The Big 10 with Jeff D'Alessio, March 23, 2014

The Big 10 with Jeff D'Alessio, March 23, 2014

Today is National Puppy Day, which is not to be confused with Hairball Awareness Day (April 25) or World Veterinary Day (April 26). We asked 10 local animal lovers to share memories of their first pet — and how that cat, dog or hedgehog led them to where they are today.


Shelter manager, Champaign County Humane Society

Pet: Salty the white cat

"His mother followed us home and gave birth in our house. My mother found a home for the mom and the rest of the kittens and we kept Salty.

"We were living in Virginia at the time and my father was with the State Department. When Salty was about a year old, we were transferred to The Hague, Netherlands, where we taught him to walk on a harness and leash. We'd take him with us everywhere, just like you might a dog. I remember driving from The Netherlands to Denmark with Salty in the car. We would hide him at all the border crossings — pre-European Union.

"When we moved back to the States five years later, not only did we bring Salty with us but also Duffy the scotty dog and Gus the guinea pig. You should have seen the look on the customs guy's face at JFK Airport when this family with five kids and all these animals showed up. I like to think the motto of my family was 'no pet left behind.'"


Obedience instructor

Dog Training Club of C-U

Pet: Frau the adopted dachshund

"The dog never liked me — not even a little. I used to show my teeth at her across the room and she responded with two raised lips right back at me. She would ask to be lifted onto my parents' bed, then thank me with a nip to the hand that just helped her up. I'm pretty sure she is the reason I became very interested in dog training.

"Shortly after Frau's arrival, my mother was diagnosed with cancer, which required surgery and follow-up treatments. Mom spent the next few months mostly in bed with the little black and tan wiener dog constantly at her side. It's been more than 50 years since then and my mother will still tell you that the only reason she got through it was that dog."


Veterinarian, Arcola's Animal Health Care Center

Pet: Bandit the border collie mix

"He was the first of many successive Bandits at my parents' farm. My dad must have liked to stick with a winning formula by giving the next dog the same name.

"His end of days definitely impacted the direction my life would take. I must have been about 10. As I recall, he had a twisted belly and the veterinarian was unable to save him. I wanted to learn how to help dogs in the future.

"Well, I have been a veterinarian for almost 26 years. And I know how to do the surgery that could have saved Bandit."


Director, 4-H Memorial Camp, Allerton Park, Monticello

Pet: Ojo the raccoon

"At age 8, my brother and I adopted a tiny, orphaned baby raccoon. My brother named him — he said Ojo meant 'mask' or 'eyes' in Spanish, but I couldn't verify that.

"We fed him from an eye dropper initially; then, as he got bigger, he would sit at the table with me at breakfast time and pick the little colored marshmallows out of my Lucky Charms cereal.

"Ojo was never in a cage. He lived outside and was always free to go — which, as an adolescent, he did."


Veterinarian, Owner, Animal Clinic of Paxton

Pet: Bingo the Australian cattle dog mix

"We picked out his name as we were driving home from getting him and saw a sign that said 'Bingo on Saturday.'

"I was about 16 when we got him. I originally went into accounting/business when I started college. But I missed him so much that I joined the companion animals club and realized I was surrounded by others who loved animals, too. They were all in the pre-vet program. I decided to take one pre-vet class and see if I loved it. I did. I changed my major to pre-vet, and the rest is history."


Veterinarian, Champaign's Animal Hospital at the Crossing

Pet: Penelope the African pygmy hedgehog

"A lot of hedgies can be hard to socialize because when scared or threatened, they huff up their sharp quills and curl into a ball, making them very difficult to hold. But she loved everyone.

"As an undergrad at the U of I, I would take her to Pre-Vet Club events and the ACES Open House for kids to pet her and learn about hedgehogs. Her favorite treats were giant mealworms — yes, live ones — which everyone got a kick out of her eating because they were so big."


Co-owner, Fetch! Pet Care of C-U

Pet: Sadie the kitten

"She was a 3-day old kitten that my family rescued, along with the rest of her abandoned litter. My mom, sister and I raised five, all-white kittens by bottle-feeding, cleaning and loving them. It took a lot of coordination — they were all identical at such a young age, so we had to make sure we weren't overfeeding one and not feeding another.

"They wiggled around so much, we had to get multiple cardboard boxes to tell them apart. Once fed, cleaned and pottied up, they went into the 'Done' box."


International cat judge

Pet: Bubbe the red tabby shorthair cat

"Bubbe was dumped on the farm I grew up on outside Ivesdale. Her name, I was told at the time, meant 'dear one' in Yiddish. I have since come to learn it means 'grandmother.'

"I expected her to behave like a dog — to mind me and always come to me. One time while camping near Sidney, Bubbe disappeared. I was heartbroken. No amount of calling her name would bring her back to me. Fortunately, she had tucked herself on top of the tire of the car. I found her lamenting and meowing.

"I learned that cats are not like dogs — they are fiercely independent. I also learned they were going to be an important part of my lifetime to come."


Veterinarian, Okaw Clinic, Tuscola

Pet: Maynerd the Siamese mix kitten

"I adopted him from a family in my first year of veterinary school. He was a sleek black cat with white markings on his chest and paws.

"My roommate and fellow veterinary student also adopted a kitten so the two of them could play together and provide entertainment to break the stress of studying anatomy, bacteriology, physiology and all the other ologies.

"One of Maynerd's many unique skills was that he would fetch. He busted the myth that you cannot train cats."


Adoption supervisor, Champaign County Humane Society

Pet: Emily the toy poodle

"I was around 6 when we got her. Despite her small size, she was the guardian of the house — before bed she would go around to each of the rooms to make sure everyone was in bed and safe. I remember my parents telling me she would start crying and pace throughout the house if one of the kids was at a sleepover. After she had deemed the house safe, she would curl up on one of my pillows.

"She was a fantastic first pet that opened the door to loving animals."

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