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Many UI faculty, student animal companions far from the ordinary pet

BY MARY HARRINGTON | MARCH 3, 2009 7:20 AM

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They met in college. Decades later, they still spend most days just feet apart. Their relationship withstood changed addresses and many state border crossings. Today, the two remain a lasting duo: Linda Maxson and her 35-year-old frog.

The frog has no name. Maxson, the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, did not think the animal would live long enough to need one. The African claw-toed frog is referred to instead as “lady,” “woman,” and sometimes “Miss Froggy.”

Blending in with the water she occupies, the elderly amphibian swims in its tabletop tank, excited by special-occasion earthworm dinners and skittish around camera flashes — Maxson asked she not be photographed for this article.

The unusually old frog was born during Maxson’s college research, when she fertilized the egg herself.

“She’s become an experiment in longevity,” she said.

Most African claw-toed frogs live for around five years in a lab setting, she said, so she never foresaw her lifetime spent with the slimy creature.

Maxson is just one among many UI community members who have found lasting companions in the most exotic of critters. Bearing in spikes, horns, scales, and fur, unusual animals take on the roles of office mates, coworkers, and irreplaceable friends.

UI junior Brian Baskin was 14 when he was introduced to his current roommate, Frank, a 6-year-old bearded dragon. Engulfed in the chirping of his live cricket dinners, the spiky desert-colored lizard casts a prehistoric aura into the otherwise typical college apartment he now resides in.



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Though the bearded dragon may look a little frightening, his aloof attitude is charming. Like a pirate’s parrot, the roughly foot-long lizard will sometimes perch on Baskin’s shoulder as the 20-year-old studies at his desk. Sometimes, Frank will rest on his owner’s forearm with eerily watchful eyes swiveling from side to side in his still, spiked head.

When it’s time to return to his terrarium, Frank puts up a fight, pushing with his four limbs to stay out of the tank.

“It’s like trying to put a crying baby in a car seat,” Baskin said, chuckling as Frank crawled up his forearm, long-curved claws clinging to sweater fibers.

He is a strange pet, not soft like a kitten and lacking any puppy-like playfulness. But Frank’s personality is uniquely his own with a charming, bearded smirk and shifty eyes. And he is dear to Baskin’s heart.

“Ever since I was 14, Frank’s slept just feet away from me,” he said. “He’ll be a tough one to replace.”
UI staff members Shelley Squier and Mike Donnelly share a similar bond with some very different animals: pygmy goats. They call them “the girls,” four small hoofed and horned family members who trot by their owners’ sides like trained pups on leashes.

Named Oreo, Flour, Cindy, and Gretta, the 1-year-old goats were meant to be workers, eating insects and weed seeds on Squire and Donnelly’s organic farm. But since their arrival, they’ve become pets with personalities.



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“It’s kind of like having four dogs — just a whole new breed of dog,” Donnelly said.

Visitors are often greeted on the front porch of the farm house by the black and white goats, their hooves clip-clopping up and down the steps. They prance freely with other animals, including guinea fowl, chickens, dogs, and cats.

“We were never planning on animals like these, but now, they’re the essential part of the farm,” Squier said.

An essential member of UI journalism Professor Carolyn Dyer’s home is her cat, Ruthie.

At first glance, Ruthie seems to be a typical feline: wide-eyed, frisky, at times hissing. But when she stands on her paws and glides across Dyer’s hard-wood floors, Ruthie’s uniqueness is all but subdued.

She is a three-legged cat.

Ruthie lost a rear leg to cancer, because the only cure was amputation. But the cat quickly recovered from the surgery, and she now gets around as well as her four-legged feline roommate, Kitty Drew.
“I was really concerned after the surgery and carried her home in a hinged-lid picnic basket,” Dyer said. “But she just popped her head out of the lid and ran up the stairs.”

She may look unusual, but Ruthie is a capable cat, fulfilling her pet duties as a companion and, much like fellow UI community pets, as a friend.


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