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Updated Monday, November 12, 2012 at 07:12 PM

Dogs, cats have their rescuers … amphibians have The Frog Lady

By Erik Lacitis
Seattle Times staff reporter

By third grade, growing up in the Detroit suburb of Grosse Pointe, her nickname was "Froggie."

Thayer Cueter then, and now, has loved everything about frogs.

She is 50 and in the intervening years, her admittedly rather unusual passion has remained undiminished. She now proudly calls herself The Frog Lady.

This is a woman who wants to get into the Guinness World Records with her 10,000 frog collectibles that include an astounding 400 Kermit the Frog toys, 490 plush frog toys and 20 pairs of frog pajamas, each different.

She says about frogs, the live kind, "They're whimsical, they're cute. It's hard to explain. They're fragile. It's not easy being green."

So it should be no surprise that Cueter runs an animal-rescue place in Edmonds specializing in ... frogs.

She and her volunteers take in those exotic frogs bought at pet stores and that the owners no longer want. The frogs come from warmer climates and would struggle and likely die outdoors in the Northwest.

Dogs, cats, horses all have their passionate champions. Why not frogs?

The nonprofit Just Frogs Toads Too! Amphibian Center, now has 16 frogs, 11 toads (a subclassification of frogs; toads generally have drier and bumpier skins), as well as 30 turtles, four tortoises, three geckos and a tarantula in its small rental just below the Arnies Restaurant on the Edmonds waterfront.

As people found out about the center, they began dropping off more than just frogs.

Over the years, Cueter figures she's taken in several hundred amphibians. Around Edmonds, she's become known and, on some days, she says, 100 people stop by.

Maybe it all started, Cueter says, because she was born on St. Patrick's Day and early on began getting gifts that were green. The gifts were often frog-related, frogs being associated with that day, along with leprechauns, snakes, corned beef and liquored-up celebrating.

As a kid, she spent summers at her family's cabin in Michigan, hanging out at a nearby pond, mesmerized as she watched the metamorphosis of tadpoles into frogs.

She remembers taking those injured by a lawnmower to the vet, then back home to treat their cuts with Q-tips soaked in antibiotic until they were well enough to be released.

Cueter's mom was a nurse, and together, they "rescued everything that hit the sidewalk — birds, cats, squirrels." At one point, she says, their home had 26 assorted animals.

In school, Cueter's locker was plastered with frog stickers, frog magnets, frog wrapping paper. She hung a mirror on the inside of the locker that was, of course, in the shape of a frog.

In 10th-grade science class, she refused to dissect a live frog (though the next year she agreed to dissect a dead one in formaldehyde). In those days, in the late 1970s, it wasn't uncommon for biology classes to take a live frog, stick a pin through the back of its head, keeping it alive but destroying its brain.

These days schools tend to shun that method.

The Seattle Public Schools does no dissection of animals, although that's mostly because it has no budget for such projects. At the University of Washington, one biology class does use the needle method so students can see organs still working, although the needle "pithing" is done by trained staff, not students.

With her interest in helping animals, Cueter enrolled in a veterinary-tech program, got a license and began working in clinics.

In 1990, Cueter ended up in Seattle, began working at vet clinics, and in 1997 decided to do something about her zeal for frogs.

She opened the doors on Main Street in Edmonds to a gift shop that specialized in frog merchandise.

"You would not believe how many people are frog collectors," she says.

Right away, she says, people began bringing in live amphibians.

Maybe somebody found a turtle that had been run over by a car, maybe somebody had decided they were too sick themselves, or had just plain gotten bored, to take care of a pet frog.

The store bounced around a couple locations and eventually moved to its waterfront place.

The sound of frogs greets you even before you walk into the center. Cueter has put together a CD of Pacific treefrogs — also known as Pacific chorus frogs, the state's official amphibian — that she recorded over many nights. Inside, she never loses her enthusiasm about pointing out the rescues.

There is "Rocky," a toad that arrived sick because it had ingested a bunch of aquarium rocks that had to be squeezed out. And "Tank," a red-eared slider turtle left outside the center in, of course, a tank.

Sometimes the rescues travel to schools for show-and-tell where Cueter tells about the plight of frogs worldwide as their populations experience dramatic declines. Sometimes she hosts kids parties that feature the rescues, the proceeds from which all go to the center.

It costs money to keep the place, something like $2,800 a month, what with rent, vet bills and the mealworms, waxworms, crickets, dog food, vegetables and fruit to feed all those amphibians.

When the money is short, Cueter makes up the difference. She had quit her vet-clinic job to be full-time with the center, but now she'll have to go back to a steady paycheck.

She is asked if the frogs have any discernible personalities.

"Of course they do!" Cueter says. "When they get hungry, they stare at the top of the cage, waiting for food to come down. And see that one, it's not happy at the dirty stand and staring at it until I clean it."

For three years before coming to Seattle, Cueter was married.

These days, she says, it is the amphibians that take up her time.

Says Cueter, "The Frog Lady is still looking for a prince. I've kissed a lot of frogs, but they stay frogs."

Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or elacitis@seattletimes.com


COLIN DILTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Thayer Cueter, also known as The Frog Lady, shows off two White's tree frogs at the nonprofit Just Frogs Toads Too! Amphibian Center in Edmonds. The pair of frogs are a nonnative species from Australia.




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