Many UMW students have pets, but not many have a furry—or spiky—friend like that of Skylar Houston, a sophomore biomedical science major.
Houston has a two-year old bearded dragon she calls Blue, named after the raptors from Jurassic Park. She decided to get a bearded dragon after PetSmart and Petco were having their reptile days, in which they showcased adoptable reptiles.
Houston lets Blue out of his tank periodically throughout the day so that he can get adequate exercise. He runs around on the floor and loves to play with cat toys. Despite the fact that they are not specifically designed for bearded dragons to play with, to a lizard, cat toys’ movements signal mimic those of a food source, so he chases after them.
Blue has a well-rounded diet, which includes leafy greens, vegetables, fruit, and bugs.
“His favorite [bugs] are probably hornworms, but I only give those to him every once in a while as a treat,” said Houston.
After playtime, Blue has to return to his special tank. His environment must be temperature-controlled between 90 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and it should be equipped with a special UVB lightbulb.
“[A UVB bulb] gives him nutrients that he would usually get in the wild from the sunlight,” said Houston. “When he is inside, all of that is filtered out through the windows and the glass.”
Houston introduced Blue to her fellow UMW students through Pets of the Weekly, a section at the bottom of the SAE weekly newsletter that includes a photograph and written introduction of each pet submitted to the page. She pointed out that although Blue doesn’t like his vegetables, he will wear them as hats, as seen in Blue’s submission photo in which he has a piece of kale on his head.
Houston wanted to submit something different for Pets of the Weekly, as she kept seeing exclusively cats and dogs on the newsletter.
“I thought I could spice things up a little bit.”
Lauryn Buchanan, a freshman who intends on majoring in conservation biology, also submitted a pet profile to Pets of the Weekly because she wanted to make a unique addition to the newsletter. Her contribution was a photo of her pet Toby, a 7-year old serama bantam chicken.
“A lot of them are very friendly and they like being around people a lot more than you would assume,” said Buchanan, contradicting some people’s preconceived notions about typical chicken behavior.
When Buchanan is at home, Toby crows and wakes her up each morning, substituting her phone alarm that wakes her up on campus away from him. Toby’s crowing lets Buchanan and her family know Toby and his sister Harley want to be let out of their coop for the day. His normal activities consist of roaming around the yard looking for worms and rolling around in the dirt.
Like Blue, Toby also has variety in his diet. which consists of fruit, vegetables, rice and chicken feed.
“Although I don’t think they should be, chickens are considered unconventional pets,” said Buchanan. She feels that chickens are now considered to be less uncommon than in the past because humans use them for multiple different things, emphasizing their practicality.
Buchanan originally got Toby from her aunt, who had several chickens at the time, and Buchanan’s grandma thought it would be a good idea to bring them home.
SAE has put in effort to involve students virtually in activities on campus, such as stuffing stuffed animals and painting cacti, and Pets of the Weekly performs a similar function. Last year’s senior student coordinator for publicity Jo Sherwood proposed the idea of having students submit photos of their pets to SAE for the newsletter, and some version of Pets of the Weekly has been running since the last academic year.
In Pets of the Weekly, students are referred to as “weekly family members.” Although there are not a lot of new “weekly family members” making profile submissions, students seem to be enjoying this newsletter section, according to Crystal Rawls, the assistant director of SAE.
“I am not sure how many students have actually participated, but I know that we have a new pet to highlight every week.”
Neither Houston nor Buchanan would consider their pets to be exotic, despite Blue and Toby having different needs from other domesticated animals.