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Furry, Feathered or Friendly

Published September 2023 | In Fall 2023

Monument Health physicians share the stories behind their unique pets.

Furry, Feathered or Friendly Media

People love their pets, and with good reason — research indicates that pets can improve our lives. Some studies have shown that our furry friends can decrease stress, improve mental health and help children with emotional and social skills. Not to mention, being responsible for another living creature teaches kids the importance of responsibility.

Pets offer unconditional love and provide companionship to those who care for them. Choosing to have a family dog, a lovable lizard or even an army of sea monkeys may bring a little extra work, but the rewards are well worth it.

Leslie Van Dyne, M.D., Trauma Surgeon

Boomer is a rescue from Columbus, Ohio and he just celebrated his ninth birthday on Labor Day. About five years ago he lost both of his eyes after contracting a fungal infection. He gets around just fine though. The setback didn’t slow him down at all! He is thriving in South Dakota and loves getting out and about. Boomer is one lucky pup, when he isn’t begging for — and getting ­— treats, he loves lounging on his couch, going for walks and ear scratches. We were lucky enough to have Boomer join my now husband and I as the flower dog in our wedding. He is a natural in the spotlight and it made a magical day even more memorable.

Peter Ostler, M.D., Faculty Physician, Family Medicine Residency Clinic

I have six parrots: one Black-Capped Caique named Frida, one Sun Conure named Vincent, two Green-Cheeked Conures named Jacques and Rembrandt and two Lovebirds, Mater and Fezzik.

Frida is the largest and by far my favorite. Her black cap makes it look like she has a unibrow and reminds us of the famous painter she is named after. She loves to play and is a clown — because she loves to play, she also loves to explore different people. She is typically very gentle, but she has a very strong beak. If she is not happy with what you are doing she can take a wicked bite out of your finger.

Our Sun Conure is named after Vincent van Gogh because his colors are very similar to the colors used in the famous Sunflowers paintings. He loves my wife the most and will call out to her from our aviary in the morning as soon as he hears her voice. He is also very special to us because although he was bred in captivity, his species is endangered and there are an estimated 1,000-2,500 mature individuals left in the wild. They are very popular in captivity and as such there is a robust population left in the world.

Our Lutino Lovebird, Fezzik, is a strange one in that no matter the photo, his colors are so vibrant that it makes him look like he is photoshopped into the photo. His best friend is one of our Green-Cheeked conures named Jacques, and when out of their cages, they are never far apart.

Ryan Gianatasio, M.D., Interventional Neurologist

I love introducing people to Gus, our bearded dragon! This guy is about three years old but only joined our family a little over a year ago. We adopted him from another family who could no longer care for him.

Since then, he has gotten a lot bigger and has become just another member of the crew. He enjoys being with, on and around people and hanging out. For him, hanging out is just as comfortable on your shoulder as in his tank. His favorite foods are arugula, raspberries and mealworms. For the most part he’s pretty chill, but he definitely does not like baths in the sink.

Joy Falkenburg, M.D., Family Medicine

I have many animals at my farm, from domestic to livestock. It was hard to pick which ones to highlight.

The duck is Auggie. His mother abandoned the nest before he hatched and my daughter brought him in as he was breaking through the shell. She kept him under a light until he hatched and then he imprinted on us. We often use duck eggs in our baking as the slightly higher cholesterol levels make them nice for cooking.

The llamas are a mom and daughter pair that we received as a gift. They came to my farm after a patient was moving into town and couldn’t bring them in from her country farm. She wanted them to have a good life, and we benefit by having them protect our farm from coyotes and predators. We also have alpacas; they are smaller and produce fiber for gloves and hats.

Finally, this piglet belongs to my Mangalitsa pig, Natasha. She’s on her third set of piglets. My kids and I have farrowed the piglets together. We raise them for mmeat and they’re sold locally at The Shed at Dakota Greens-Custer Greenhouses and Nursery. When Natasha doesn’t produce enough milk, my husband helps bottle feed the piglets and even reads books to the mom when she’s heavily pregnant.