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Community Leaders and Their Pets

A Few of Billings' Brightest Share Ways to Make an Impact and the Animals Who Complete Their Family

Article by Stephanie Hower

Photography by Trevan Hiersche

Originally published in Billings Lifestyle

A community thrives through the efforts of those who take charge and strive to make it a better place to live. Though they all come from different backgrounds and pursue different courses, these five leaders share at least two common threads: a desire to help shape their community and a love for the pets in their family. We explore what drives them to make an impact, and how their pets make an impact on them.

Jeff Ewelt, executive director of ZooMontana

How do you stay involved in and make an impact on the community? What gives you the most satisfaction?

I have been incredibly fortunate to have the platform of ZooMontana to be an active community member. For me, the part I most enjoy is tourism promotion of not only Billings but the entire Southeast region. There are so many wonderful treasures in this area, and I enjoy helping to be the voice for them. I also love using the zoo as a community gathering place, a place where families create memories and nonprofits can raise money.  \Our partnerships with the Billings Chamber, NextGen and other nonprofits in town have been invaluable.  

His Canine Companion

+ Effie, a 10-year-old pug

How did your pet join the family?

Effie came to us as a surrendered pet through the organization Pug Pals. We were actively searching for an elder pug and came across her plea for a home on Facebook. We couldn’t resist!

Why is having a pet so important? Describe her impact on your life. 

For our family, the importance of a pet is twofold. For one, we love giving older animals a fantastic retirement. It is a chance for us to give an unwanted animal a second or sometimes a third chance. But on top of that, Effie is a companion that doesn’t care about your mood. She is there to greet us on the best and worst days, happily wagging her tail. Despite the day, she always brings a smile to our faces. It doesn’t hurt that Effie likes downtime too, something that we all love in our household!

Janine Mix, retail consultant

How do you stay involved in and make an impact on the community? What gives you the most satisfaction?

The way that I stay involved in the community is through advocating for small businesses and fostering continued growth and progression for Billings. I stay active by attending city councils, supporting local businesses, engaging young professionals and participating in many different groups that strive to continue to move our city forward. The thing I enjoy most about being involved in the community is connecting more with the people in it. I have met so many incredible people in this city that have inspired me and truly touched my life. The people are what makes this city so inviting and draws your heart to it.

Her Canine Companions

+ Kota, a 6-year-old Labrador retriever/Rhodesian ridgeback mix

+ Kilo, a 2-year-old shepherd/husky mix

How did your pets join the family?

Both of our dogs were adopted from Yellowstone Valley Animal Shelter. Kota stole my husband’s heart with those sweet eyes, and I seized that opportunity to finally get a dog! Kilo came four years later when I took one of my monthly "just looking" visits to the shelter. Ryan, my husband, made me promise we weren’t going to get another dog but when I left that day after meeting Kilo, I knew he needed to be part of our family. It took a lot of convincing and a few tears, but we are so happy he became part of the pack.

Why is having pets so important? Describe their impact on your life. 

I think what I love about having a pet is the unconditional love and the closeness that you can feel toward animals. Sometimes when we are all snuggled up, I just look at them and think, 'this is a wild animal.' I am often grateful that we are given a gift to be this close to nature. I find a deep comfort in my dogs. When the stresses of life seem a bit heavier, it just takes a wag of the tail or a look in their face to make it all melt away. The way they explore and the pure joy they have when we go on adventures gives us such a positive perspective on life. I feel blessed to have had so many incredible dogs in my life and am pretty grateful for the impression each has left with me.

Jennifer Mercer, marketing and public relations consultant at Avitus Group and host of Montana Matters on KTVQ

How do you stay involved in and make an impact on the community? What gives you the most satisfaction?

I started getting involved in the community when I first moved to Billings by volunteering for a ton of local nonprofits. It was my way of getting out and meeting people in my new town, but it quickly became an addiction! There are so many amazing ways we can serve our city and help it become a better place to live, work and play. I love getting to be a part of making sure the children of our community will have a place to live that they can be proud of.

Her Canine and Feline Companions

+ Allie, a 7-year-old black Labrador retriever mix

+ Honey, a 1-year-old yellow Labrador retriever

+ Chloe, a 20-year-old cat 

How did your pets join the family?

I adopted both my kitty Chloe and my older dog Allie from local animal shelters. Allie was very sick, but after over a month of treatment she survived and became a mascot in the years we were at the Depot together! I purchased Honey for my dad for his birthday, but they were not the right fit together…so now she is a much-loved part of my fur-family instead."

Why is having pets so important? Describe their impact on your life. 

As a single person, these fur babies are my constant companions. I can’t imagine my life without them! They bring constant smiles to my face.

Tim Hedin, owner of SkiBoot Rx and head raft guide for Absaroka River Adventures

How do you stay involved in and make an impact on the community? What gives you the most satisfaction?

I have tried to be active in the Billings community because one must give back to the community that supports us. I really try to support Eagle Mount and the Silver Run Ski Program to the fullest extent I can. These two programs help kids and adults live to the fullest extent.

His Canine Companion

+ Legend, a 6-month-old yellow Labrador retriever

How did your pet join the family?

I really need to mention two dogs. Chaco was my 10 1/2-year-old chocolate lab that passed away last February. She was the ultimate shop dog known by everybody who came to the ski shop or rafting company. We went everywhere together. I was destroyed when she died. I made the decision, quicker than I thought I would, to get a new puppy. Legend is my new puppy.

Why is having a pet so important? Describe their impact on your life. 

I'm single, no kids. A dog for me is my best friend, companion, business partner. If you are the dog following Chaco you are going to be a Legend, so thus the name.

Angie Stiller, owner of Stiller Insurance and Financial Services

How do you stay involved in and make an impact on the community? What gives you the most satisfaction?

I love supporting Montana business as well as local organizations, at-risk youth and teens. Tumble Weed is an organization that is dear to my heart; giving direction to these kids is imperative to the success of our city in the future. I also love highlighting hard-working people here in town through my social media outlets.

Her Canine Companion

+ Rogue, a 1-year-old French bulldog

How did your pet join the family?

Rogue was a birthday present for my husband, Blade. Blade and Rogue are of course best friends.

Why is having a pet so important? Describe their impact on your life. 

We live in a very fast-paced society, and stress is everywhere. Having Rogue in our lives gives us time to detox from the rate race. I mean, look at his face! Puppy love is better than any antidepressant on the market.

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