Fur, feather, shell - prime ingredients for a family menagerie

So many to choose from!

Article by Whitney Grunder

Photography by Kate Cooley/Cooley Portraits

Originally published in Boerne Lifestyle

For the Rust and Voulgaris families, their homes are a true expression of their love for animals. Rhonda and Micah Voulgaris and their children, Marley and Reese, along with Rhonda’s parents, Randall and Marzi Rust, have turned their property into their own private animal sanctuary. At first glance, the beautiful ranch located on Rust Lane between Boerne and Bergheim is just that, a gorgeous and quintessential Hill Country landscape. Take a closer glance, though, and you will find a menagerie of pets adding quirky and fun character to this sprawling family home. Rhonda says her kids play a huge role in caring for the animals. Twelve-year-old Reese already has big plans to be a wild game keeper. 

Reese and her 14-year-old sister Marley actively participate in the 4H Club and take part in the Kendall County Jr. Livestock show. They raise show pigs which requires the sale of their animal to build their college savings. Sale day tends to be the most difficult day of the entire year for the girls and the only thing that seems to ease the pain is the adoption of a new animal.  They have added a new family member every January for the last four years. A philosophy seems to be developing here, when you sell the latest 4H animal, you get to adopt a new pet. In fact, most of these pets are rescues or strays the family has taken in. This explains why this family is almost at full capacity. Thanks to the ranch, though, the animals in this family have a plethora of land to roam freely.

In visiting the ranch, you might first notice Bubba and RJ, the family mules. The kids love to feed them apples and pears, and they spend hours outdoors playing with them. Not far behind are Rosie and Pretty Girl, the momma cows that you can feed by hand. Every year new calves are born, the Rust-Voulgaris call “the Boogies,” they have an innate ability to find an open gate to sneak into the yard, garden, or pool area.

There is also Gus, a potbelly pig who lives in his house next to the garden.  Gus enjoys performing a sociable flop on his back to attract belly rubs from guests who come to hangout by the pool. He roams freely on the entire ranch and has a reputation for deterring the wild hogs. As soon as hunting season arrives, though, Gus faces a few more restrictions. He happens to know where every deer feeder is located (including the neighbors') and can be found standing under them at the exact time the corn falls. Gus puts on a fair amount of weight feasting on the corn in the winter, but in the spring and summer he enjoys all the fresh produce from the gardens. Sometimes Gus must be restricted to his pen for a diet to avoid too much weight gain. Rhonda adopted her first potbellied pig in 7th grade and has had two other pigs that both lived long and happy lives on the ranch. She hopes Gus will also enjoy a peaceful and healthy existence on the ranch, with several years’ worth of belly rubs in his future.

When bird season hits the little dogs Baily, a Maltipoo, Deuce, a Dachshund, and Charlie, a Chi Weenie, are thrilled to watch. Annie, a Vizsla is the family bird hunter while Buck, a Basset Hound Mix is terrified of anything resembling a gun shot and is known to hide in a closet at the sight of a gun. The highlight of the dogs' day is to take a run around the property following the girls on their bikes. While they love to be outdoors hunting and playing, the dogs also enjoy plenty of indoor naps.

In 2017 Rhonda’s sister moved to Amsterdam so they adopted her three cats to “protect” the barn. Poncho, Reesey Paws and Marley Blue love to be cuddled but spend their days catching mice and relaxing in the barns.  When they first arrived Marley Blue accidentally took a ride into Boerne under the hood of the truck. He jumped out when they arrived at church, but they could not catch him. Four days later he showed up on the front porch, about 7 miles from where they last saw him. He had to cross Main Street, and travel down Highway 46 to make it home. He made it clear he wanted to live on the ranch and has never crawled under a hood again. Thomas, the house cat, prefers to stay indoors with his humans and is the only cat the five dogs accept as their family.

Another factor that makes this ranch so unique is that it includes an outdoor enclosure which spans 4,000 square feet – the perfect environment for reptiles. Sissy the “tiny one” is a 4-inch Russian tortoise, Torty “the big boy” is a six-inch Russian tortoise, and Jersey the “big one” is a ten-inch Sulcata tortoise.  Torty was adopted from the Central Texas Tortoise Rescue. The family is currently waiting to adopt Titus, another Desert tortoise from a friend who can no longer care for him. They grow all their tortoise food including lettuce, vegetables, and grasses in the garden. They receive lots of attention, though one of these beloved reptiles is quite the escape artist. Sissy was gone for ten days in May, but then found her way home with the help of a friend who saw her walking down the road.

Finally, the ducks, Milo and Otis both females, conveniently share the tortoise area. These ducks do not try to fly out or escape as they are quite content hanging with their hard-shelled neighbors and take care of all the insects trying to move in.

The Rust and Voulgaris families hope to continue to expand their collection of pets. Multiple generations live on this land and truly love caring for it. Every member of the family is invested in looking after their animals and continue to grow their knowledge about them. What better way to bond as a family than to spend time outdoors with a diverse troupe of wildlife? While at times chaotic, their moments as a family are never boring. After all, with each new addition to the family, there is a new adventure and a new story to tell.  

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