Throwback Thursday Pet Stories

Do you remember your first pet? Silly question. Of course you do.. But are you ready to take an honest look at how you did as a pint-sized pet owner?

My first solo pet was one of those little “hand-painted” turtles – the kind that used to be available at carnivals and Chinatown. Sadly, my lil tuddah, like so many others, lived in a tiny plastic aquarium with a fake palm tree.

I must have been about four-years-old. I suppose my parents thought they’d walk me up the responsiblity ladder with an “easy care pet.”  I remember feeding Tommy Turtle a pinch of some tiny kibble-like substance – and Crayons. I remember my older siblings being assigned the task of helping me clean his turtlearium in our shared bathroom sink – when the smell of turtle funk would overtake my room. Meanwhile, one can only imagine how much salmonella we spread around the family.  

Mostly I remember zooming around my bedroom, holding Tommy in my hand - so he could “fly.” In a four-year-old’s mind, this is a generous gesture.  But now, wondering what this hapless creature must have been thinking, the memory makes me cringe.

One day Tommy went missing. I’d probably set him down, distracted by something shiny, or faster moving, and he wandered off. We think. All that is really known is that Tommy popped up in the bottom of my toy chest weeks later. Long after we’d stopped looking for him. I think my mom assumed the cat had absconded with Tommy.

I remember being elated at finding Tommy. Alive. But I also remember he didn’t live long after he was rediscovered. The burial services were performed out by my mudhole. 

I suppose I landed in the middle of the pack when it comes to being a responsible pet owner – especially for a pre-kindergartener. But that’s a very cruddy Bell curve. When you really think about it.

If properly cared for, turtles like Tommy can grow to be a foot long, and are capable of living for decades. Needless to say, my poor turtle did not. Thankfully, the practice of selling these turtles was outlawed in 1975. Because for Tommy – and the millions of baby chicks, ducks, hampsters and parakeets like him – being a little kid’s first pet ultimately cost him his life.

The holidays are coming. And so are the kiddoes’ pleas for a pet. My hope in writing this is that parents will think long and hard before bringing any critter into their household. Little pets hurt just as much as big ones when not properly cared for. So let’s skip the ”trainer” animals - in Tommy’s memory.

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CATSTRAVAGANZA~ Coming to a shelter near YOU!

Grab a couple cans of cat food or a sack of kitty kibble and adopt an adult cat for free during CATSTRAVAGANZA this weekend.

Four local shelters are waiving their adoption fees in an effort to find loving homes for adult cats, and to make room for more homeless felines, said Barbara Talbert, director of Jackson County Animal Services.

The free adult cat adoption event will be from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 9 and 10, at each of the facilities — Southern Oregon Humane Society, Sanctuary One, Committed Alliance to Strays (C.A.T.S) and the county shelter. All available adult cats will be at least one year old, fully vaccinated and spayed or neutered. Many will be micro-chipped, Talbert said.

Local animal shelters are overflowing with adult cats, after what has been a very long kitten season that persisted throughout the warm summer months and into the fall. The four shelters have a combined total of approximately 400 cats and kittens either in their facilities or in foster homes awaiting adoption, she said.

Kittens won’t be available for free, but will be available for adoption at regular fees.

Food donated at the adoption event will be used at the shelters and any excess will be given to ACCESS, Talbert said.

For more information, please contact:

Kenn Altine, Executive Director, Southern Oregon Humane Society, 541-779-3215;

Sansa Collins, Animal Care Manager, Sanctuary One, 541-899-8627;

Barbara Talbert, Manager, Jackson County Animal Services, 541-774-6644;

Jan Whetstone, Volunteer Executive Director, C.A.T.S., 541-779-2916;

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Cats! Cats! It’s all about the felines this week!

Head on out to the Jacksonville Barn Company’s fundraiser benefiting C.A.T.S. of Medford from 6 to 8 tonight.

Food and drink will be provided, along with live music and a raffle featuring cat-related items and local wine. Donations of money and tangible items needed by the C.A.T.S. organization will be accepted. Jan Whetstone executive director of C.A.T.S will be on hand with adoptable cats and kittens.

Jacksonville Barn Company is at 150 S. Oregon St., Jacksonville.

And look for our story in tomorrow’s Mail Tribune about four local shelters which are hosting CATSTRAVAGANZA weekend.


Original watercolor by Sanne Specht

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Welcome back to Unleashed

Welcome critter lovers.

The two naughty parrots, the most venerable moggy and yours truly are glad to be back sharing the latest news, stories and anecdotes about our finned, feathered and furry friends. We’re kicking off our return with a little show ‘n tell based on Sunday’s Southern Oregon Journal column. Read about how our efforts to clear space for a couple new beloveds resulted in some artistic finds which I’d believed lost to a watery grave.

Yep. Big doings at our little cottage on the Rogue. We’ve been busy getting ready for the additions of a new roomate or two - The Professor and his spotted moggy, Pinknose. During the cleaning, hauling and general sorting, we found these treasures of the heart from our Sainted Mama. Stay tuned!


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Ten Bucks a Tom

A recent story about the plethora of unclaimed adult cats at Jackson County’s animal shelter begs the proverbial question: Why do we have so many unwanted pets?

The obvious answer is irresponsible pet owners who do not spay/neuter their animals – letting them wander about procreating willy nilly. The folks at SNYP (spay/neuter your pet) put it well in their blurb announcing July’s efforts to get unfixed tom cats…er… snipped - for the low, low price of $10.  

Summer is all about warm evenings, soft breezes and lots of back alley action. And while we’re enjoying backyard BBQs, unfixed toms are cruising the streets looking for action, they said.

Less than 30 percent of cats that are fixed are males, yet they contribute to the cat overpopulation problem more than any single female. Unalterered male cats does not have a heat cyle. He’s always ready. So let’s do the math. While a female cat can have up to three litters a year, an active male cat can be responsible for impregnating dozens of females which can result in hundreds of kittens. 

Thanks to SNYP, beginning July 1 anyone in Jackson County can get their male cat fixed for just $10. This will not only help save lives by cutting down significantly on the pet overpopulation problem, neutering your tom also reduces spraying, cat fights and injuries.

So get it done, folks. Please.  

Certificates will be sold at Pet Country, Medford Mini Pet Mart on Stewart and the Grange Co-ops in Medford, Ashland and White City. For more information, email SNYP at

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Houdini dog takes it on the lam

Woof! Woof! Woof! Gotta love a good dog tail….er… tale. But this one has gone a bit viral.

Speaking of viruses… Jack, the beloved German Shepherd of Marsha Bellici, was deathly sick with some sort of funky flu last week when Bellici shagged her pooch to Best Friend Animal Hospital in Medford.

Both Bellici and her vet, Dr. Shannon Sierra, had concerns about Jack’s survival based on his symptoms. Poor fellow had pneumonia-like chest rattles, zero appetite and was placed on IV antibiotics. We are talking sick as the proverbial dog, here.

Little did anyone know just 72-hours later, after Jack busted free from his Medford vet’s office ,tripped burglary alarms, door locks and caused heart palpitations in the humans desperately searching for him, he’d end up home safe – and an internet star?

The story hit Tuesday’s paper and took off like a jack (sorry) rabbit. MSNBC,,, (Toronto Star) and hopped on the Houdini dog train. There are dozens more, including, which describes itself as the official message board of the Washington Redskins football team.

It’s been the most read story in the Mail Tribune for the past two days. Editors are now second-guessing Jack’s original placement. Perhaps he should have been on the front page, as suggested by our city editor as a joke.

Personally, I thought Jack’s story was fun. Loved that the police responded to the alarms twice and saw the large dog at large in the vet’s office.

But for a really compelling story, check out this one about Titan, The 150-lb Great Dane who went missing for 16 days in Portland, only to be reunited with his Ashland owner after being rescued off a muddy cliff by a tiny slip of a woman.

Meanwhile, there’s this recent column where my own critters  are vying for their 15-minutes of fame – and giving me a heart attack in the process.

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Kids, cow manure and llama kisses

I’d been trying to get out to Sanctuary One at Double Oak Farm to do a story about Ashland Middle School students’ experiences at the care farm for a solid week. But inclement weather and breaking stories on my “real” beats – courts and social services – kept getting in the way.

Finally, on Monday, the sun shone brightly and the courts’ cases eased. By mid-morning I was on my way, driving down winding roads, enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of the beautiful Applegate Valley.

Life is pretty good when I get to go on a critter assignment, especially when it takes me to Sanctuary One. There is something healing about even being at the farm. I also love the fact the last-chance rescue takes in”unadoptable” animals not from the public, but from other facilities. 

Sanctuary One affords these creatures comfort and care for the duration of their lives, unless or until a proper adoptive home comes available. Many of the animals are aged. Most have suffered some form of abuse and/or neglect. Some still bear the scars - and worse.

Stevie, one of their several goats, mostly walks on his knees due to deformaties and injuries caused by a neglectful owner who didn’t bother to trim his hooves. Lisa the 700-pound Yorkshire swine was rescued from a farmer who’d beat her because this not-so-little piggy used to break out of her lonely enclosure and seek companionship down the road.  

The students were clearly happy to be there and seemed eager to learn about everything from composting cow manure to what makes a llama tick. But I was most curious to see how they would interact with the animals. It was heartening to see their compassion. The ‘tweens were well-mannered, respectful and kind.

Best of all, I was thrilled to see the changes wrought in the critters. By the end of the middle-schoolers visits, some of the animals, previously fearful of human contact, were now letting these curious kids approach them. One anxious llama actually turned amorous, giving a bashful boy a kiss. Another aged sheep, notorious for her stand-offishness, actually let 13-year-old Madison Crook, who’d been initially leery of the llamas, crouch by her side. The woolly one even accepted a friendly stroke or two from the gentle girl.

Like I said, Sanctuary One is a place of healing. Even if you’re just watching it happen.

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Free horse health fair in Ashland




The Oregon Hay Bank and Equamore Foundation are sponsoring a free horse health fare from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on April 9 at Eden Farm, located at 4723 Highway 62 in Ashland



 Horse owners facing financial hardship are invited to participate in the free clinic which will feature veterinary assessments, de-wormer, hoof care, equine chiropractic, and an equine nutrition specialist, all at little or no cost to qualifying participants.

Vaccinations may be offered by participating veterinarians who are drastically discounting their time as an acknowledgment of the hardship some horse owners are facing in providing for their animals during challenging economic conditions.


Horses will visit a series of “stations” in the professional. After finishing at each station, the horse will progress to the next, until the animal has visited all the stations its owner wishes.

Owners wishing to participate should call for an appointment. Appointments will be first come, first served, and scheduled in thirty minute increments. Limit two horses per owner. NO DROP INS ACCEPTED.

Oregon Hay Bank Executive Director, Julie Fritz, stated that this is the fourth such event held in Oregon by various equine welfare organizations.

“Darla Clark of Strawberry Mountain Mustangs held a similar event in Sutherlin last May and cosponsored one again in December of 2010, and the Oregon Horse Welfare Council hosted one in Albany in to get their animals the care they needed, and at little to no cost. We knew that there was a real need for another event in the forward to providing services to more horses and the people who care for them.”

 To register call Julie Fritz at 541-671-0164 at 541-671-0164

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My pets are messing with my head

As I explained in this week’s Southern Oregon Journal column, there are those who say that critters hath charms to sooth the savage breast - not to mention elevated blood pressure.

Mine? Not so much. At least not lately. My aged feline – a “gift” from my beau, The Englishman, recently went totally berserk over a nocturnal interloper. My parrot has been fighting invisible foes in the wee hours of the morning. And I am pulling my hair out trying to keep up with their antics. And retain some semblance of sanity.

This weekend the aforementioned beau’s snoring drove me from my own bed - and into the guest room. Squiggy followed and tromped around on my head, stepping on my hair. Then she hopped up on to the dresser – where she stumblefooted her way thru my miniature perfume bottle collection. Crash! Clunk! Tinkle! ARRGH!

How about you? Has Spring brought new zaniness to your life – via your beloved pets? Or do your kitties sit quietly purring in your lap? And do your parrots murmur sweet nothings in your ears? Just wonderin’…

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Ashland Pets have advantage in fire rescues

This just in from Ashland Fire Chief Margueritte Hickman:

Ashland Fire & Rescue received a donation of pet oxygen masks from Invisible Fence Brand through Project Breathe. This is a program aimed at helping firefighters care for everyone in the family after a fire, including the family pet.

Veterinarian Dr. Alice Sievers of Bear Creek Animal Clinic will be volunteering her time to teach Ashland firefighters how to use the pet oxygen masks and evaluate pets that have been rescued from a fire.

Pet oxygen masks will be carried on Ashland Fire & Rescue engines. This program will provide a better way to provide oxygen only to animals who are victims of a fire.

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    Sanne Specht

    Sanne Specht is the Mail Tribune's education reporter, Southern Oregon Journal columnist and Unleased blogger by day. By night she is companion to several mutant goldfish, a duo of rowdy parrots and a most venerable cat. Read all about the ... Read Full
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