Rats and cats and frogs, oh my! Grinnell pets

Angela Cao '11 plays with her tree frog Rico T-Pain Suave. - Michelle Fournier

Angela Cao '11 plays with her tree frog Rico T-Pain Suave. - Michelle Fournier

The dual roles of student and pet owner challenge students to maintain the health of both their animals and their relationships with the humans sharing their living space. Owning animals of questionable legitimacy sheds light on how domesticated creatures fit into the wilds of college.

Despite the Student Handbook’s regulation that “cats are not allowed in the residence halls,” a number of students share their dorm rooms with cats in a sometimes unexpected living situation. “It was more of the fact that the cat had been abandoned than the fact that I actually wanted one,” Alex Phillips ’12 said of the kitten he found in a bush on campus at the beginning of the year.

Now named Thurgood Marshall, or Thug for short, the cat was not initially intended to be a permanent addition to Phillips’ dorm. “I saw it hadn’t gotten shots, and hence we kept it,” Phillips said. “I was never really fond of cats, but I enjoy having him around.”

Zac Ellington ’10 said he adopted his cat Pasha from a litter born in town a year and a half ago. “I couldn’t stand to see her go to a shelter,” he said. Keeping Pasha has not been diplomatically simple—a conflict over the cat arose last year with RLC Tiffany Menard that remained unresolved when Menard left the position over Winter Break.

This year, Ellington has worked with his floor in order to keep Pasha. “I do have one neighbor with a cat allergy but [it] hasn’t been a problem,” Ellington said. “We’ve been keeping an open dialogue so that if it becomes a problem, Pasha can spend more time in my room. Everyone else has been excited about her.”
Though Ellington has had few problems with Pasha this year, he is often unsure about where Pasha will go when he’s not in Grinnell. “As much as I love having her there are issues when I go on breaks of where she’s going to be housed. I recommend thinking about this first to anyone getting a cat,” Ellington said. “I understand why the College wouldn’t want people to have cats, and I understand why a lot of people who want to have cats around here shouldn’t have one.” He added that the school should consider designating pet-friendly dorms in the future.

Pat Lyons ’09 presented a different opinion of contraband pets when asked about Duchess, the puppy adopted by his Soccer House roommates before Lyons moved in for spring semester. “When I first heard they got a dog I said, this sounds like a terrible idea,” Lyons said. “I’m actually surprised at how well it’s gone, that something awful hasn’t happened to the dog. It seems like the odds are in favor of some kind of travesty occurring.”

The dog was originally purchased from a neighbor by Parker Koester ’09 during fall break and currently spends parts of its time in a cage. “There are three people in the house out of five that will take care of it, and if one of those people is around, it’s out of the cage,” Lyons said. “They let it out a lot, but if one of those guys isn’t around, it’s so young that it’ll just pee all over everything.”

Lyons added that he is “not willing to take care of it whatsoever.”

The worst part of life with Duchess is that “it’s really tough to enjoy a meal because the dog jumps all over it,” Lyons said. “It’s clearly getting fed a lot, but it still tries to eat every inanimate object, some animate ones.”

Duchess’ stay at Grinnell, however, is drawing to a close. “I do think we’re getting rid of it,” Lyons said. “Spring break it’s going back to Parker’s parents. It doesn’t get to do enough dog-type things here; it doesn’t have anyone to play with.”

Lyons would advise other students against dog ownership “unless you have a lot of time to spend with it and you don’t plan on having many parties, because the next thing you know the dog is running around, getting into all sorts of mischief. I think [Soccer House] recognizes that in their decision to send it home, even though some of the guys really like the dog—or Parker really likes the dog.”

Falling within the school’s animal regulations but in a federal gray area are the two hedgehogs and two Monito geckos— both listed as endangered species— that Pat Kijek ’10 acquired from a house in the Chicago suburbs when an animal shelter employee seeking homes for rescued exotics informed him of the case “off the record.” Kijek has since found that the geckos “have real life Spiderman superhero abilities” and that hedgehogs are “good for keeping company with you while not being a pain in the ass.”

Kijek said that students encountering hedgehogs “usually hold them and think that they’ve bonded with the hedgehog in a way that no one else has before them. They would be wrong.”

For Kijek, the greatest challenge of pet ownership has been getting food, as he has to travel to Newton for his hedgehog’s diet restrictions. “Even in Newton they don’t really have a good selection, you’ve got to give them the same stuff over and over again,” Kijek said. “They get bored, I think, if they can think.”
In February, one of Kijek’s hedgehogs died after being accidentally dropped. The tragedy was commemorated with a black light dance party on High Street. “Everyone was pretty sad, but we partied it up to where we made it not matter,” Kijek said. “Since it was all in white, it wasn’t about mourning. That day was to remember everything that I’d ever done with that hedgehog.”