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Pet heroes:Creatures of comfort


Big horse, big heart

Sponsor Message

Dream Therapies, a Henderson center for occupational, physical and speech therapy, employing activities and exercises done on horseback, called hippotherapy.

Loves to help:

Kids with disorders such as ADHD, autism, Down Syndrome and other developmental delays, under the guidance of Karen Siran-Loughery, a licensed occupational therapist who’s trained in hippotherapy.

Gives the gift of:

Focus. Theories on why, exactly, abound, but being on horseback seems to facilitate concentration in those who tend to get distracted when doing tasks requiring attentiveness, such as learning their ABCs. Ask them to recite the alphabet, and they’ll forget what they were doing between “A” and “B.” Put them on horseback, have them point the horse (led by a therapist) to the post with “A” pinned on it, then “B,” then “C” and so on, and their attention span increases.

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Adagio’s tale:

He came to Siran-Loughery through a contact after his first owner passed away and his subsequent owner couldn’t exercise him enough. Hippotherapy horses go through rigorous testing and training to make sure they’ll tolerate the unpredictable riders they carry. The kids’ safety is at stake. Siran-Loughry says she knew she had a jewel when a canopy Adagio was standing under, with her on his back, blew off its stakes and whipped around. “All he did was jump to the side,” she says. — Heidi Kyser


Kind (and wise) animal doc

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Works at:

Sunset Eastern Pet Hospital, hers since she bought it from the former owners in 2010. The Michigan native moved to Las Vegas in 2004 and joined the hospital, which she described as very well-built with a strong medical practice — both important factors in her decision to
take over.

Loves to help:

Those who might otherwise skip veterinary care for their pets, such as the poor; and those who are helping to improve the lives of the local pet population, such as the Nevada Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. “I envision myself as that family doctor that people can call to ask questions about their pets,” says Grantz, who even makes house calls. She’s currently looking to do more community outreach, such as programs to assist those who can’t afford necessary, but high-dollar vet services.

Gives the gift of:

Free and reduced-price care. Sunset Eastern Pet Hospital checks out all animals rescued by next-door neighbor Little Friends Foundation, giving low-cost spay, neuter, micro-chipping and vaccination procedures, as well as other necessary care. Folks who adopt a pet from the NSPCA can go to Grantz’ practice for a free first exam, including general health screening, microchip scan, parasite blood tests and more. The doctor says the need is so great, that she sees a few of these each week.

What does it mean?

It means nonprofit rescues can stretch their dollars further. James Williamson, manager of Little Friends, says he’s completely confident in Grantz’ integrity. “She will not suggest a procedure or medication that’s not necessary. She’ll suggest something more cost-effective and safer,” he says. “She’s just a really nice, kind, gentle person.” — H.K.


Friday’s feline

Works at:

Nathan Adelson Hospice, which he visits every Friday with his human, Mandy Nicholson.

Loves to help:

Elderly residents, whose visits from friends and family are often too few and far between.

Gives the gift of:

Companionship. Unlike most cats, Maury will let anyone pick him up. Once deposited on a lap, he’s content to sit and purr as long as owner of said lap allows it. A consummate listener, he learned during pet therapist school to never interrupt and always sympathize. And as a warm, furry being, he also has the power to instantly soothe and comfort anyone who pets him — a precious gift to those in hospice care.

Maury’s story:

As a special needs pet at the Nevada Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Maury was overlooked by many potential adopters. Nicholson was willing to nurse him back to health and administer the complicated care required to control feline diabetes. She could see Maury was a rare specimen, and soon had him in a Pet Partners program to become a certified therapy cat — one of only three in Southern Nevada. Hospice residents treasure his visits, says Lisa Browder, complementary therapies manager. “He likes everybody he sees,” she says. “He gives people his full attention.” — H.K.


The mischief-maker

Works at:

Roos-N-More, an educational zoo in Moapa.

Loves to help:

Roos-N-More’s director and veterinarian Dr. Valerie Holt cope with the symptoms of her autoimmune condition lupus — among those symptoms, fatigue, dizziness, disorientation — and the depression that comes with it. “My crazy toddler monkey-girl brings me incredible emotional support,” says Holt. “There have even been occasions when I’ve been feeling down and she’s grabbed a Kleenex to wipe away my tears.” While Caico is certified as a service animal, Holt relies on the playful capuchin more for brightening her outlook than opening doors.

Gives the gift of:

Smiles. Four year-old Caico (kay-koe) has enough energy for several jobs on the sprawling Roos-N-More campus — and fortunately she’s got several to keep her busy. First off, her natural hamminess makes her Roos-N-More’s animal ambassador to the countless school kids in Southern Nevada who visit the three-acre complex off north I-15. But for Holt, who was diagnosed six years ago with lupus — explaining the bouts of dizziness and inflamed joints she’d been suffering for years — Caico has become a constant source of levity and laughter, whether the cheeky primate is stealing herring from the otters or swinging by her tail from a mulberry tree.

This monkey shines:

“She’s super fun — and a little rambunctious,” says Tayla Hart, zookeeper and volunteer coordinator at Roos-N-More ( But there’s more to her monkeyshines than just fun and games. Like many of the critters at Roos-N-More — from its signature kangaroos to lemurs, macaws and African crested porcupines — Caico’s role is to raise awareness about conservation and the fragility of life on the planet. — Andrew Kiraly


Arica Dorff

The pet-parazzi

Owns and works at:

Pet’ographique pet and family photography studio.

Loves to help:

Rescue animals — from dogs and cats to bunnies and guinea pigs. With her camera, she helps get them out of local shelters and into loving homes.

Gives the gift of:

Completely heart-melting, mind-paralyzing cuteness. In her daily work, Dorff specializes in shooting family portraits where the furry kids are literally part of the picture. But several times a week, she takes photos that truly change lives. Dorff donates the services of Pet’ographique ( to several animal rescue organizations, taking polished studio photos of some of their toughest adoptee prospects. The pics are unleashed on websites, Twitter and Facebook — and then the ooohing and aaahing and sharing — and adopting — begin.

Doggie come home:

“The trick with adoption portraits is to really go over the top, so people remember the animal,” says Dorff. (Yes, that can mean dogs dressed as butlers, cats peering over bucket edges.) Her photos, for organizations such as the Nevada Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (, Las Vegas Hot-Diggity Dachshund Rescue ( and Southern Nevada Beagle Rescue (, have resulted in happy home placements for some of their most challenging pets — such as Ice, a white pit bull with allergy issues who was in a shelter for two years before finding a family, thanks to Dorff’s photos.

But Dorff’s photos also teach people that rescue animals go well beyond the stereotype of scroungy mutts (not that there’s anything wrong with scroungy mutts). “Part of the reason I do adoption portraits is to raise awareness,” she says. “I do it to show people that there are wonderful animals that would make great companions — and they come in all sizes and breeds.” Dorff walks the walk, too: Her two beloved Weimaraners, Duke and Drake, are rescues. So is her guinea pig, Harley — which, fittingly, Dorff fell in love with during a photo shoot. — A.K.



Therapist with paws

Works at:

The Reading with Rover program of the Henderson Libraries, coordinated with Clark County School District.

Loves to help:

First- through fifth-grade kids who are not reading up to grade level for a variety of reasons, from a learning disability to the shyness that can turn to sheer
panic when a teacher asks a student to read aloud
in class.

Gives the gift of:

Patience. Students meet Freckles and his human, Terry Koehler, at one of the libraries, where they have a private room to themselves for an hour. Sitting on a blanket with books scattered around, they read to the adorable Cavalier King Charles spaniel, often while stroking his white and brown fur, which melts stutters into strings of words. Having a non-judgmental listener (along with Koehler’s occasional background assistance) to read aloud to gives students the space to take what they’ve learned in class and work through obstacles on their own terms.

A freckled past:

Koehler found Freckles through the Lucky Star Cavalier Rescue, which said he’d been found scraggly and starving, a puppy mill refugee. Koehler immediately spotted his potential as a therapy dog, his gentle nature and willingness to sit with anyone. She’s seen kids advance two grade levels or more during the six-week Reading with Rover sessions. — H.K.


Clean chomper champion

Works at:

Southern California Vet Dental Specialties in San Diego, but visits Las Vegas for a few days twice a month, using local clinic Animal Allergy and Dermatology Specialists as a base of operations, in order to provide needed services in a state with no board-certified veterinary dentist.

Loves to help:

Creatures great and small — provided they’ve got tooth troubles. Although Niemiec has treated things as wild as mountain lions (he was preparing for a trip to Belize to treat a jaguar when he spoke to Desert Companion), his bread and butter is family pets with bad teeth and gums.

Gives the gift of:

Education. Niemiec says most vets simply don’t have the time to educate their patients’ owners on the importance of oral care. Having spoken at veterinary conferences around the world, he says lately he’s focusing on getting the message to the public, starting with free educational videos on his website. Niemec also wants to partner with local breed clubs and rescue groups to spread the gospel of good oral hygiene for animals.

Why animal dentistry?

Because teeth are one of the most overlooked factors in a healthy, happy pet. For Niemiec, it’s all about results. “With oral disease, there are almost no outward clinical signs,” he explains. “The animals that come to me are eating, drinking, wagging their tails. I see dogs with broken teeth, abscessed teeth, even fractured jaws whose owners swear there’s nothing wrong. Then, we treat them, and
they come back later and say, ‘Oh my god, he’s a whole
new dog.’” — H.K.


Spot’s friend in Carson City

Volunteers for:

Nevada Political Action for Animals, a 2,000-member nonprofit advocacy organization that promotes legislation protecting animals from cruelty, and fights to make sure such laws are upheld and enforced. During election cycles and legislative sessions, NPAA rates candidates on their pet-friendliness and posts scores on its website for voters to use as a guide.

Loves to help:

Those who are otherwise defenseless against humans — from pets abused by their owners, to wild herds of mustangs rounded up by the Bureau of Land Management. Days before being interviewed for this story, Newman says, she saw a couple push a pit bull out of their car on a busy street and drive away. She and another passerby made sure the dog was safe, then Newman raced to catch up with the perps. She says she’ll press littering charges against them, since there’s no other law against what they did.

Inspired by:

Kindness. Starting with her stint as a teenage animal shelter volunteer, Newman’s deep-seated love for Earth’s furry inhabitants has moved her to fight ever more ferociously on their behalf. After moving to Vegas in 1998, she found there was no organized animal rights group, so she started one, People Against Cruelty to Animals, which evolved into the registered PAC that state legislators are so familiar with today.

What keeps her going? 

“She’s got a great big, huge heart,” says Nevada Sen. Mark Manendo, who co-sponsored the anti-puppy mill bill that NPAA helped to pass in the 2011 session. Manendo says it’s hard to enumerate everything Newman does in the community, not only because it’s so voluminous, but also because she’s so humble about it. “She’s amazing,” he says. “People like her are rare.” — H.K.


Native ham

Lives and works at:

Plant World on West Charleston, a retail paradise that’s part garden center, part animal planet, under the care of Richard “Sully” Sullivan.

Loves to help:

Groups of kids coming through for tours — Boy and Girl Scouts, church groups, school classes (you name it) — two to three times a week, some who’ve never seen a live animal up close outside the family dog.

Gives the gift of:

Education. Delilah is one of many birds at Plant World (not to mention tortoises, cats and other fauna), but she’s the one Sully can do the most with: showing how and why birds’ wings are clipped; explaining what they eat and how they fit into the food chain; demonstrating their intelligence by getting her to say her favorite phrases, “Hi, Delilah,” and “Bye, Delilah”; even getting her to kiss Nelson, the store’s 19-year-old cat.

Delilah’s home:

Has always been Plant World. She’s one of the few born on site, 13 years ago, of two rescued parents. Because she was taken away from her parents while she was young (standard procedure for training) and hand-fed, the white cockatoo is more social and teachable than most of the other birds. “I like the kids’ interest, especially the special-needs kids,” Sully says. “They’re in awe of the animals.” — H.K.


Linda Faso

The entertainment police

Works for:

A veritable alphabet soup of organizations. The ubiquitous Faso can be found at marches and meetings of Animal Defenders International, the Humane Society of the United States, Last Chance for Animals, PETA and the Performing Animal Welfare Society, to name a few. She says having a supportive, understanding husband makes it possible for her to pursue the cause full time.

Loves to help:

Any animal in need, but particularly those being exploited for entertainment purposes. She had a hand in the cancellation of Bobby Berosini’s orangutan act at the Stardust in 1989, and has targeted other Las Vegas Strip acts and circuses that use animals.

Gives the gift of:

Advocacy. As fearless as the lions and tigers she fights for — and even more tireless — Faso gathers U.S. Department of Agriculture reports on trainers’ treatment of circus animals, meets with magicians and other Strip performers and rallies troops for protests. She also takes her fight to both the Nevada and U.S. Congress, making frequent trips to Carson City and Washington, D.C.

What keeps her going:

Stoney, an Asian elephant that languished and died in August 1995 after a leg injury in the show “Winds of the Gods” at the Luxor. After Stoney pulled a hamstring doing a hind-leg stand, Faso says, his owner placed him in a supportive mechanical device to hold him immobile and upright. The elephant died a slow, undignified death, Faso says, despite the efforts of PAWS and other groups. The memory of animals like Stoney fortifies Faso: “Change is happening,” she says, “but you’ll always have someone who will crop up and try to make money off an animal.” — H.K.

As a longtime journalist in Southern Nevada, native Las Vegan Andrew Kiraly has served as a reporter covering topics as diverse as health, sports, politics, the gaming industry and conservation. He joined Desert Companion in 2010, where he has helped steward the magazine to become a vibrant monthly publication that has won numerous honors for its journalism, photography and design, including several Maggie Awards.
Desert Companion welcomed Heidi Kyser as staff writer in January 2014. In 2018, she was promoted to senior writer and producer, working for both DC and State of Nevada. She produced KNPR’s first podcast, the Edward R. Murrow Regional Award-winning Native Nevada, in 2020. The following year, she returned her focus full-time to Desert Companion, becoming Deputy Editor, which meant she was next in line to take over when longtime editor Andrew Kiraly left in July 2022.