Man’s Best Friend?

Feb 012004
Authors: Ben Bleckley

Kelly Shoemaker’s pet has fur and a curly tail. But it doesn’t

bark, it chirps. And it fits in the palm of her hand.

Shoemaker, a junior business accounting major, has two degus, a

rodent native to the Andes Mountains. In Chile, they’re considered

pests, much like American prairie dogs, Shoemaker said.

Her interest in these mountain rodents stems from the first pet

she had, a rat.

“(My teacher) would feed the rats to the snakes in front of the

class,” Shoemaker said. “Whatever rats were leftover, she would let

the kids play with during recess and take home as pets


After going through eight rats in five years, Shoemaker decided

she wanted a pet that would last a little longer.

“I did research and found these guys online,” she said.

Shoemaker bought the degus at an online pet store,, which has since gone out of business.

Degus live seven to 10 years, eat guinea pig or rabbit food

pellets and, unlike many common rodents, are diurnal, meaning they

are awake during the day and asleep at night.

Unconventional pets aren’t uncommon among college students who

live in apartments where animals such as dogs and cats aren’t

allowed, said Bree Rydlun, the graduate assistant at Off-campus

Student Services.

Tonie Miyamoto, manager of communications for the Department of

Housing and Food Services, said the reason pets are not allowed in

the residence halls is crowd control. With 4,000 students living in

the halls, allowing pets might make for quite a menagerie. It also

accommodates students with allergies and makes for less work for

the custodial staff.

Rydlun said many students who do own pets have small rodents,

fish and sometimes birds.

Linda Lechler, a senior technical journalism major, is another

such student. She owns leopard geckos, dart frogs, box turtles,

water turtles and a dog. She used to have parakeets and rabbits as

well. Her pets all live in her house. She breeds pets as a hobby

and hopes to open a pet store someday.

Lechler also breeds crickets and fruit flies to feed many of her

animal friends.

Jim Cameron, manager of Denizen’s of the Deep, 4112 S. College

Ave., said he sees many students coming to buy fish.

“We’ve got about 400 tanks,” he said. “I don’t even know how

many fish.”

Cameron suggests students don’t get in over their heads when

choosing a pet.

“As with any other pet, they need to decide to what extent they

want to be involved with it,” Cameron said. “We try to talk to

people to find out what they really want to do, and try to advise

them from there.”

While some may prefer a dog or a cat, many of the students

interviewed found they preferred the difference a smaller pet can


She owns the non-conventional pets “because they are unique and

different,” Lechler said. “There’s many different aspects to having

a number of different pets.”

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