EL PASO – For Stephanie Vazquez an ordinary day begins at 5:30 a.m. with a hot shower, then an egg and chorizo burrito and before she can leave for school, she has to start the day off properly for her unlikely family.
The Vazquez family, living on the outskirts of the Eastside, consists of a fish, a gecko, two hamsters, three turtles, nine cats and 11 dogs. The pets are her companions while her soldier husband is in training in San Antonio. Vazquez also shares her home with three more conventional relatives – her father, mother and younger sister.
Almost everyday a warm affectionate greeting is offered to the 27 non-human house members. Then a comforting massage is willingly taken by many of the house members. Next, a much needed poopoo break and lastly the house members are walked back to their beds for a morning nap.
On a warm September evening, on her way home from school, Vazquez found five of her house members inside a cardboard box on the side of the road. The box contained five kittens, not big enough to fit in the palm of her hand.
The moment Vazquez, 23, an assistant manager at a jewelry store, fixed her dark brown eyes on the kittens she knew they would be coming home with her to join the other 22 pets that she calls family.
“They’re my bebés,” Vazquez calmly explains. But after a face splitting smile and a brief giggle she confided that she probably feeds her pets better food then she does her husband.
“I have a pretty big yard. I have a couple of them inside. I have a couple of them outside with their own homes and heaters,” Vazquez said, her voice taking a comic tone when she mentions the heaters.
Vazquez is the sole provider of all her pets. On average she spends $524 a month on food and care for her “babies.” She acquired her pets in different ways, but she feels that her inability to reject any animal is the real reason for her expanding family.
Vazquez occasionally volunteers at her local Humane Society. On one of her visits Vazquez met a one-year-old brown haired Chihuahua that stole her heart. Pequeña, adequately named, had distemper and Vazquez helped nurse her back to health. “She is probably the closest to me since I was with her all the time,” Vazquez said adding that the coupons that came with Pequeña when she adopted her helped buy pet food.
According to staff members at the El Paso Humane Society, adopting a pet consists of filling out an application and signing a contract. Every adopted pet comes with a discount coupon for food and each animal is micro-chipped and sprayed or neutered.
Vazquez admits that having many pets is a lot of work. She spends up to two hours a day playing with her pets. Fortunately she has a large yard in which the dogs can run and play saving her the time of having to walk them. She has a good job that allows her to maintain all her pets adequately. “I think I am already at that point where my parents are not allowing me to bring [home] any more pets. So I’m staying at 27,” Vazquez chuckled.
Dr. Gail Patrick, veterinarian at the St. Francis Veterinary Clinic, said having 27 pets may be difficult to manage, but if there is enough room for them and they are with a caring family it should not pose any problems.
“All my pets are well taken care of… I am just an animal lover,” Vazquez said proudly.
Full time UTEP student, Andrea Castro, 22, is also an animal lover. She shares her Northeast home with her father, sister, boyfriend, four dogs, two cats, two bunnies and five turtles.
“My whole family loves animals,” Castro said with a shrug.
Castro, a multimedia journalism student, checks on a daily basis to ensure the cats have food, water and takes the dogs outside for a walk. Her turtles are currently hibernating in the backyard.
“With cats they eat a lot so we’re constantly having to refill their bowls,” Castro said. “In the morning before I leave [for school] I check to see if the cats have food and for the dogs we have a huge bowl for their food and water and the same goes for the rabbits. It’s not a daily schedule [for the dogs and rabbits] it’s more like every three days we check to see if they need water and food,” Castro said.
Castro said she has always loved dogs, even after a large German Shepherd attacked her when she was seven years old, leaving two minute scars on the left side of her face.
“I was still in love with big, huge dogs, even after that,” Castro admits.
Castro has adopted most of her pets from a shelter on the far-East side of town. She believes that one of them, Princess, a mutt, was abused, and is still traumatized by the experience. Princess is affectionate but is easily frightened and runs away if she feels your tone is threatening.
“That is why we really don’t discipline our dogs because we don’t want them to look at us as their abusers,” Castro said.
Castro also confesses that her parent have nurtured her natural instincts to care for animals. Their backyard has a statue of the religious figure St. Francis of Assisi, the saint known as the protector of animals.
Love of animals runs in the Castro family. “My father likes animals,” Castro added.
On a monthly basis, the family spends roughly $117 on pet food, grooming and the occasional veterinarian visit. Castro’s father, Cesar Castro a law enforcement officer, is the main provider for the pets but every member in the family (of the human kind) pitches in to cover the expenses.
“We have no problem buying them food… my Dad doesn’t complain about spending,” Castro said.
All of Castro’s family members sleep indoors in their own beds. The exception being the five turtles in the backyard soil, hibernating. Castro’s spacious home and backyard is more than accommodating to her 13 non-human family members.
For more information please visit or call:
Local Animal shelter services 915-842-1000