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The Power of Pets

Tigers find their spirit animals


Tigers find their spirit animals


& Sierra, Kenyan sand boa

Marina McCoy and Sierra, Kenyan Sand Boa

Marnina McCoy, a veterinary medicine third-year resident and comparative medicine doctoral student, with Sierra.

First Meeting

I wanted to learn more about herpetology and purchased her as a baby from a herpetology show in Des Moines, Iowa. I like that this species doesn't get very big — 1 foot for males, 2 feet for females — so they can be kept in smaller tank. She’s a good pet to have for people who are afraid of snakes, as she spends most of her time underneath the sand with only her nose sticking out.

Notable Moments

I have used Sierra for public outreach activities with Iowa State's vet school. We would do an event for kids in the area called "Boo with ZEW" (a club for vet students). Kids seemed to really enjoy petting all the creepy-crawly snakes on Halloween.

Shannon EllIott

& Remy, rat

Shannon Elliott with Remy the rat

Shannon Elliott, a senior in photojournalism, with Remy.

First Meeting

My landlord does not allow dogs or cats, but I knew I wanted some kind of pet, and I just fell in love with Remy — and rats in general — when I saw him. Rats are incredible pets! They are very much like a small dog, in that they love to play, be pet, cuddle. And they'll eat anything.

Life-Changing Bond

Remy has changed my life because he taught me the value of taking care of another being. He always knew when I needed to cuddle after a bad day, and he all-around made everyone happy when they met him.

Notable Moments

Remy loved running around my bedroom and climbing on literally anything he could. One time he made it onto my bedside table, knocked over a glass of orange juice and then started licking it up from everything, including himself. He was always the greediest eater, and I always thought it was hilarious to watch him store his food for later. He also refused to eat from a food dish, flipping it over any time it had food in it.

R.I.P., Remy

Sadly, Remy died at the end of the semester. He had a massive tumor on his liver that pressed into his lungs, and he had trouble breathing. Rats are extremely susceptible to cancer and tumors, which is why they are so often researched on, and there was nothing I could do. Remy was the best first rat I could have imagined, and his death just made me want more. So I got two more rats: girls, Lucy and Clara. They're lovely but not as cuddly as Remy just yet. I miss him a lot, but it's OK. He is in a better place with all the fabrics and phone chargers to chew on.

Adam Trey Henze

& ghost shrimp

Adam Trey Henze and Ghost Shrimps

Adam Trey Henze, a junior in fine arts and graphic design, with his ghost shrimp.

First Meeting

Ghost shrimp is the common name. There are too many of them to name individually, but the species is Palaemonetes. I found these little guys when I began keeping fish when I was about 10 or so. They keep them in almost every pet store as feeder animals for larger fish, but I just loved them. They are endlessly fascinating to me and constantly surprise me with how curious and intuitive such a small being can be.

Life-Changing Bond

I can’t exactly play with them or spend time with them. But they are fun to watch, and sometimes I'll waste hours just looking into my tanks. The shrimp are very interesting in that you keep them, feed them, care for them and love them, but they have no idea who or what you are. No matter how hard a shrimp thinks, it will never be able to understand the world outside of its tank.

Notable Moments

They are pretty tame pets, and they don't get into too much trouble or anything. Occasionally, if they get lazy, they will ride on a snail’s shell around the tank! But other than that, they don't do much outside of swimming and eating.

Sarah Hansen

& Wilbur, guinea pig

Sarah Hansen and Wilbur the guinea pig

Sarah Hansen, third-year resident and research fellow in comparative medicine, with Wilbur.

First Meeting

My daughters wanted a “pocket pet.” Guinea pigs are among the most gentle ones and are fun for children to interact with. We had a dog and a cat, so this guy was the logical next step. My daughters named him after the pig in Charlotte’s Web. It’s great for my kids to learn daily care. Growing up I had dogs, cats, hamsters and gerbils. The hamsters and gerbils were pretty bitey, so we were happy to find that guinea pigs don’t nibble on little fingers.

Life-Changing Bond

My oldest daughter, Macey, 8, loves to lie down and hold him on her chest while she’s reading at night. He falls asleep when she does this, which is really sweet! My youngest, Charlotte, 4, also loves to feed him carrots, celery, cilantro and fruits. They take him in the yard to let him eat grass and weeds as well. Macey calls him “our compost bin and a really, really slow lawnmower.”

Notable Moments

Interestingly enough, our cat and our dog, when she was alive, like to groom the guinea pig. Due to their startle/freeze reflex, the guinea pig will just stand like a statue throughout this. My daughters also discovered (by placing him in a filled bathtub) that guinea pigs are really good swimmers and seem to enjoy running water.

ClaIre Adams

& Nick’s Fury, thoroughbred horse

Claire Adams and Nick’s Fury the Thoroughbred Horse

Claire Adams, bachelor's degree in English, 2011.

First Meeting

Nick's Fury, or Nick for short, is named after the Marvel comic book character. Nick came to me in April of 2013. I decided to get my first horse after deciding that I wanted to take my horseback riding to the next level, as well as to have a partner to compete with in shows. I had only been casually looking around at horses to buy when an opportunity arose and Nick sort of fell into my lap by chance. He was given to me by a friend I had met through an early class at MU. He ended up being the perfect first horse, as he's seen and done so much over the course of his life. This makes him very patient with me when I make mistakes yet is challenging enough to allow me to improve.

Life-Changing Bond

Nick has not only helped me drastically improve my riding in the one year I've had him, but he's also a wonderful companion to simply spend time with out in the pasture or woods when I need to unwind. Owning a horse is a huge responsibility that requires a lot of dedication and knowledge. I'm lucky enough to board Nick with my trainer, Colby Tinsley, who is an accomplished horsewoman and is always teaching me something new when I go out to her farm.

Notable Moments

The first time I got on Nick to try him out, I could barely follow his movement because his trot was just so huge. I was bouncing around up on his back, probably looking like I didn't know to ride at all, when I really just wasn't used to that much suspension in a trot! Prior to Nick, I rode more average-size horses, and Nick's movement was unlike anything else I'd experienced. But he was so happy to be working again that he just trotted around like a gentleman. His cute little ears perked up as I flailed around on his back like a novice.

Care Francis

& Gandalf, ferret

Care Francis & Gandalf the ferret

Care Francis, who earned a degree in early-childhood special education 2014, with Gandalf.

First Meeting

I got Gandalf my freshman year of college at Mizzou. I always wanted a pet, but my dad never let me have one. The first time I ever saw a ferret, I was 12, at a summer-school class about different "critters." Everyone else was excited about the rabbits or the fast hamsters, but I was fascinated by this slinky and sleepy animal in the cage that I later learned was a ferret. Ferrets are just so curious (which I love because I love detectives) and playful, too. They are kind of an unusual pet, but I am kind of an unusual person at times, too.

Life-Changing Bond

Gandalf was the first pet I ever had. Having him in my life has definitely changed it for the better. Whenever I am lonely or sad I have this warm "living teddy bear" to snuggle with. He makes my life a little more quirky too. It's weird at first when every morning you have to check under the couch to see if your pet had "hidden" your shoes there for you. Having ferrets has also sort of made me into the "ferret girl" amongst my friends. My pets are part of who I am now and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Notable Moments

Once, during a flood in my house, he escaped to the backyard but came running back when his name was called. I was so happy to see my little buddy again.

Gandalf's favorite activities are stealing shoes and sleeping. He is also very smart and does tricks. Gandalf and his fuzzy friend, Veronica (after Veronica Mars), love leather. Once I had a leather wallet in my purse, which was on the floor. They "hid" it under the couch and I had to go back and find it. Now I zip up my purse, and I have a much less leathery wallet, too.

ErIn Carter

& Sookah and Missy, cats

Erin Carter and Sookah the cat

Erin Carter, who earned a bachelor's degree in industrial engineering in 2014, with Sookah.

First Meeting

Sookah and Missy are medium-hair shelter cats. I just had Sookah at first, but after two weeks she seemed very lonely and would get anxious when I left, so I went out and bought Missy, who was named Jam. Someone at the Humane Society told me she was he, which is why I bought her — because a male and a female cat get along better than two females. But Jam was a girl, so I changed her name to Missy. They took a lot longer to tolerate each other than if it was a boy and girl, but I love them the same.

Life-Changing Bond

I live alone, so I love coming home to animals that are always excited to see me. Also, because they are cats, they are very easy to manage with a crazy college schedule, unlike dogs (no walking/feeding schedule).

Notable Moments

My cats are inside/outside cats with all their claws. I noticed Missy is a bit of a weirdo in that she only plays with the dirty laundry, not the clean (which is nice) and drinks from the toilet bowl only. She also surprised me during the spring when she started to hunt; she would roll in the mud to eliminate her scent to hunt better. So I pretty much just ended up with a small dog and a normal cat rather than two cats.

Sarah Hooper

& Gonzo, sun conure

Sarah Hooper and Gonzo the Sun Conure

Sarah Hooper, a second-year resident in veterinary pathobiology and comparative medicine, with Gonzo.

First Meeting

Gonzo was named after Gonzo the Great from the Muppets, because he gets into just as much trouble. I've always had a fascination for parrots and ​​even chose to earn a bachelor’s degree in avian biology. During my undergrad, I became fond of the conure species as they are exceptionally friendly, curious and loyal. I chose to get a sun conure due to their personalities and their beautiful colors.​

Life-Changing Bond

There is a lot more laughter in my household with Gon​​zo. He entertains us through his hilarious antics, including rolling over on his back for a "belly rub," stalking bananas and hanging upside down in the guinea pig cage, trying to reach the piggies.

Notable Moments

Gonzo is fearless and often times believes he is one of the dogs. He will run around on the floor with my Weimaraner, Olive, and will try to chew on the Nylabones with her. Often times I also take him bike riding on the Katy Trail with me, and we entertain the other bikers and runners by causing them to do double takes, as most people can't believe there is a bird riding on my handlebars. Often times kids will first notice him and point him out to their parents. Sometimes this can be quite funny, as the parents dismiss their kids' "preposterous" observations and then seem amazed that their kids are telling the truth.

Alyssa Scagnelli

& Mars, green iguana

Alyssa Scagnelli & Mars the green iguana

Alyssa Scagnelli, a fourth-year student in veterinary medicine, with Mars.

First Meeting

He was adopted in April 2011 after being abandoned at a pet store in a Tupperware container. I have always been intrigued by reptiles, which have such unique personalities that most people overlook. Upon meeting this lizard, who was neglected by his past owners, I knew it was my job to care for him and provide him with the home he deserved.

Mars had developed metabolic bone disease, a disease that is common amongst pet reptiles due to owners not providing them with adequate ultraviolet lighting. This disease caused Mars to develop weak bones that fractured in many places, resulting in a crooked tail and spine and the inability to fully use his hind legs.

Life-Changing Bond

I believe most people love their pets because they are always there no matter what. They do not judge. They do not abandon you. They become something in your life that is static and that can be relied on. Even as a lizard, Mars is without a doubt my best companion. He has taught me to not give up hope even when the odds are not in your favor. He has provoked me to work exclusively with exotic animals as a future veterinarian, in hopes to educate others about the special needs of animals such as himself.

Notable Moments

As much as I like to believe Mars is intelligent for a reptile (I have him potty-trained, and he knows where to find food in the kitchen), there are times when he confuses "green" objects for other iguanas. I bought an ornamental goldfish sculpture that is green and, from far away, resembles a male iguana. Every time Mars sees it, he has to show how big and tough he is. "There is only one dominant male in this house!" he says.

ChrIstIana Marvray

& Winston, chinchilla

Christiana Marvray and Winston the chinchilla

Christiana Marvray, a junior in biological sciences and women and gender studies, with Winston.

First Meeting

My friend Kyle and I bought our chinchillas at the same time. They are brothers named Russell and Winston, and they are frequent playmates. I got a chinchilla because I knew it was an exotic and smart animal that would be pretty easy to take care of. I've always had good experience with rodents, but I didn't want to get something with a short lifespan. Chinchillas can live up to 20 years!

Life-Changing Bond

Winston has taught me a lot about basic responsibility, because it's a very new experience when you have to care for something whose very survival depends on you doing your job. I have loved being able to watch him change as he's gotten older, and also I love that, now that he knows me, he's very affectionate. It's encouraging to see the attachment process happen between the human soul and an animal.

Notable Moments

Winston has escaped from his cage many, many times. Chinchillas are very smart! Once he got out of his cage and ran around my room for the entire day until I got home from class. I walked in, and he was sitting on top of my bookshelf.

BrIttany Crocker

& Pierre (Le Monsieur Pierre Tortu), tortoise

Brittany Crocker and Pierre the tortoise

Brittany Crocker, a senior in convergence journalism, with Pierre.

First Meeting

I lived in a non-pet friendly apartment and was lonely after a bad breakup. A sergeant I had back when I was a lowly private first class recommended getting a pet.

Notable Moments

Before [the sergeant] left for Guatemala, he called me from the airport, and I told him about Pierre and how cool he would look in a top hat. He said, "You know what? Top hat or not, Pierre is an excellent name for a tortoise." About a week or two later, I got a call from my unit saying my sergeant was killed in Guatemala. Now my unit has kind of adopted his young son. So another soldier and I invite him to Columbia a lot for little weekend adventures, and he absolutely loves getting to play with Pierre.

Life-Changing Bond

Pierre is kind of a good conversation starter. He's also gotten me to try all kinds of weird vegetables. I buy and grow a wider variety of veggies for his nutritional needs, and since he can only eat so many, I eat some too. He once ate an entire lettuce plant while I was gone. He likes to push my foam roller around the room. He cuddles with me or my laptop when it's cold, and he seems to think he can type really well.

MaggIe Armstrong and Andrea SchmIdt

& Umi and Dobby, Syrian hamsters

Maggie Armstrong,  Andrea Schmidt and Umi and Dobby the Syrian hamsters

Maggie Armstrong, left, a junior in textile and apparel management, and Andrea Schmidt, a junior in health sciences, with Umi and Dobby.


First Meeting

I got her because I'm not allowed to have large pets like cats and dogs where I live, but I really wanted a pet, and she was super cute.

Life-Changing Bond

I get way less sleep since I have gotten her because she is nocturnal and likes to climb and run on her wheel at night.

Notable Moments

She escapes from her cage all the time when it is completely closed, and then I have to search all over the house to find her. One time I found her sitting outside my door, and the other time I found her inside my drawer.


First Meeting

I got a hamster because my friend has one and she convinced me to get one also.

Life-Changing Bond

My life has changed because I now have the responsibility to take care of something other than myself.

Notable Moments

Dobby escaped from her cage one day and was missing in my apartment for three days. She somehow managed to climb up my staircase and was hiding in the upstairs bathroom for days.

ErIcka LaIl

& Piper, bearded dragon

Ericka Lail and Piper the bearded dragon

Ericka Lail, a second-year student in veterinary medicine, with Piper.

First Meeting

When Piper found me, it was after a long recovery following the loss of my parakeet, Misty. Her death had hit me hard and had lingered in my heart for a few years before I began to feel that longing for animal companionship again. At the same time, the technician who had initially adopted Piper began experiencing some severe health problems and could no longer care for her reptiles. Piper was left looking for a home — and I, a friend.

When she was a baby at the pet store, adult bearded dragons attacked Piper and her sibling, viewing them as food. Piper lost part of her arm and tail. The store found Piper and brought her to the exotics clinic where I worked. She would require surgery to close the wounds. The store did not desire to pay for treatment and instead elected for euthanasia. But the staff of our clinic had fallen in love with the little survivor and instead asked that she be signed over to the clinic. Piper fully recovered, still missing part of her arm and tail, and has been a happy, healthy dragon ever since.

Life-Changing Bond

As cliché as it sounds, her presence has added value to every day of my life. She has seen me at my best and at my worst. She has been my shoulder to cry on when I am upset and tolerated my incessant hugs when I am happy. She is my constant companion and my home away from home.

Notable Moments

Shortly after I got her, I discovered she loved cartoons. When I watch them on my computer she'll curl up in my lap with her head resting on my laptop and won't move a muscle until the show is over. She also has an interesting way of getting my attention. If she wants me to pet her or play with her, she will crawl on top of my hands and lie on them until I stop what I am doing and snuggle with her.

Stephen Lanza

& Divisi, degu

Sephen Lanza and Divisi the degu

Stephen Lanza, a senior in mechanical engineering, with Divisi.

First Meeting

A friend of mine rescued her from a bad situation. As I've heard it, the original owner did not want her anymore and tried to release her into the wild. My friend heard about this, went and found her and got all the necessary supplies to support her for a short period of time. I was asked if I knew of anybody who wanted a pet rodent. I debated it, met Divisi and determined that she was going to be my pet rodent.

Life-Changing Bond

Divisi has added a bit of order to my life. I found that I would spend large amounts of time by myself in my room. However, I started regulating daylight in my room. She sleeps during the day, so I implemented a "bedtime" for her, which caused times for me to either work in the dark or leave my room. It actually helped me to be more social. At the same time, the little obligations (feeding her, bedtime, giving her dust baths, etc.), have forced me to come back to my room at points throughout the day, thus helping me balance working and relaxing.

Notable Moments

Divisi is also very intelligent for a rodent. She is very aware of things. She knows my parents. More specifically, she knows my parents will give her treats. Therefore, when one of them walks into the room, she gets excited and starts squeaking loudly and running to the front of the cage to receive a treat more easily. She also recognizes her dust and treat containers when I pull them out and gets excited for those as well.

BrIttany Hofman

& King Louie, great Dane

Brittany Hofman and King Louie, the Great Dane

Brittany Hofman, a third-year student in veterinary medicine, with Louie.

First Meeting

When I first met Louie, he was a rack of skin and bones, but regardless it was love at first lick.

When Louie was one year old he developed bone deposits in his jaw, causing it to fuse shut and making it very difficult for him to eat. Called craniomandibular osteopathy, this rare, noncancerous excess bone growth was a serious problem and enough for his owners to elect euthanasia. My friend and fellow classmate Nicole Berlin heard about Louie, and we decided to see if we could save him.

We contacted Dr. Derek Fox and Dr. Mirae Wood, who found a way to widen the opening of the front of his mouth by taking out a part of the jaw. The surgery saved Louie’s life and made him a functional, normal dog.

Louie’s care was paid for by the Silent Partners Fund. The fund was established to assist pets that have a good chance of recovery but whose owners lack the financial resources to pay for the care needed to save their animals’ lives.

Notable Moments

As a veterinary student, I was invited to watch the surgery as an invaluable educational experience. During the surgery I felt completely at ease because I knew he was in great hands. From this experience I learned how truly blessed I am to be a part of such an extraordinary institution. The people at the University of Missouri set it apart from other schools. They care immensely for the animals that they treat.

Life-Changing Bond

Louie has changed my life in a million wonderful ways. Sometimes I just look at him and have to laugh because he’s such a goofy dog with the sweetest personality. He goes everywhere with me, including coffee shops to study and patios to hang out with friends over a drink. He goes running with me and loves to ride with the top down in my convertible. He helps motivate me to study, and he is always there to lend a paw with anything veterinary-related.

I learned that as veterinarians we cannot change every animal in the world, but we can change the world for an animal. I’m forever grateful to everyone who gave Louie a second chance at life.

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