Black Pet Love: Houston’s Black pet owners celebrate their ‘babies’
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Most TV shows, commercials and articles featuring pet lovers rarely include Black people. But many of us own pets too, and love them just as much as anyone else. This point was proven by the individuals the Defender recently interviewed about the strong bond they possess with their pets who are considered indispensable members of their families.

Editor’s note: This article originally ran Dec 9, 2021.

These Black pet owners share how they “first met” their current pets, the things they love about them, as well as those nerve-wracking habits that drive them as pet owners crazy. Moreover, they offer their advice for anyone considering joining the club of Houston-area pet owners.


Chaka Zulu

HOW THEY MET: Abaynesta Olubunmi, a minister, administrator and longtime member of the Shrines of the Black Madonna, first “met” her dog Chaka when her husband surprised her by taking her to a dog breeder. “I would often look at the paper and see ads for dogs, and I’d say, ‘If I ever got a dog, I’d want a little dog, a Maltese.” When the Olubunmis arrived at the kennel, and Abaynesta picked Chaka out of the available litter, the breeder told the new dog owner, “Your husband said he wanted to get you one for your birthday. But every time a man comes in here with his wife or girlfriend it’s really him that wants a dog. So, Chaka was a birthday present.”


Lisa Mead and Buddy

WHAT SHE APPRECIATES: University of Texas alumna Lisa Mead loves a few things about her dog Buddy, a Hurricane Harvey rescue. “What I like about Buddy is when I got him, he was already trained. So, I didn’t have to worry about the house training or anything like that. But I’ve always had a pet since I was eight years old and Buddy was perfect for me. He goes everywhere with me, at least everywhere that I can take an animal. He makes me get up in the morning and in the afternoon and the evening to walk him. So that helps with this COVID body I’m trying to get rid of. But actually, he’s soothing. I know that there are studies that use animals to lower blood pressure and stress and things like that. So anytime I’m kind of stressed, it’s like Buddy can feel it and he’ll jump into my lap and all is good.”


Osakwe Rikondja
Tai Chi

NERVE-WRACKING HABITS: Osakwe Rikondja, a respected musician who also works in tech, has two pets sharing the home with him, his wife and two young sons: a Labrador-pit bull mix (Tai Chi) and a green cheek conure bird (Juba). According to Osakwe, Juba, beyond the “sticker-shock” price, is low maintenance. But, Tai Chi, on the other hand, has issues. “Man, that dog. It’s like having another child. In the beginning, he couldn’t sleep alone. He cried and wanted someone to sleep with him. Now, it’s the digging in the trash can thing. We had to kind of set up something to keep him out of the trash.


Tamirah Collins, Reba Gray and Furaha Collins

WHICH IS BEST, DOGS OR CATS: Tamirah Collins, a fine arts graduate of Sam Houston State University, owns a cat (Reba Gray) so big, Tamirah’s mom refers to it as a mountain lion. “With a cat, I don’t need to go out every four hours when they decide to use the bathroom. I can’t do that. The doggie playtime in the park? I could do that. It does give you opportunities to exercise. But I’m more of a laid-back person. So, regarding which is the best pet, it depends on your personality. Laid back Reba fits my personality very well.”


Kim Patterson Wright and Lucy

WHAT SHE APPRECIATES: Lucy, an Australian Border Collie, joined Kim Patterson Wright and family when they lived in Queensland, Australia. Kim was very specific regarding what she was looking for in a family pet. “Lucy is highly intelligent. I did a lot of homework trying to select what breed of dog I wanted. I wanted something that was going to be easy to train, to be honest, and good with kids. And Border Collies are at the top of the list in terms of their mental capacity. That’s really what I appreciate. If I want to teach her a trick or get her to do something, to behave in a certain way, it really doesn’t take very much effort. And, the other thing about a dog loyalty, Lucy is a bit territorial, always announcing when someone is approaching the house so that I know what’s going on.”


Rhonda Skillern-Jones and Ginger

NERVE WRACKING: Ginger is a six-year-old German Shepherd that has stolen the heart of former HISD School Board member and new empty-nester Rhonda Skillern-Jones. Jones appreciates Ginger’s company, but… “Ginger does not know when it’s appropriate to bark yet. So, in the middle of the night, she might hear something outside. She’s very keen at listening. And there goes my sleep, because until whatever it is goes away, squirrel or bird or whatever it might be, she’s still barking. So, we’re working on it.”


Eric Garmond and Ice

TO PIT BULL OR NOT PIT BULL:  Police officer and no-nonsense brother Eric Garmond, is a pit bull owner. Surprisingly, it’s not the “fearsome” pit bull reputation Eric appreciates most about Ice, but rather his warm, calming companionship. “I think a lot of people have a misconception about pit bulls; that they’re vicious and very dangerous animals. It’s quite the opposite. I think they are very loving. I think they take on the mentality of their owner. If the owner is aggressive, then that dog is going to take on the same mentality. But if you’re a loving individual and someone who really shows compassion, their pit bull will take on that same mentality. Everybody I’ve spoken with who has a pit bull, they love them and talk about how much love they have for the people, and how caring and protective they are.”

Considering Becoming a Pet Owner?

  • Be willing to invest time and money. Pets are not cheap (food, health care, travel housing arrangements, etc.)
  • Be willing to make the commitment, to consistently feed, house, walk, train and engage.
  • “Do a little soul-searching and make sure that you’re truly ready for that responsibility, the feeding, the walking, the nurturing, the veterinarian health. My whole life had to be restructured because of having a pet is like taking care of another child.” (Eric Garmond)
  • Research: “Do your homework first and really consider the type of pet that works best for your lifestyle. Do you have children? Are you active or more sedentary? And understand the temperament of the animal, whether that’s a dog, cat or bird. Make sure it’s going to be a good fit.” (Kim Patterson Wright)
  • Prep your children: “If you have kids, make sure they’re ready before you do it, because you don’t want to come home with an animal and then have to give it away to a shelter or for the animal to be neglected.” (Rhonda Skillern-Jones)
  • “Make sure you have a good, stable home for them. The environment is very important for that.” (Tamirah Collins)

Benefits of Having a Pet

  • Companionship: “I think that’s the biggest benefit. Chaka’s kind of forgotten that he’s a canine. When my mother-in-law was alive, we had her in at-home hospice and Chaka would often lay at the foot of her bed, and calm her down.” (Abaynesta Olubunmi)
  • Responsibility: “I can tell you for my son, it gives him a sense of responsibility to do the feeding and if I don’t feel like walking the dog, he has to do all of that.” (Lisa Mead)
  • Health Boost: “Having a pet has been found to keep your blood pressure down, lower your anxiety, and we know that animals are often used in therapy. Some studies show pet owners are nicer people. Just having them around adds to your quality of life.” (Rhonda Skillern-Jones)
  • Unconditional Love: “You have somebody or something that loves you absolutely unconditionally. No matter how I have to fuss at him or get on him when he gets into the trash, every time I come home, he meets me at the door like he’s seeing me for the first time.” (Lisa Mead)
  • Life Lessons: “You learn a lot from them, like how to basically be at rest. Reba finds a lot of good things from small things that I give to her. And she just lives life. So, she teaches me how to do that too.” (Tamirah Collins)
  • Exercise (for dog owners): “I’m 40-something, and a lot of guys my age are falling off from preventable issues like diabetes, high blood pressure, things like that. So, getting up and having to breathe heavy, walking briskly with Tai Chi for 30 minutes in the morning, at lunchtime and in the evening gives me a workout.” (Osakwe Rikondja)
  • Protection: “Not only is Ice loving and he can sense my stress and warm up to me and make me feel better, but he’s also a protector. He’s not going to let any harm come to me or my wife.” (Eric Garmond)
  • Emotional Support: “During college I had a lot of anxiety and a little depression and Reba turned into my support animal. She always knows when I’m sad and she does this thing where she literally sits on my chest and just purrs for hours. She knows how to make me feel calm. And when I don’t have many people around me, she’s literally my best friend.” (Tamirah Collins)

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Aswad Walker

I'm originally from Cincinnati. I'm a husband and father to six children. I'm an associate pastor for the Shrine of Black Madonna (Houston). I am a lecturer (adjunct professor) in the University of Houston...