Baxter — and Ozzie has always been a perfect gentleman to the older pup. “He waits for Baxter to get a drink first at the water bowl, he waits for Baxter to go outside first,” Celia said. Recently, Ozzie got to celebrate Baxter’s birthday with an ice cream cup and thought it was the best thing that ever happened to him, she said.

Ozzie is named after a favorite family memory. “We always went to the lake in the summer in Grand Lake, Oklahoma, when the kids were growing up, and our kids named him after our favorite little burger place there.” Ozzie loves the lake, golf cart rides and any kind of ball.

He’s game for anything, Celia said, including wearing the sweater he was pictured in for the SPLURGE! Cutest Pet Cover Contest. “He’s so easygoing,” she said. “He will wear anything you put on him.”

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