According to the American Pet Products Association and the American Veterinary Medical Association, most people in this country have pets.

In fact, an estimated 70 percent of American households have a pet. That’s up 14 percent from 1988.

Cheryl Calebro’s pal Clancy. | Courtesy Cheryl Calebro

In the LGBTQ+ community, the most recent Harris Interactive survey confirms that an estimated 70 percent of adults in our community have pets living with them in their homes.

For a lot of individuals who choose not to have children, pets fill that role and non-human companions become much loved family members.

Kino Jackson is a native New Yorker who works in the corporate travel field. Following several visits to Charlotte, he decided to make the move to the region because of a more affordable cost of living and the opportunity to build his dream home. 

After he and a long time best friend did just that in August 2016, they settled down together in the Charlotte suburb of Indian Land just across the border in South Carolina, near Lancaster.

Jackson, however, had been dealing with health issues dating back to 2004. Following an accident and bounce back from temporary kidney failure, the issue later returned, forcing him to turn to dialysis while waiting for the hope of a replacement kidney.

But that didn’t stop Jackson from living life to the best of his ability. 

Kino Jackson’s canine pal T’Challa. | Courtesy S.K. Jackson

In late 2018 he acquired a canine friend, which was something relatively new to him at the time, Jackson admits.

“In New York I had three cats,” he recalls. “Cats are self-sufficient and they seem easier, compared to dogs. Dog ownership is very different.”

A mix of lab, Pitbull and German Shepherd, the two friends discovered the dog through an ad on craigslist and decided on the name T’Challa, named after the Marvel Comics Superhero The Black Panther.

With a sizable breed mix like that you’d expect the dog to be exceptionally large. As it turns out, T’Challa is on the medium side, coming in at about 32 pounds.

“But he can still be so greedy for food,” Jackson laughs. “If you’re eating he’ll sit and stare at you. He’ll watch as the food goes from your plate to your mouth. And if you acknowledge him, he’ll put his paw on your leg.”

Besides being a source of comic entertainment, the dog has been there for Jackson and his friend, during both good and challenging times. 

“T’Challa is very sensitive, Jackson explains. “To what we go through everyday. He always lets us know that he is there for us, not just for play and to be fed, but as an emotional support animal. He’s very intelligent. It’s like he knows what you’re saying. Sometimes I could believe he was a human in a past life.”

Even though T’Challa is relatively young and a mix of breeds that tend to be fairly active, Jackson confirms the dog is relatively sedate.

“He’s chill. He’ll just lay there between the two of us when we’re watching television and he’ll chase a ball of you throw it, but he doesn’t bring it back. He’ll just sit and play with it on his own.

“He does enjoy tug of war, and he likes going on car rides and travel in general. So sometimes we’ll take him to the dog park so he can get exercise and play with other dogs. But it’s funny sometimes. If you’re going somewhere and you tell him he’s staying home, he gets an attitude.”

Naptime with T’Challa and Kino. | Courtesy S.K. Jackson

For wannabe dog owners who haven’t taken the first plunge yet, Jackson has some advice.

“You can get attached and they can get extremely attached. For me, at first, it was about the companionship. But then I realized it’s a huge responsibility. So think about it, do your research, because this is their life and you are everything to them.”

For Cheryl Calebro, nothing could be further from the truth than recognizing her pets as family. 

A native Charlottean, Calebro lives in Pineville near the quail corners area and works in the healthcare industry.

Long an ally to the LGBTQ community, she has volunteered with the NAMES Project when the quilt has been displayed in the region, was a regular volunteer with the now defunct Metrolina AIDS Project (MAP) and remains involved with RAIN. 

Prior to 2019, it was status quo to catch Calebro at Charlotte’s annual Pride celebration. “Like everyone else, I missed it for a couple of years because of the pandemic,” she says. “I wasn’t able to go this past year, but I’m looking forward to going again.”

These days it isn’t uncommon for people not to have children in the manner past generations once did. Calebro hasn’t had children, although she does have a house full of fur kids.

“I have eight cats and one dog,” Calebro explains. “The dog is a Chihuahua and she’s a total diva named Mia. She will only eat if I feed her by hand from a plate!”

Mia | Courtesy Cheryl Calebro

With so many cats around, the question arises, how does Mia fare surrounded by so much feline energy?

“She was a bit bossy when she first got here, but about half the cats are bigger than she is, so they were quick to put her in her place,” Calebro chuckles. “So everybody gets along okay just fine now.”

Among her feline posse, the three oldest are Calliope a tortoise shell, Jinx, a grey tabby and Skye, an orange tabby.

Each member of the crew has their own distinctive look, personality and backstory. 

Clancy, who sports a beautiful black coat, was just 15 months old and an underfed four pounds who came from a house owned by a hoarder. Luna is a mixed calico and white tabby. Cooper, also a tabby, is orange and white. Riley and Scott. are both black and white tuxedos that look very similar although a key marking makes it simple to tell them apart: one has a nose with two black spots while the other only has one black spot.

Calebro proudly claims the badge of crazy cat lady, but quickly points out that the trend of collecting homeless dogs and cats and animals in need dates back to her childhood, and is a habit she shared with her siblings and parents.

The condominium community she calls home isn’t far from apartments that are largely transitional. “And, unfortunately, a lot of people who move in and out quickly tend to leave their pets behind,” she explains. 

“So we’ve had a lot of feral and homeless cats. Between myself and two others who live here, we’ve been able to catch them and have them either spayed or neutered. But every once in awhile a new face you don’t recognize shows up.”

Calliope, Jinx and Skye. | Courtesy Cheryl Calebro.

Calebro confirms the roaming cat population in her condo village has decreased substantially over the years, although a few remain, cared for by herself and other neighbors.

While it’s clear she’s a lover of all animals, her predominant focus remains with the care of the pets she directly shares her life with.

“It’s a lot of work,” she confirms. “Ten litter boxes that are scooped twice daily, pads placed strategically around the house (for those times when a quick dash to to your litter box of choice isn’t quite an option) and all the feeding. I have no doubt the budget for their food is more than what I spend on myself!”

According to Calebro, feeding time sounds something like a mixture of Chess and that old game known as Twister.

“They are very particular about where they eat,” says Calebro. One cat dines on the top of an antique storage wardrobe while others share a bowl. Two others have their own separate tables and another two have plates strategically placed at certain points on the stairwell.

When it’s bed time, some of her friends share her sizeable bed, while others choose to sleep in their own individual beds or places they’ve chosen to their liking.

Although Calebro is clearly dedicated to her family of four legged friends, she knows that pet ownership is not for everyone. 

‘People don’t understand that it’s a lifetime commitment,’ she insists. “It’s like a child. You can’t just take it back because things aren’t going smoothly, and not realizing that leaves a lot of animals homeless. 

“Our neighborhood was over run with cats [because of that]. It’s very important to be responsible and to spay and neuter your pets.

“Sometimes I find the responsibility can seem overwhelming,” Calebro continues. “But all the work makes it so worth the effort. The pure unconditional love they return. What you give they give back. And it’s so sweet to come home after work, open the door and see all those sweet little faces waiting for you.”

An interesting and not too surprising footnote to Calebro’s story — she hopes to acquire a piece of property in the near future where she can create an animal sanctuary.

Author’s note: since this interview was conducted, Calebro’s Chihuahua Mia unexpectedly passed away. 

David Aaron Moore is a former editor of Qnotes, serving in the role from 2003 to 2007. He is currently the senior content editor and a regularly contributing writer for Qnotes. Moore is a native of North...

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