Tips for Picking the Perfect College Pet!

Danny in front of fishThere’s no argument that the number one thing all college kids absolutely love is animals. There’s nothing like flock of students who sprint to pet a newly discovered dog on campus. Often students think about getting a pet of their own for companionship and stress relief. In some cases, these decisions turn into great human-pet relationships while in others a complete disaster. Having cared for and owned practically every available pet in the book here’s some advice on getting a new companion during your college career.

Firstly, you should note that the on-campus housing limits you to nothing besides a fish tank less than 30 gallons total per room (10 gallons per person). Off campus housing is much more ideal for keeping pets.  Be sure to check with your landlord for their pet policies and if there are extra required costs before getting a new companion.

Fish: A+ College Rating

My 10 Gallon "UConn" Fish Tank.
My 10 Gallon “UConn” Fish Tank.

I always like to start with fish because they’re one of my favorites groups of animals and often underrated. Not only are there a wide variety of species, colors, and temperaments but many are relatively easy to care for. One of the greatest things about fish is that they are always inside an aquarium. Unlike other animals, like snakes, fish generally stay inside the tank and you won’t have to worry about one frolicking through your dorm or apartment building if they get out!

Fish are an ideal choice of pet in college and a great stress reliever. Watching fish tanks has been proven to lower stress levels and relax people with anxiety. Entire fish tanks can be set up for under $100 and require low maintenance. Small 10 gallon kits are available at local pet stores and are great for easy to keep bettas, tetras, guppies, and other small freshwater community fish. If you are more interested in saltwater fish be sure to do your research as they require different setup techniques, daily maintenance, equipment and are generally much more expensive.

Fish are allowed in UConn college dorms and can be easily transported back home during the summer and winter break with a few secure buckets. Fish, like bettas, are generally very hardy and can go full weeks without feed or negative health effects. Myself and many other fish hobbyists have left fish over spring and winter break without issues. Daily feeding, addition of water to account for evaporation, algae scraping, and checking temperature parameters are the general maintenance. If you want a low maintenance pet that can be beautiful, active, and a fun addition to your dorm room- fish may be right for you!

Rodents (rabbits, gerbils, hamsters, etc): A- College Rating

Generally small and easy to keep- most rodents can make great college pets. Enclosures are generally cheap along with bedding, feed, and the initial cost of the animal. For dorms hamsters, gerbils, or mice are your best bet. They can be easily kept in a 10-gallon tank, generally don’t smell, and require only short daily care (feeding, water, cleaning). Rabbits, rats, and guinea pigs need larger enclosures but are also great choices and are generally very personable. Do your research as species like gerbils and guinea pigs are social animals and prefer being kept with multiple individuals (of the same sex so you don’t get tons of babies). Members of this group also have teeth that never stop growing throughout their lives- so provide plenty of chew toys to prevent dental problems. These animals may require vet visits and spaying.

Chinchillas are also included in this group. They can make great pets but are generally harder to keep as they require daily dust bathing to keep their coat in good condition. They also don’t love being handled and are more expensive.

I have gerbils and rabbits currently and they are great college companions! They are very easy to drop off at a friend’s house for short term leave care.

Hagrid, my Enchi Ball Python.
Hagrid, my Enchi Ball Python.

Reptiles and amphibians (snakes, lizards, frogs, etc): B+ College Rating

Reptiles and amphibians can be great pets. One of the easiest pets to care for in this group are snakes. With 2 ball pythons, a Kenya sand boa, and a western hognose snake I can attest to their ease and benefits of ownership. Snakes (depending on age, size, and species) only have to be fed once every 5 days to 2 weeks! You may have to deal with frozen mice and rats but the low frequency of feeding gives you plenty of wiggle room if you must leave for a few days. Snakes also don’t gain much from human interaction- they can get used to being handled and are usually docile but don’t require daily stimulation like other animals. They enjoy being curled up under their log on a heating pad. Do a quick YouTube search and you can find easy cheap setups for all species in this group. With these species, you generally want to watch humidity and temperature levels- please look up safe parameters before purchase.

Frogs, lizards, and salamanders are also good choices. These require more regular daily feeding but may be much more fun to watch than snakes. Geckos and bearded dragons (in the right enclosure and proper care) are great college companions. If you’re more adventurous you may venture into a living dart frog & plant setup. Frogs and salamanders should not be handled regularly.

Turtles and tortoises are also included in this group. I don’t suggest them as the best choice for college students as tortoises require very large enclosures and more involved lighting and feeding requirements. Aquatic turtles release lots of waste into their tanks and require constant cleaning.

Be wary of salmonella in this group. Wash hands before and after handling!

Birds (parrots, finches, budgies, quail etc):  C- College Rating

I’m going to make this one quick. Birds are my favorite animals. That being said, I understand that parrot species require a tremendous commitment of time, energy, and money. They require regular vet visits which adds up quickly in costs for us broke college kids. They are also generally noisy and messy which makes them less than ideal for communal living. Many species can live extremely long (up to 80 years) which means they’ll be around a large portion of your life. They also have extremely high attention needs- comparable to that of a young child. Budgies (parakeets) may work well as they are small, cheaper, generally hardy, and don’t live quite as long. Finches and button quail may be a better choice if you really want a bird in college but these species dislike being handled. My advice would be wait to get a parrot until after college!

Dogs and Cats: C- College Rating

You can compare my view of keeping dogs and cats in college to my stance on keeping parrots. They are a BIG commitment. Most dog breeds require very frequent stimulation such as walks and play time. Both cats and dogs need specific vaccines, regular vet visits, and spay or neuter surgeries. These costs along with their initial purchase costs, upkeep (feed, treats, toys, litter, etc) are way too much for the average college student to be responsible for. Only buy an animal if you know for sure you can financially support and keep it healthy in great living conditions. Apartments often make you pay extra to keep dogs and cats on their properties. You also must worry about finding caretakers for dogs and cats even if you are just gone for a day. Obviously, these animals make fantastic companions and can improve mental health and stability. I know people who have cats and dogs successfully in college – but I would advise against it at this stage in our life.

Juanita, my Mexican Red Knee Tarantula.
Juanita, my Mexican Red Knee Tarantula.

Other (ferrets, sugar gliders, tarantulas, scorpions): A+ to F College Rating

 A wide variety of species can be placed in this other section. From the easiest of all pets, Madagascar hissing cockroaches, which can go months without food and are virtually indestructible, to the hardest to keep marmosets (small primates) which should not be kept as pets at all.

Ferrets, sugar gliders, or a hedgehog may make a great college companion instead of a dog or cat. Please do research before purchasing. Sugar gliders require very specific feeding and care rituals. All three should be brought to a vet regularly and are not good choices for first time pet owners.

If you are not the squeamish type- tarantulas and scorpions make unique, interesting, easy to care for pets. I have 4 tarantulas currently. They can be kept in small containers, only have to be fed a couple times a week (crickets and other live bugs), and are generally very hardy. These invertebrates are often only sold at reptile expos.

If you are a livestock or horse person just go visit the barns on campus and get involved with animal science groups!

The Story of Buttercup

Buttercup and Alyssa at the Dairy Show
Buttercup and Alyssa at the Dairy Show

I spent a lot of time in high school and the beginning of college worrying that I would never find anything that I was passionate about. Everyone made such a big deal about it—counselors and teachers were always encouraging us to pick a major or career that we love. When I was applying to college I intended to be a nursing major, but once I got in I promptly changed my major to chemistry and then again to biology. Nothing felt right. I was getting closer—I knew I liked the healthcare industry but I wasn’t quite there yet. Finally—I don’t remember how I came to this realization—but I figured out that I wanted to work with animals and not people. I came to UConn officially as an animal science major, with the intention to go to veterinary school. Still, this just didn’t feel exactly right, but I was getting closer, so I stuck with it.

During the spring of my freshman year, I received an e-mail about participating in a dairy show, no experience necessary. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I went to the meeting anyway.  I knew I needed some experience with large animals if I wanted to be competitive for vet school. I learned that I would pick a dairy heifer, train her to walk and set up, groom her, and finally show her in front of a judge in a few months. They had a list of names of the animals we could choose, and I picked a random one: Buttercup.

I started working with Buttercup a few times a week, and every time I went down to the barn it was the highlight of my day. The first few practices, I got her used to wearing a halter and being handled. This involved a lot of petting her and brushing her. Once she got used to me, this also involved a lot of her using me as a scratching post. Eventually, we got to the point where I could walk her a few steps here and there on a lead, and finally we could even walk outside. As the show got closer, I got to give her a bath and clip her fur so she would look just right. As I was working with her, it amazed me how gentle and kind these animals could be, and how much of a personality each specific one had. I was slowly falling in love with dairy cows, and I’m not sure that I even knew it was happening.

On the day of the show, everything went fairly smoothly, and Buttercup and I placed third out of six in the intermediate class—most of the people had shown once or twice previously. I was so proud of us, but putting her back in her pen after the show made me sadder than I thought it would. I realized I would no longer be spending my days down at the barn working with her. Afterwards, I visited the heifers every so often, but that wasn’t enough. Eventually, I was lucky enough to get a job working at the Kellogg Dairy Center, milking the cows that we have on campus. I love working with them. One of the best parts of the job is working with calves. I knew someday soon Buttercup would be moved up from the heifer barn to the milking barn; I checked every time I worked to see if she was there yet.

Betsy on the night she was born
Betsy on the night she was born

Finally, the day came when I walked into work and checked the pregnant cows to see if anyone had calved before we got there, and I saw Buttercup in a stall with a tiny brown calf who must have just been born minutes before we walked in. I was so excited to be the one working when she calved, and I even got to name her baby: Betsy. This night is when something just clicked; I knew that I wanted to work in the dairy industry. I had finally found the thing I was passionate about that had always seemed impossible.

Unfortunately, Buttercup got sick shortly after she calved and a few weeks later, I found out that she was definitely not going to get better. I was devastated, but it was nobody’s fault, and I had to accept it and look for a silver lining. I found this in Betsy, who I’m very excited to show in this spring’s dairy show.

You don’t have to know what your passion is right away. It took me 18 years to find mine, and it came from an unexpected place. When I signed up to participate in the dairy show, I thought I’d just train a cow, write it on my resume, and move on with my life. I never thought that I’d fall in love with an animal and change my entire life plan, but that’s what happens when everything falls into place. I mention Buttercup on every application I submit and in every interview I have when I’m applying for jobs and internships, and it’s worked: this summer I will be interning in Washington DC, advocating for agriculture policy that supports dairy farmers. If you’re still trying to find your passion, I’ll leave you with this final advice: Go out of your comfort zone, don’t be afraid to say “yes”, and be open-minded. You’d be surprised at what might make everything make sense.

“In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn”

Hanging out with Prince before lessons!
Hanging out with Prince before lessons!

Last semester I had the opportunity to intern at the Camp Care Inc. Therapeutic Riding Program in Columbia, CT. Since I am minoring in Therapeutic Horsemanship Education, I was required to learn the basics of running a therapeutic riding program and being a therapeutic riding instructor. Throughout my internship, I had the opportunity to work with many different riders and instructors. Besides learning about why we do certain stretches with our riders, how to work with riders who may decide they don’t want to ride anymore mid-lesson, and safety practices for if things go awry, the Camp Care program gave me much more than I ever anticipated.

On my first day I met Kirsten, one of the riding instructors and my new mentor. She welcomed me with open arms and made me feel as though I’d been there for years. She quickly “taught me the ropes” and I jumped in with two feet. The barn work was easy to get used to, especially coming from a horsey background. I knew the basics of feeding, cleaning up, and exercising horses. What was completely new to me was working directly with the riders. Although I was a camp counselor for a few years at my local horseback riding camp, I had never had the opportunity to work with children with special needs.

Appa and Spirit giving each other scratches before being lunged.
Appa and Spirit giving each other scratches before being lunged.

For my first lesson, I got to work with Jake, a spunky teenager who suffered a traumatic brain injury. I quickly learned when the lesson started that Jake is an extremely determined and strong rider, despite his limited use of his body. Watching Jake steer his horse Mandy around obstacles, through poles, and over bridges simply amazed me. What was even better was that he laughed and smiled throughout the ENTIRE lesson. Naturally, I couldn’t help but laugh along with him. By the end my internship, we had switched Jake around to three different horses, tried out new obstacles, and had him ride without using his hands to practice his balance. He attacked each challenge with enthusiasm and would put 110% into everything that we asked of him.

Dressing up for Halloween with Galli.
Dressing up for Halloween with Galli.

Now I don’t think he realized it, but as I was teaching Jake, he was teaching me too. No matter the challenge, he pushed through and didn’t let his disabilities stand in his way. This made me step back and look at my own life in a new perspective. When I was feeling down and had a seemingly never-ending list of things to do, I would think of Jake and his determination. This immediately helped me to change my attitude and look at my to-do list as a challenge rather than a burden. I changed my mentality from “I can’t do this” to “I can and will get everything done”.

Jake also taught me to celebrate my achievements, no matter how small, to push myself and my limits in order to be better, that laughter is the best medicine, and that when you make a mistake, fix it, and move past it. Every Wednesday I would get to start my afternoon off with a smile and end my first lesson with a big high five. Jake will always hold a special place in my heart and I am grateful that he was not only one of my students, but one of my teachers as well.

Backyard Biodiversity and Sustainability

UConn Heron
A heron standing at the edge of UConn’s Swan Lake

As we walk around campus we seldom think about the ecological diversity that surrounds us. Each structure, flowerbed, and field at UConn has a different biodiversity than that of neighboring communities, suburban areas, and the planet as a whole. All of these ecosystems are interdependent and affect our health and livelihood, but it is no secret that we are consuming more natural resources than the earth can sustain. As an Animal Science major with a minor in Wildlife Conservation, I have been able to explore how all species adapt to physical and environmental changes. The biggest threat to biodiversity is habitat loss due to the effects of natural and human-induced factors such as agriculture, over exploitation, and industrial pollution. After taking a course in wildlife management, I learned a lot about the different techniques used to influence the plant and animal species that progress in a given territory. I began to develop a passion for sustainable living and actions that can increase earth’s biodiversity.

The perfect place to begin creating a stronger ecosystem is your very own backyard. It is not crucial to distinguish the specific biological needs of all plants and animals, but there are essential elements for most species. The four basic needs for wildlife include food, water, shelter, and nesting. The first step is making a plan that suits each asset of the yard. Consider potential habitats and water sources for different species. Target species may include animals that are endangered or of special concern. The second step is implementing suitable horticulture practices. Get rid of invasive species and cultivate plants native to the area. Planting trees and shrubs provides sources of food and shelter for wildlife. Allowing them to grow up to different sizes will attract a plethora of species that can Continue reading

A Few Not-So-Typical Reasons Why I Chose UConn

Thinking back to senior year brings back all the stress of having to choose where I was going to go to college. After submitting applications, waiting to hear back, and then having the list of schools from which to choose, I thought the decision would be a lot easier than it was. As someone who really struggles with decision making, choosing where I was going to spend the next four years of my life was not a walk in the park. Clearly, I ended up here at UConn, but my reasoning might not be what you’d expect. Here are a few reasons why I chose UConn:

Emily and SportsSports. It may sound strange to hear that sports were a major factor in my decision of where I would go to school, after all, I am here to study. But, growing up as an athlete, attending high school games, and watching professional sports on TV, while begging my Dad to take me to a Patriots game, I knew it was something I couldn’t live without. I wanted a school where it is normal to wear UConn gear head-to-toe, or scream and jump around my room when I win the lottery for basketball tickets. I wanted to be somewhere that I got chills watching the teams play and maybe even cry when we win a national championship (for the fourth time in a row). I wanted a school with so much spirit that no matter what team was playing, people were always watching. So far I can say that UConn has lived up to my expectations of what it would be like at such an athletic school, but I wouldn’t mind if Continue reading

My Journey as an Animal Science Major

Kelly and a sheepKelly and a horseComing to UConn has been one of the greatest experiences in my life. Animal science has meant the world to me since I was 5 years old so when I got accepted into UConn I was very excited. However, as a young freshman I did not know exactly what this major was all about. I knew I was going to be learning about animals, anatomy, nutrition, etc. but I never knew that I was going to have the opportunity to start hands-on experience right away.

When I started my journey in the Ratcliffe Hicks School of Agriculture two years ago, I had the opportunity to work a lot with animals through some independent studies. My freshman year, I also took an intro to ANSC course where I had to pick an animal to train. I was assigned a horse, which I thought would be amazing since I have never worked with horses before so I thought it would be a great opportunity to start learning about horses my first semester in college.

My first day training my horse, Tamale, was fun. I remember I groomed her that day, but when I was about to leave she stepped on my toe and it was one of the most painful things in the world. I couldn’t walk or stand on that toe for a while. At the time I did not know how to take the bus so I walked to all my classes on crutches. However, if it wasn’t for my little accident with the horse, I would not have been reassigned to a chicken, where I won first place in the Poultry advance category at Little I. My sophomore year, I had another unfortunate experience while Continue reading

Making the World a More Compassionate Place, One Product at a Time

Me and one of the eight puppies that my dog had last May. He loves Horsebarn Hill and UConn!
Me and one of the eight puppies that my dog had last May. He loves Horsebarn Hill and UConn!

For many people, going to college is their first taste of an adult life. You have to work around your own schedule, make your own meals, and you can’t pile up your laundry until your mom ends up eventually doing it. In the midst of all of these daily activities, in combination with balancing school, health and a social life, it is hard to find time to invest in other activities, let alone something as basic as shopping for makeup and beauty products. However, what many people do not realize is that their choices at the store actually affect much more than just their lives. Being aware of the products that you are buying and using could save hundreds of animal’s lives.

As an avid animal lover, I always feel a huge amount of remorse any time I accidentally step on my cat’s tail or leave my dog home alone for more than a couple hours—an emotion that I know many other individuals can relate to as well. Nobody I know would ever want to purposely hurt a little rabbit or any other animal. Despite this, millions of mice, rodents, dog, cats, and farm animals are mistreated and actually killed each year due to brand testing that is done behind closed doors, funded by purchases made by all of us in our day to day life. Although this is hard to hear and a problem which is impossible to eradicate all at once, very small lifestyle changes can actually have a huge impact on Continue reading

AquaLife Club- Get Your Fish On! Plus tips for keeping your pet Betta happy and healthy

Aquarium“No pets except for a 10 gallon fish tank.” For many UConn students this was a sad thing to see when first going through your housing requirements. The thought of leaving fluffy the bunny or max the dog at home is almost too much for some students. Even for me, an animal science major, the thought of not being able to bring my collection of feathery and scaled creatures was daunting. But I wasn’t too nervous, as setting up and running different aquariums had been a hobby of mine for many years. So much so that I decided to capitalize on UConn’s pet rules by starting a club that educates students about the aquarium hobby by building its presence on campus. By October of freshman year I was submitting my constitution and other required paperwork for my new organization. Not much later AquaLife club was born with a stellar executive board made up of a few of my recently made friends and none other but Dr. Steven Zinn, the head of of the Animal Science Department, as our advisor.

Aqua-Life Club LogoIn the past semester our club has grown into a fully functioning student organization with almost 30 active members, weekly meetings, and our first fish tank project on the schedule. One of the main goals of the club I hoped to achieve when I first formed it was to install and maintain aquarium of different kinds around campus. Almost like the Animal Planet show Tanked but on a smaller scale. I thought the tanks could help with stress relief on an already hectic campus, as fish are proven to help calm humans and ease anxiety, all while increasing knowledge of the hobby. Our first tank will be a 29 gallon freshwater community tank and will be placed in the Animal Science Department.

I’m hoping AquaLife club will continue to grow and long outlive my career at UConn. It’s a great example that at UConn you can start a student organization from nothing if you have the passion for it and it is not already offered. Continue reading

Heels Down. Chin Up. – How Horseback Riding Impacted My Life (For the Better)

Hanging out before our practice with Dennis at the 2012 Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, FL.
Hanging out before our practice with Dennis at the 2012 Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, FL.

As a 10 year old girl in middle school I decided to finally “grab the reins” in fueling my horse obsession and begin taking horseback riding lessons. Ten and a half years later, I would have never thought that I’d be riding and competing at a collegiate level. Throughout those years spent at the barn I’ve learned many things that have shaped me into the person I am today. It all began in 6th grade, when I would clean horse stalls three days a week as a trade for riding lessons. While my friends were socializing, I stayed at the barn so I could work for as many lessons as possible. If I wanted something, I would have to work for it. I’ve learned to apply this lesson to many aspects of my life, for example, getting good grades, being accepted to college, and getting a job. I feel that life is very easy (and boring) when things get handed to you all the time; but working hard and earning something makes the results that much better.

Riding also instilled in me the 2 P’s: patience and practice. There’s a saying “if you’re not a humble person, your horse will make you one;” truer words have never been said. Horses help prove to every rider that when something goes wrong, 99% of the time it’s the riders fault. At first I would think, “I fell off because my horse twisted the wrong way” rather than “I fell off because my leg was WAY out of position.” Nobody made me fall off but myself. I try my best to apply this same concept to my life in general. Got a bad grade? It’s not the teacher’s fault. I just need to study harder. Didn’t get the job I wanted? I need to think about what I can do to improve myself in order to be a better candidate. Learning to stay humble and exercising my Continue reading

Gators and Tigers and Kids, Oh My!

Fred and I after the Crocodiles and Alligators presentation
Fred and I after the Crocodiles and Alligators presentation

If there were one word to describe the summer of 2015 for me, it would be “unexpected.” I never anticipated the degree to which my internship at Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo would positively impact my life.

I had known of the zoo’s summer internships since the spring of 2014. However, I didn’t apply until this past winter with the help of a good friend and fellow applicant. We both applied for the Animal Care and Education internships. The Animal Care internship allows interns to indirectly work with the animals (categorized as Predator, Hoofstock, Farmyard, or Rainforest) through tasks such as diet preparation and feeding, enrichment, and some training. The Education internship entails caring for the education animals (reptiles, rodents, small mammals, and birds). It also includes activities such as conducting on-site presentations to school children and educational talks at the zoo.

Me practicing proper alligator restraint with Fred
Me practicing proper alligator restraint with Fred

Ultimately, I was selected for a more flexible Volunteer Office internship. Although this unexpected decision was disappointing at the time, it would turn out to be a blessing in disguise. This internship was only 2 days per week, which allowed me the extra time needed to succeed in my Physics summer classes. My main responsibility was to stand at various animal exhibits and present about the respective animal to the public, utilizing satchels that contained fact sheets about the animals and “bone clone” model skulls. Later in the summer I assisted with Zoo Patrol. In this one-week program, children ages 6-14 hear zoo keeper talks, receive behind the scenes tours and hands on learning, animal enrichment activities, and participate in games and crafts. I also was able to learn about Predator and Rainforest diet preparation through my friends in the Animal Care internship. Finally, I had the privilege of learning one method of alligator restraint with Rainforest Reptile Shows (Fred, the alligator I am pictured with, was part of a roadside “zoo” for many years and was only fed hot dogs, causing him to develop metabolic bone disease. With the care of Rainforest Reptile Shows, he is now healthy and well). Continue reading