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Meet the First Cat of Tulsa, Spencer Bartlett

posted May 15th, 2012 by
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by Sherri Goodall

Photos by Sirius Photography

MEET SPENCER BARTLETT, the first cat of Tulsa. But you better not blink; Spencer is fidgeting in the Mayor’s arms dur­ing her photos, and it’s very clear that she’d rather be outta there! The minute her four white paws hit the ground, she’s gone! I didn’t expect her to sit quietly in the chair while we did the interview; after all, she is a cat, and she does what cats do best… whatever they want.

Spencer is a lovely “tuxedo” cat—black with white mark­ings on her chest and white paws. She also has white whis­kers, which are rare.

We wondered how she got the name Spencer, assuming it was a male name. Seventeen years ago (before Mayor Bartlett and his wife, Victoria, were married), Spencer was a shivering kitten stuck in a tree in Newton, Kansas. Victoria was visiting her brother in Newton at the time with her two daughters, one of which (Ann) heard mewing outside during a snowy Thanksgiving night. Ann’s uncle rescued the cat who immediately snuggled into her arms. The bonding between kitten and child began.

The kitten was found on Spencer Street, so now you know the rest of that story. (Incidentally, Victoria grew up on Spen­cer Street). Ann’s new kitten slept in her bed every night until she went away to college. Since the cat had become so com­fortable and accustomed to sleeping in a bed, she now sleeps in the Bartlett’s bed.

This was pure karma… frightened, freezing kitten; Thanks­giving eve; and a child with keen hearing, which brings me to the question I posed to the Mayor: “Does anyone ever buy a cat?” Most cat owners we know are “adopted” by their cats. Spencer was part of the “dowry” when the Mayor and Vic­toria married. Up until then, Spencer had never muttered a “meow.” She purred, but that was it. “When I began to ‘meow’ to Spencer, she became a meowing little motor mouth,” the Mayor said. Still motivated to speak in the comfort of his arms, she was quite vocal during her photo shoot.

As the one who brought about her voice, so to speak, the Mayor and Spencer have a special relationship and routine. She wakes him every day at 4:30 a.m., and they spend the morning together. He likes to watch the news and read the papers in his great room. After Spencer eats, she settles into the Mayor’s lap. When she becomes bored with that, she takes her favorite perch, high above the Mayor on top of a cabinet, overlooking the great room and the chair where he is seated. Victoria says that Spencer has become the Mayor’s buddy, even though he is really a dog person. (Do not tell that to Spencer.)

Growing up, Dewey Bartlett spent a great deal of time on his father’s cattle ranch near Grove, Oklahoma. Border Col­lies became his pets. He tells the story of Harriett, one of the Border Collies that invented a unique sport. She would grab hold of the hairy part of the cow’s tail and plant her four feet while the cow took off. Harriett “water skied” behind the cow until she would emerge in a cloud of dust.

Fast forward to two years ago, the Mayor had to put his be­loved Trooper down, a 12-year-old Golden Retriever. “I want­ed to get another dog,” he says. “But Victoria convinced me that my schedule wouldn’t allow much time with a new dog.” So, Spencer took up the call, and now she and the Mayor are BFFs, (aka: best friends forever).

As a daily witness, Victoria says it truly is a special bond that the Mayor and Spencer share. “It is impossible to ignore the love and affection a cat innately bestows upon its caretaker,” she says. “Ann’s departure to college was in close proximity to the death of the Mayor’s beloved dog, Trooper. In Ann and Trooper’s absence, the Mayor made it his daily task to serve Spencer breakfast. In turn, she showered him with affection. The Mayor often ex­changed barking sounds with Trooper in playful communication. Much to all our surprise, through imitating him, the Mayor, ultimately, taught Spencer to meow. That daily course of commu­nication won this de­voted dog lover over to the world of feline af­fection. The Mayor fre­quently chuckles and says to me, ‘This is one terrific cat.’”

The Skunk Whisperer

posted March 15th, 2012 by
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by Sherri Goodall

If you’ve seen Skunk Whisperer trucks traveling the Oklahoma roads, you’ll not likely forget them—huge black vans (as in UPS trucks) emblazoned in screaming yellow letters bordered with wildlife creatures. That would be Ned Bruha’s trucks (aka The Skunk Whisperer). His fleet includes a flashy decorated Camaro and an SUV, too.

In 2005, when Ned returned to Fort Hood from active duty in Afghanistan, he confronted a situation that would define his career and his mission: a no trap, no kill, humane wildlife removal and prevention.

Many of the troops had pet dogs when they were suddenly deployed from Fort Hood. A large number of these dogs were released in the country only to form feral dog packs and become a nuisance to cattle and sheep ranchers. One of the ranchers Ned visited proudly showed off a tree decorated with shimmering dog collars and tags from dogs he had shot and killed. Ned was horrified. Here was a problem clearly created by humans. Ned suggested to the rancher using a Great Pyrenees guard dog; it worked. Today, many ranchers use llamas and donkeys to guard their herds.

When Ned started his nuisance wildlife control business in Tulsa, it took off far beyond his expectations. He started by simply removing and relocating squirrels. What he didn’t realize is that squirrels are territorial and would simply come back. Ned’s father told him he was missing the point—he needed to prevent the pests from returning, plus learn to repair the damage they had done.

“Dad, how am I going to do that?” Ned asked his father. “Squirrels chew through metal! Start by learning how to repair roofs,” his dad suggested. Like everything Ned does, he became an expert at repairs, and he also developed a spring-loaded one-way door through which the squirrels could exit, but not re-enter. Voila! No more returning pests to destroy wires, insulation and roofs.

Not only does Ned remove unwanted creatures from owners’ property, he rescues pets who find themselves in compromising situations, such as under houses, in house vents, in attics—mainly gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs, ferrets, bunnies, birds, snakes and cats.

One of his most inventive solutions to furry pets lost in heating and A.C. vents is seemingly so simple, yet so brilliant.

These furry, domesticated rodents have sensitive noses and learn to recognize their owners’ scents, and they know their voices. However, the first order of business is turn off the A.C. or heating unit!

Then, Ned gets the owner’s clothes from the dirty laundry. He’ll pick out a pair of pants, stick the leg in one of the owner’s shoes, and push the whole thing down a vent. He’ll anchor it above. The hamster, gerbil or guinea pig will smell the owner’s clothes and scurry up the pant leg. Is this brainy or what?

Often, Ned will get calls from people with cats under their houses. In one case, a vacant house was about to be demolished, and the neighbor knew a cat was under the house. By the time the neighbor got in touch with the property owner, the cat had kittens. It was winter, and there was no electricity or gas to the house. Ned rigged a box with a hole in it. He put heated dry corn (from the microwave) into tube socks, which he put in the bottom of the box. He then put blankets on top of the heated socks. He placed the box next to the one-way door he installed under the house.

But first he had to crawl in and get the kittens—not his favorite job! He put the kittens in the box, and within minutes the mother came out looking for them. There they were, right next to the exit. Of course, she couldn’t get back under the house, so she relocated her family somewhere else. The tricky part, other than crawling under the house, was making sure the kittens didn’t “bake” in the box. At least it wasn’t a skunk! (Remember: Do not try this at home!)

What about rescuing cats from atop trees? Ned said his father asked him if he had ever seen a cat skeleton in a tree. In other words, cats will come down when they’re good and ready, hungry or thirsty.

As for escaped pet birds, Ned advises the owner to put food in the garage and try to lure the bird in, and then close the door. The thing about domesticated birds is they know their owners, and strangers will just scare them away.

Ned is fiercely passionate about treating all wildlife humanely, even nuisance creatures.

Ned’s mantra: Humans should not try to domesticate animals that belong in the wild or exotic animals that are brought in from other ecosystems. We’ve seen what happens when folks realize they can’t handle that “cute” 3-foot python that then ends up in the Florida Everglades at a whopping 20 feet, gobbling up the native wildlife.

To learn more about Ned, and for a wealth of information and interesting facts, go to The Skunk Whisperer’s website,

Author’s note: When my two Westies would not stop pacing and barking at my fountain (un-filled at the time), I asked one of my yard men to climb down and see what was there. I’ve never seen a human go airborne that fast! All he said was he saw a long tail, beady eyes and teeth. I called Ned, fearing that a 40-lb. raccoon, baby coyote or a rat on steroids had gotten under the works.

After donning long leather gloves and high boots, Ned wrestled a rat—a BIG rat—out of the fountain. I don’t want to know where he released it. He supplied me with a long piece of wood, like a gangplank, so future victims falling into the fountain could climb out, and a Frog-Log™, which looks like a large pool cleaning net. One side is anchored with weights, and the other side has floats. The critters can climb onto the Frog-Log™ and crawl or slither out of the pool or fountain—ideal for ducks, bunnies or pets that fall into pools.

I looked at the Frog-Log™; I looked at Ned. “Seriously? Do you think I’m going to lure creatures of the night out of there? I’ll call the Skunk Whisperer.”

High Aim Assistance Dogs

posted November 15th, 2011 by
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Dogs helping meet their master's challenges

By Sherri Goodall

When you look into Chris Borden’s steady, engaging, clear blue eyes, you would never guess that nine years ago his entire world had shrunk to the small confines of his bedroom. At 12 years old, Chris could no longer attend school, go to church, go out to dinner, play with other kids, or participate in any other social activities we all take for granted.
Chris has Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Dogs helping their masters meet their challengesBriefly, children with ASD show deficits in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication, unusual sensory experiences and repetitive behaviors.

Sitting at Chris’s side is Morgan, a 10-year-old German Shepherd dog.
Her ears stand alert; her eyes focus steadily on Chris, reading his every emotion. She is Chris’s connection to the outside world. Morgan and Chris were partnered in 2003. Since then, Chris is now attending college, interacts with people with a direct gaze (often, people with autism do not make direct eye contact) and converses in an engaging manner. He even speaks to groups of several hundred people about autism with Morgan at his side.

Today is just another miracle, according to Chris’ mother, Janet Borden, as has been every day since Chris first met Morgan. Before Morgan, Janet tried numerous doctors, therapies and medications, but Chris’ condition only worsened. By the time he was 13, Chris was having multiple panic attacks a day and enduring cruel bullying by kids at school. Janet took Chris out of school and decided to home school him. Chris’s condition deteriorated.

It wasn’t until Janet heard about service dogs for children with autism-related disorders that Chris’ life began to change for the better. In 2003, Morgan came to Tulsa with a trainer from a nonprofit support group, which no longer exists. The Bordens made a $2,500 contribution to the support group in order to get Morgan and her trainer. The trainer actually lived with the Bordens for 10 days during which no one but Chris was allowed to interact with the dog. In one week’s time, the Bordens were going to restaurants, malls, church, and other activities outside the home.

Of course, Morgan was by Chris’s side. After the 10 days, Janet found K9 Manners & More and Mary Green. Mary was able to continue Morgan’s training with Chris. Training requirements for autism dogs are different from dogs that assist with physical disabilities. Autismtrained dogs must be solid around people and especially sensitive to their owner’s emotional health. They must sense trouble before it begins, and then be able to assist with or prevent panic and anxiety attacks.
As a result of Chris’ progress, High Aim Assistance Dogs was founded by Janet Borden, Mary Green and Kim Sykes. Lisa Bycroft came on board in 2010. Large numbers of children are diagnosed every year with ASD. Obviously, there is a great need for these specifically trained canines.

Currently, there are four dogs in training at High Aim, and 11 applicants waiting for them. Each dog costs $10,000 to train over a period of two years. The goal of High Aim is to provide each dog free of charge to its clients. High Aim thrives on gifts, donated items and fundraisers. The organization is always looking for volunteers, trainers and puppy sitters. Meet Tedward, a magnificent yellow lab in training for High Aim. He was very busy trying to wow Morgan, who politely ignored him. He rested his giant head on his trainer’s foot, another way of “checking in” with his person. Dr. Stacey Ludlow is Tedward’s trainer. They’ve been together for several months. Stacey is a pediatrician and on the High Aim board. Tedward is learning the basics of obedience, plus High Aim skills and tasks training. They go to classes twice a week. One day soon, he’ll be ready to meet his person/partner.Dogs helping their masters meet their challenges

How can a dog redirect someone’s life that is beset by social interactions that cause panic attacks? One of the first, and most important, tasks Morgan learned With this command, Morgan put her paws in Chris’s lap and leaned inward, putting comforting pressure on Chris until the panic attack subsided. In “Lap up,” the dog climbs completely onto the lap, covering the person with his weight, similar to a weighted vest which is used to allay panic or anxiety attacks in children.

Morgan can sense a panic attack before it occurs, and she will signal Chris by nose flipping his hand, lapping up, pacing around him and/or staring at him with a “hard” face. This alerts Chris to do a brain check. This “brain check” causes Chris to rethink his thought patterns to interrupt the anxiety/panic attack. Morgan has remediated many of Chris’s autistic behavior patterns over the years, so that many of her “tasks” are unnecessary now.

Some of Morgan’s (and other dogs in High Aim Assistant training) tasks include:

CHECKING IN Checking in is one of the dog’s most important tasks. Morgan does this often with Chris to check his thoughts. If she senses anxious thoughts or patterns of sensory overload, she’ll get Chris’s attention to get him to redirect his thoughts.

MAKE FRIENDS When Chris asks Morgan to “make friends,” she’ll hold out her paw to shake hands. This allows Chris to ease into social interaction with other people.

NO VISIT This is the opposite of “make friends.” It tells Morgan to ignore approaching people. There are times when it is inappropriate to interact with a service dog or its owner.

BOUNDARIES Chris uses subtle hand gestures to move Morgan into a body block that places her between him and the public. This allows Chris to maintain his personal space. Morgan often anticipates this task and moves herself between Chris and whoever is approaching him.

WIDEN PERSONAL SPACE Morgan is trained to walk slightly ahead of, and around, Chris in wide circles. This prevents sensory overload, so people don’t get too close unless invited. Personal space issues are critical to people like Chris. (When I first met Chris and Morgan, I asked if I could pet Morgan. I sensed that there was a “boundary” around Chris that I shouldn’t cross without permission.)

This is Morgan’s command to go find Chris when she’s not with him, or to go find someone else upon Chris’s command.

REALI TY CHE CK/REFOCUS The dog is trained to sit or lie beside the handler and allow him to twirl or stroke fur to assist with anxiety, intrusive thoughts and distractibility. Repetitive behavior can be redirected with this task.

All of us that are pet owners know this other dimension of emotional sensitivity between our pets and ourselves. How often is it that we know they sense our discomfort, sadness or anxiety? They’ll come and lay down by our sides, or stick their noses into our hands. I’ve noticed my Westies staring at me with such intensity during stressful times, as if to say… “OK, snap out of it – now!” With such a meaningful and critical goal embraced by High Aim Assistance Dogs, hopefully the needs of so many kids with autism-related disorders will be met.

For more information, and to find out how you can help, visit

Dogs helping their masters meet their challenges

Dogs Team With Brain Fitness Pros

posted May 15th, 2011 by
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By Sheri Goodall

If anyone knows about the dog/human connection, it’s Susan Phariss, founder of Therapetics in the 1990s, which trains service dogs for physically challenged people. She worked primarily with Retrievers and Labradoodles.

She has since left Therapetics and founded Brain Fitness Strategies, a company that uses Rhythmic Movement Training (RMT) as a foundation for advancing brain function and neuromuscular brain development. And, dogs help achieve the program’s goals. The Phariss canine team is Sassy and Gracie, both Standard Poodles, who make up the Animal Assisted Therapy component. Studies have shown that contact with animals lowers stress, anxiety, improves focus and raises brain function. Susan and her husband, Paul, are among a small number of people in the U.S. certified to practice RMT.

About RMT
The exercise program is based on movements that infants make in their first year of life. The rocking motions, lifting of the head, rolling over, putting things in the mouth, crawling, etc. are all part of the baby’s primitive reflexes. By age 3, most of the primitive reflexes are “finished,”‘ allowing the adult postural reflexes to kick in. Sometimes babies skip one or more of these developmental milestones, which causes problems later in life. Adults who have suffered strokes and brain trauma revert to some of the primitive reflexes that inhibit normal brain development and function, leaving them impaired.
An outcome of RMT is improved reading abilities of learning and emotionally challenged kids with issues such as ADD/ADHD, dyslexia, cerebral palsy, and autism. RMT improves brain development to improve written and spoken language in school-age children.

Dr. Harold Blomberg, a Swedish psychiatrist, discovered RMT more than 25 years ago. The program has been successful in treating children and adults with learning and developmental disabilities.

The Bixby Project
Last year, Bixby Public Schools collaborated with Brain Fitness Strategies for a study on the benefits of RMT. Melissa Lytle, special education teacher, reported a 208 percent improvement in reading scores over the control group who did not receive the RMT training.
A reward aspect of the study involved Gracie and Sassy coming to school and interacting with (rewarding) the fifth graders in the study.
One student refused to come out from under a blanket. He kicked, screamed, and basically disrupted the class. Susan and Paul worked with him, using passive exercises. They held and rocked him. (Babies calm themselves through rocking.) After RMT exercise once weekly for five weeks, the boy began interacting in an acceptable manner with classmates. Sassy and Gracie helped reduce the child’s stress and build his confidence. Both dogs were selected and trained to be doggy therapists. Standard Poodles are hypoallergenic, working well with people with immune problems and allergies. The dogs have traveled extensively with the Pharisses, entertaining kids with their antics during school assemblies about friendship skills and positive reinforcement.

The dogs have also promoted the Summer Reading Program in Oklahoma libraries for years. Susan says that getting to work one-on-one with the kids “makes both dogs and kids wag their tails.” The dogs did not become members of the Pharris family at the same time.
Sassy was left behind in a rented house when the people moved and the Pharisses came to her rescue. She had recently had puppies, her coat was badly matted and she was in poor condition.
A groomer shaved her and found infected skin under the mats. “She was tolerant of the shaving, which was hard on her inflamed skin,” Susan recalls. “A week later, she had wormed her way into our hearts and moved into the house with us. We fed, groomed and loved her until she recovered from the emotional and physical trauma of being abandoned.” Poodle Gracie came from a Colorado breeder, after the couple unsuccessfully searched for this kind of dog from Standard Poodle rescue organizations.

How RMT Works
Meet Seth Meyer, age 9, one of Susan and Paul’s’ star students. Seth enters the room in a burst of energy, his dark eyes searching for Sassy and Gracie. The dogs greet him with a flurry of tail wags and kisses.
“Let’s play,” Seth shouts. He grabs a hoop, some balls and toys. Sassy and Gracie leap through the hoop and scramble for the toys and balls. Just holding the hoop still and throwing the toys is an achievement for Seth.

Six months ago, he did not have the hand-eye coordination to hold the hoop steady for the dogs to leap and could not throw the toys. Additionally, Sassy and Gracie are there to bring calm to anxious children. On a floor mat, Seth rocks on his hands and knees for a few minutes “Let’s do the bunny,” Susan says. Seth hops forward like a bunny. Then he stretches out on his back and scoots backwards using his legs to push. Susan grabs a pillow for his head.

“Okay, how many times can you lift your head up and down?” Seth lifts his head up and down at least a dozen times. After he rolls up and down the mat in a rhythmic pattern, he races to Gracie and Sassy for rewarding licks, wags, and playtime. Developmentally challenged children cannot perform these simple actions easily. Their primitive reflexes haven’t “finished” and their brains lack the neural pathways necessary to carry these messages. Six months ago Seth could not lift his head from the pillow without raising his entire torso. When he got on his hands and knees, his legs and hands splayed out. He couldn’t roll over repeatedly, and he couldn’t scoot on his back at all.

Through RMT training, he learned to do all of this, plus track with his eyes without moving his head and converge images (both eyes converge when seeing one image; before, Seth saw two of everything).
His reading and learning skills have improved dramatically, along with his behavior.

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