As a veteran Buffalo police officer, Melanie Neureuther faces stress, conflict and danger daily. All that melts away when she returns home to her animals, especially the playful, snuggling, face-licking tsunami of her two tiny mixed-breed dogs, Zoey and Ziggy.
“After a stressful day at work, nothing makes me happier than coming home and getting dog kisses,” she says. And stressful days at work are not rare. Neureuther and partner Derrick Banaszak specialize in anti-gang activity as they patrol E District on the East Side, which contains some of the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods.
Neureuther relishes the challenges of her work, which she has done for 16 years. But rather than sit with her feet up when she’s home, she keeps busy – and keeps her husband, Scott Neureuther, and her mother, Joann Janusz, busy too – with outings, classes, activities, pet expos and even canine-centered vacations.
“All my friends say that in their next lives, they want to come back as one of my dogs,” she says, smiling, as she opens the door to a closet that she has fitted with three clothing rails packed with designer coats, dresses, shirts and hoodies for the dogs, as well as a rail of their costumes. “My friends say they would also love to have my dogs’ wardrobe,” she says, flipping through tiny designer garments made by Louis Vuitton, Ed Hardy and Juicy Couture.
The two pampered 7-pound canines have been best friends since Ziggy, now almost 3, a chihuahua-terrier mix, joined Zoey, now almost 4, a Pomeranian-chihuahua mix. Ziggy weighed just 2 pounds when he joined the family as a young pup, and was dwarfed by his then-6-pound older sister.
“They played together from the start,” says Neureuther. “She adored him and would just smush him.”
Neureuther is a lifelong dog lover – as a youngster, she spent her allowance to buy Dog Fancy magazine. After high school, she enrolled in a veterinary technician program, but switched to criminal justice studies at Erie Community College North Campus, where she earned honors. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Hilbert College, also with honors.
“I always liked police work,” she says.
Neureuther grew up with a family dog, and got her own dog when she was 18. She took Precious, a white shepherd-husky mix, to obedience classes and got her Canine Good Citizen certification. But, she says, “there just wasn’t the same amount of activities back then for dogs.”
When Precious died at age 15, Neureuther said, “Never again.” It took two years for her to change her mind and get Zoey, whose puppy energy was a shock. “She wore me out, because I never had a puppy,” she says. “She was biting my feet and my sleeves, wanting to play all the time.” Although she took Zoey to classes, including agility, her energy and activity level remained high. “When she was 5 or 6 months old, I knew she needed a playmate. I looked for six months and found Ziggy in June 2010 on Petfinder.”
Ziggy, who was being fostered by Kerry Neaf, president of the Friends of the City of Buffalo Animal Shelter, was one of three young pups found with 12 other small dogs, mostly chihuahua-terrier mixes, in a hoarding situation.
Ziggy stood out because his black and tan markings resembled a miniature pinscher, a breed Scott Neureuther likes. Neureuther had it all worked out – Ziggy would be her husband’s dog. But in a development familiar to anyone who loves a dog, Ziggy made up his own mind. From the start, there was a special bond between Neureuther and the pup.
“Zoey is more outgoing, and will go to anyone,” says Neureuther. “But all Ziggy wanted to do was be with me, to be next to me or on my lap. He is the most loyal, obedient and faithful companion a person could ever ask for.”
Despite her busy schedule, Neureuther always made time for her dogs, especially Ziggy. “Even if I would work overnights, getting home at 6 a.m., I would spend time with him,” she says. Like Zoey, Ziggy started with some classes, including obedience class.
Life with Ziggy and Zoey had not been trouble-free. Zoey needed surgery on both knees for luxating patellas, an ailment common to Pomeranians. And in March 2011, when he was 11 months old, Ziggy shattered his front leg when he jumped from Scott’s lap to the floor. His bone was so small that Neurether’s veterinarian, Dr. Michael Wilson of Alden Small Animal Hospital, said there were no surgical pins small enough to set the bone. Still, “he did a wonderful job,” says Neureuther, operating on and then casting Ziggy’s leg.
“I took some time off from work to be with him,” says Neureuther. “I babied him beyond belief. I didn’t think you could spoil the second one worse than the first, but I did it.”
The walls of the Neureuther house are decorated with photos of their pets, from Christmas portraits to caricatures. One corner is heaped with an assortment of small dog toys, although Neureuther donated half of them to the City of Buffalo Animal Shelter.
Four of the five cats – males Monkey and Bear, from Second Chance Sheltering Network, and females Muffin and Peanut, who found her way into the family garage during a blizzard – declined to be interviewed, but gregarious Cow, named for his black and white coat, greeted a visitor. Until Cow’s recent illness resulted in some weight loss, all of the cats were bigger than the dogs.
In addition to the classes Neureuther has attended with both dogs, last summer she and Scott took them to the weeklong Canine Camp Getaway in Lake George. There they participated in classes, including competitive obedience and canine freestyle dancing, in which the dog and human move together.
“I thought Zoey would be great at freestyle, being the bouncy Pom,” says Neureuther. “But she did a couple spins and walked away. Ziggy was the one who wanted to do it. He’s very food-motivated, they both are.”
Her husband, says Neureuther, plays a vital role. “He holds the other dog while I do the stuff,” she says. “He loves them to his level, which is great, and he’s very supportive. But I’m at another level.”
Neureuther’s mother, who lives upstairs in their duplex, also helps out. “She goes with me too. I drag her if Scott is working or bowling. She takes excellent care of them, and helps out if I get kept at work by a late arrest, or have to work overtime. I don’t know what I’d do without her.”
This summer, the three humans will go with the dogs to Barkwells dog resort in North Carolina, and she looks forward to a visit in June to Woofstock in Toronto, North America’s largest outdoor festival for dogs.
Both dogs swim at Canine Splash and socialize in the Buffalo Chihuahua and Small Dog playgroup. “I have met some of the most wonderful people through this group, rescue groups and the City of Buffalo shelter,” says Neureuther.
Both dogs are also certified by Therapy Dog International, wearing the tiniest red scarves on their visits to residents at a local assisted living facility. Neureuther has just finished the paperwork to volunteer at Hospice.
“I love sharing them with people,” Neureuther says. “My Facebook page is all about them and the events we go to. I think my dogs are involved in more activities than some children.”
Neureuther also shows her love for animals at work. She was profiled in the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association newspaper, The Blue Line, for her interest in the animals she encounters while on patrol. Once she found that a man had left a pit bull with a relative, who did not want the dog and had confined him to an outside porch. Neureuther got help for the dog, who is now in a loving home.
“Any time dog control needs help in our district, if I’m working, I’m there to help them,” she says.
Do you have an interesting story about an animal whose love has changed a person’s life? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org, or drop a note to Anne Neville, The Buffalo News, One News Plaza, Buffalo, N.Y., 14240. Be sure to provide your contact information, including a daytime phone number.