Tina Ellis was preparing her dog for a kayak ride on Emigrant Lake last weekend when she noticed something hanging from her pet's mouth.
She soon realized that 30-pound Ginger had swallowed a piece of monofilament fishing line, and she immediately feared a hook might be on the other end of the line.
Ellis rushed Ginger, a 4-year-old Decker rat terrier, to the Southern Oregon Veterinary Specialty Center in Medford, where a set of X-rays confirmed her fears.
"You can tell in the X-ray, there was this big, giant hook," said Ellis.
A veterinarian taped the fishing line to Ginger's neck in an attempt to keep the hook in place, and then put her under to surgically remove it from her stomach.
The procedure cost Ellis $3,000, and Ginger will spend the next three weeks recovering — not jumping or playing — and refraining from her favorite activity of chasing squirrels at Ellis' property in rural Ashland, which is within walking distance of Emigrant Lake.
Ellis and her husband, Jim Kurtz, will monitor Ginger closely in hopes that her 6-inch incision doesn't become infected.
Ellis hopes the incident will be a call to action for local fishermen, reminding them to clean up fishing gear rather than leaving it behind.
She suspects Ginger swallowed a hook with bait still attached, not something that washed ashore because of the lowering lake level, though she acknowledges more debris washes up as the lake level recedes.
The couple was at the second boat ramp at Emigrant Lake unloading their kayaks when Ginger swallowed the hook, and Kurtz said a PVC container for discarding monofilament was close by.
"A lot of people fish right there from the dock," said Kurtz. "Line really needs to be disposed of."
Kurtz said that with area lakes being particularly low this year, cleaning up fishing debris is imperative.
"The lake can drop a foot in a day," he said.
Ellis said that while it isn't a frequent occurrence, she has seen discarded fishing gear left behind at Emigrant before, and at other waterways in the area.
Volunteers with Oregon nonprofit group SOLVE, which organizes cleanups along waterways and ocean shores each year, regularly find fishing materials left behind.
"Derelict fishing gear on our coasts and rivers — it's one of the biggest things we encounter," said Joy Irby, program coordinator for SOLVE. "Every year, we find all kinds of debris. Animals can get caught up in that fishing gear, and they can choke or swallow it."
Irby said that while it was unfortunate to hear what happened to Ginger, she said similar incidents are common.
"That's so sad to hear about," said Irby. "It seems like it happens pretty often."
Former state senator Jason Atkinson of Central Point was part of an initiative that brought disposal receptacles to sites along rivers throughout the state.
"It was a way to make it easy for people to do the right thing," said Atkinson, who believes the receptacles have been successful in reducing the amount of debris left behind by fishermen along rivers.
"On the rivers, it's had a real impact," he said. "As tragic as it is for that dog, it largely is changing."
Ellis said that she hopes that sharing what happened to Ginger will serve as a reminder to anglers to properly dispose of monofilament and hooks and for passersby to join in the effort to clean up debris they see, too.
"My wish is that if people see monofilament or hooks or lures, they would pick them up," she said. "It's something the public should be aware of."
Teresa Ristow is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email her at email@example.com.