It's a safe bet that most pet owners consider their animals part of the family. But in some Long Island families, the pets take on unusual roles in the household. Meet, for instance, Joey the cockatoo, who has his own Facebook page; Chocolate and Brownie, guinea pigs who like to ride in a baby stroller; and Felix and Sandy, cats who eat challah on Shabbat.
The Steinberg Family
Humans Orly and Alan Steinberg of Great Neck, their six children, Tara, 25, Philip, 24, Donny, 22, Ira, 18 and fraternal twins Gabriella and Eliana, 15. Orly is a nurse and Alan is a real estate investor
Pets Cats Felix and Sandy.
Way they join in family life Felix and Sandy both love challah and eat it along with the family at Friday evening Shabbat dinners.
Their story “My kids say they are my seventh and eighth children,” Orly says of the cats she adopted last year after three of her previous cats had died. “My kids think I love my cats more than I love them. It’s not true. I love them all equally.” The family is Orthodox, Orly says. “They hear my husband come back from the synagogue and he starts to sing, and they know they get their special Challah bread. When I bring it home or bake it, I have to put it on the top of the refrigerator because they like it so much.” Felix in particular enjoys going outside, so family members will put him on a leash and take him out. “He’s my favorite cat,” says Ira, who just graduated from Davis Renov Stahler Yeshiva High School for Boys in Woodmere. “He sleeps with me at night.”
The White Family
Pets: Guinea pigs Chocolate and Brownie
Humans Alissa and Gibson White of Huntington and their children, Olivia, 9 and Justin, 6. Alissa is a mortgage broker and Gibson works in heating and air-conditioning.
Way the pets join family life “We have a small dog stroller. The kids take them for a walk when it’s nice out,” Alissa says. “People will look and say, ‘What is that? Rats?’ ”
Their story “We had two dogs for a long time. One passed and we weren’t ready to get another,” Alissa explains. But she wanted the kids to each have a pet of their own. “Mine is named Brownie,” Olivia says. “I was going to name it Gizmo because of 'Gremlins' because he has a white stripe.” But she thought better of it because in that movie, gremlins can be evil, she says. She likes taking the guinea pigs for a walk in the stroller. “They squeak and squeal and talk to each other when they ride. They’re having fun,” Olivia says. In addition to the stroller, the family has a playpen for the guinea pigs. “They’ll chill on your lap and watch TV with you,” Alissa says. The kids wanted to get the guinea pig clothes, but that’s where Alissa drew the line. “We’re not dressing them up,” she told the kids.
The Lewis Family
Humans Loretta and George Lewis of Shirley and rising eighth-grader Michael Freeman, 13, Logan, 3, and Luke, 1. Loretta is a teacher, and George is an IT manager.
Pets The family has two dogs, a Shih Tzu named Sweet Pea and a black Lab named Sable.
Way Sweet Pea joins family life “I call it an unofficial therapy dog,” Loretta says. “It wasn’t supposed to be a therapy dog, but it actually plays the role of a therapy dog.”
Their story George bought Loretta Sweet Pea as a Christmas present in 2015. “It was a good surprise,” she says. But soon it became apparent whose dog Sweet Pea really was Michael’s. The family moved to Long Island from Yonkers in 2016. “This big transition caused him to have anxiety and moods,” Loretta says of Michael. “He took to the dog. The dog is always in his room. Every time I look, they’re cuddling on the bed. The comfort and the love made his depression and anxiety go away faster than it would have had we not had the dog.” Michael agrees. “She always made me laugh, the weird things she did, how she ran around.” The family added Sable this year because they wanted a bigger dog as well, Loretta says.
The Siemers Family
Humans Joelle Siemers of Babylon, her boyfriend, Bob Murphy, and Siemers’ daughter, West Babylon High School rising senior Elsie Siemers, 17. Joelle sells real estate and Murphy owns an accounting firm.
Pets They have four cats and two dogs, but their ball python, named Jimmy, is the one Elsie dotes on. “I love him. He’s like my puppy,” Elsie says.
Way Jimmy joins in family life “We cuddle,” Elsie says. “He’s sweet.”
Their story When Elsie told her mom she wanted to get a snake, “I’m thinking a garden snake from the farm,” Joelle says. She wasn’t at all into the idea of a python. But, “when you love a child, there’s nothing you won’t do. Am I going to say no and be the worst mom ever?” The python is three feet long and eats live mice. “It actually kind of grows on you after a while,” Joelle says. The python is named after Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin, Elsie says. She’s planning to bring Jimmy to college with her when she goes. “There are a couple of schools I really want to go to that let you have birds or snakes in your room,” she says.
The Fields Family
Humans Allison Fields of Huntington, and her children Isabel, 19, currently in college in California, John, 17, a rising senior at Huntington High School, and Grace, 15, who is entering 11th grade. The children's last name is Galasso. Fieldsmakes soap for a living
Pet Cockatoo named Joey
Way Joey joins in family life He yells, “Hi” and, “Bye” and, “Goodnight!” Joey also has his own Facebook page.
Their story Joey calls Allison “Loretta” because that was the name of the woman who owned him before. “He thinks every woman is Loretta. He’ll scream, ‘Loretta! Loretta!’ ” He travels with the family; they’ve been to California with him on the plane. “I drive around with him in the car sometimes because he likes to get out,” Allison says. “Whenever we walk out the door and we don’t take him, he’s screaming. He’s really high maintenance.” He especially likes farmers' markets. He eats dinner with the family — he likes tacos and hamburgers and salad. “I try to make him eat vegetables, but he doesn’t like them,” Allison says. "Unless he's picking them off my plate." As in many families, not everybody always gets along. Allison’s two older children love the bird — it's technically Isabel's — but the youngest doesn’t. “He does not like her, either,” Allison says. “He runs after her and she has to leave the room.”