Olympic athletes rely on the encouragement of their friends, family and fans. But many U.S. Olympians also have furry, four-legged friends who have offered them constant support as they worked toward the 2012 Games. Here's a look at eight U.S. Olympic athletes and the canine companions and feline fans that love them.

 

Michael Phelps

When you live with a swimmer who boasts 16 Olympic medals, it’s only natural that you’ll be expected to swim — even if you’re a dog. According to Phelps’ mom, Debbie, her son plans to share his love of the water with his pups, Herman and Stella, and teach them to swim. Herman, a bulldog, was an only child until November when Phelps appeared on the "Today" show to discuss his training regimen. While he was there, the Olympic swimmer met shelter dog Penelope, a Catahoula mix who was appearing on the show’s “Bow to Wow” segment. The two went for a walk on the plaza, and by the time they returned to the studio, Phelps had decided to adopt the dog and rename her Stella.

 

Venus Williams with her dog Harold[skipwords]Venus Williams[skipwords]

This tennis star likes to bring her 5-year-old Havanese, Harold "Harry" Reginald, along to competitions whenever possible. "You're out there on your own and you need a friend who's there for you — wins, losses — and who really cares for you," she said in a U.S. Open promotional clip. "I've found that someone, and that's Harold."

 

Jordyn Wieber

Both Wieber and her dog, a Shih Tzu and Yorkie mix named Lucy, are known for their high energy levels, but the 16-year-old gymnast admits that her dog is a little crazier than she is. "She has a crazy personality. You’ll always catch her running around our house. She loves going for walks and she’s just a really hyper dog."

 

Ryan Lochte

Lochte, who recently donned a custom-made red, white and blue grill on the medal stand, is known for his love of rap music. The gold-medalist even named his dog, a Doberman known as Carter, after Dwayne Michael Carter Jr. who's more commonly known as Lil’ Wayne.

 

Tony Azevedo and his cat, SnowTony Azevedo

This water polo star has a special relationship with his cat Snow, an all-white feline he adopted after some kids in Montenegro threw her into the ocean. Snow loves to chew on wet hair, so Azevedo was the perfect match. Azevedo says he and his feline friend have a regular routine when he’s home. “She loves to watch me cook at night when I come home from practice. Then, once I’ve eaten and settled onto the couch to unwind before bed, she climbs right up on me to snuggle. It’s our nightly routine,” he told Cat Fancy.

 

Natalie Coughlin

The most decorated female athlete at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics isn’t just a swimmer — she’s also an urban farmer. In addition to growing much of her own food, Coughlin also keeps five chickens. “Chickens are probably the easiest pet you can have. You just provide them with shelter, food, water, and protection and they're happy. We get three to eight beautiful eggs a day — greenish-blue eggs, pinkish-brown eggs — and they're as fresh as they possibly could be,” she told the Sierra Club.

 

Christine Loukas

Although Kona, the Olympic diver's black Labrador, doesn’t dive, she does help her owner with cardio training. Kona frequently accompanies Loukas on runs — and often shows her up. “She is a much better runner than me, so she helps pull me along when I start to get tired! She’s a great training partner,” Loukas told petside.com.

 

Carmelita Jeter

Jeter may be fast, but she’s not the only speedy one in her home. The American sprinter has five rescue cats — Sticks, Tye, Iverson, Casper and Tango — and she says they’re known for the kitty races they have at home. “They constantly run around the house chasing each other as if they are in a track meet. It’s really cute,” she told Cat Fancy.

 

 

Click for photo credits

Photo (Venus Williams): Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

Photo (Tony Azevedo): CatChannel.com