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Animal House: Meet 3 Pet-Loving San Diego Families

Dogs are just the start. These San Diegans take us into their homes, backyards, and chicken coops to show off their menageries.


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Photo: Robert Benson

The Salz-Smiths

Humans: Michelle, her husband, Jake, and their six-year-old son, Oliver
Animals: Six chickens, two dogs, and one mini pig

“We’ve always loved animals,” says Michelle Salz-Smith. “I grew up in the country outside St. Louis, and my husband was born and raised in Del Mar. He grew up with snakes, ducks, rabbits, dogs, birds, and a tortoise named Tortuga.” In their Del Mar home, they began with chickens (Ramona, Rita, Pearl, Fern, Hazel, Almeda, and the late Ruby) from various San Diego coops before adopting Dio from El Cajon’s Barking Lot dog rescue and Otto, a Hurricane Harvey puppy from Helen Woodward Animal Center, both of them mixed breeds. Two-year-old Jeff, a Juliana mini pig, came from SoCal Mini Pigs, a cage-free breeder in Norco. “The chickens could care less about the pig or dogs, but one of them didn’t lay eggs for a week after the puppy chased her,” she says. Their yard has a treehouse turned chicken coop, while the other animals usually hang on the couch. “As fat as he is, Jeff can get up there.” Living within the city limits, there are rules—yes to chickens, no to roosters, and a cap on the number of hens—but as Michelle explains, “I ply my neighbors with eggs, and they’re just fine with the chickens.”

 

The Teals

Humans: Kimberly, with frequent visits from kids and grandkids
Animals: Three horses, two mini pigs, seven piglets, two donkeys, two Nigerian dwarf goats, one Norwegian dwarf goat, one boar, one hedgehog, one Netherland dwarf rabbit, one teacup Chihuahua, and one teacup Yorkshire terrier

“Their innocence and unconditional love.” That’s Kimberly Teal’s explanation for her self-proclaimed obsession with animals. “I learn from my animals every day, and I live to train them.” Teal, a retired lawyer, lives with her 22 animals on Melrose Ranch in Escondido, a 115-acre working cattle farm where she rents the former ranch manager’s home. Most of the menagerie came via rescue, and all of them—from 16-year-old black Arabian horse Jaytee to Walter Wigglebutt the mini pig—have plenty of space to stretch their legs. “Jaytee is quite bossy with the other horses and donkeys. My boar, Porter, is an escape artist. Mostly they all get along. Even the rabbit and the hedgehog like to join in the fun.” With that number—and variety—of animals at home, Teal had to do her homework. “You have to check ordinances. Split-hooved animals like goats aren’t allowed in some areas. There are rules for the number of horses. Pigs aren’t allowed in a lot of areas.” But if rules went out the window, she has loftier animal aspirations. “I would love to get an elephant.”

 

Photo: Robert Benson

The Parkers

Humans: Tasha, her husband, Paul, and their roommates, Dara and Jesse
Animals: One bearded dragon lizard and one dog

“I’ve always been a fan of lizards. When I was little I’d catch them in my grandparents’ backyard and make them little houses out of old Folgers cans. I’d keep them for a day, then free them,” says Tasha Parker, a salon owner by day and bartender by night. After she and her husband married, they got Bonesy, a Staffordshire bull terrier, from a breeder, and their lizard from a family who couldn’t keep her anymore. “You can thank my husband for Shakira’s name,” she says. “Her first name was Dr. Shakalu and we didn’t like it, so he decided on Shakira, because he has a crush on her and they sound enough alike.” Enter their City Heights home and you’re likely to find Shakira sunbathing outside, while Bonesy, now 11, usually relaxes at home or joins Tasha at bars (he’s in it for the air-conditioning). The two pets don’t play with each other, but that’s not to say Bonesy isn’t intrigued. “I’m sure Bonesy wouldn’t mind getting in on some of Shakira’s salad and mealworms!” As for more animals? “We plan on rescuing a tortoise once we fence in our front yard.”

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