For college students, pets offer a familiar comfort amidst social and academic chaos. While many opt for the usual dog, cat, and even hamster, some students get creative when choosing their animal companions. Isla Vista (I.V.) is home to a variety of unique pets, from fish and snails, to unusual reptiles and more.
Tropicana Gardens is home to Spencer the gecko, nicknamed Spoon. His owners, a group of first-year boys, had the idea to get him when they were feeling “exotic” one day and took a trip to the pet store.
Spencer makes it easy on his owners as he only needs to be fed once every two days and have his big water bowl filled weekly. However, Spencer’s mischievous curiosity poses challenges. According to Will Coons, one of Spencer’s owners, there have been times when Spencer’s tendency to explore has caused panic as the boys have had to look for him after being distracted with work, food, or friends.
“When we let him roam, he likes to crawl into the shutters,” Coons said about the gecko’s hiding tendencies. “He also loves the vent, probably because it’s warm there.”
Luckily for these boys, Spencer’s down-to-earth nature and friendly presence make it easy for them to enjoy his company. Spencer can be found hanging out on the walls, as well as socializing with other Isla Vistans.
Coons mentioned his gecko has achieved the title of house pet for his fraternity and made an appearance in this year’s composite picture. Spencer will continue to live with these boys through the summer and into next year, serving as an extra roommate and providing quality reptilian company.
Next on unique pets are two female rats living on the ocean side of Del Playa. Their names are Dezzie and Mozzy, short for Despereaux and Mozzarella, and they have enough spunk to keep the ten girls who house them entertained. Their two main owners are third-year roommates Leah Loftus and Becca Cushing-Murray.
The rats are a relatively new addition to the house, adopted at the end of winter break. The inspiration for a pet came after their neighbor’s cat, a common visitor at their house, was taken home and the absence of an animal companion hit hard.
The choice to adopt rats, according to the girls, was due to cat allergies in their house and wanting a cuddly alternative to pets like reptiles. They noted that after a long day it is nice to come home to the rats and spend time in their company.
While Dezzie and Mozzy love to run around and socialize, the girls have to limit their free-roaming, as the rats’ instinct is to burrow and hide. This has made for entertaining and nerve-wracking experiences, including a recent instance where one of the rats crawled into a recliner chair and wouldn’t come out.
Loftus and Cushing-Murray recounted the story saying, “Our other roommate had one of her arms elbow-deep feeling around for her and trying to get her out with treats. Eventually, we just had to grab her and tug her out while she was fighting the whole time.”
Dezzie and Mozzy’s cage is cleaned once a week and they are fed every day, which Loftus and Cushing-Murray said is very little effort in comparison to the enjoyment they get from owning them. The roommates plan to keep Dezzie and Mozzy for the long haul, through this summer and next year.
Lastly is the infamous Bowie, a seven-year-old black-eyed leucistic ball python. She can be spotted at I.V. parties, around the necks of locals, or even on her very own Instagram account (@iv_bowie_fam). Her owner is Pierce Shelton, and beyond his love for animals, specifically reptiles, he works at the Clay Studio in Santa Barbara.
While Pierce does not live in I.V. anymore, he got Bowie five years ago while still a resident. Bowie was an addition to his twenty-three reptiles, two huskies, two fish tanks, and other pets, but Bowie holds a special place in his heart because she is the only pet that has remained through the years as others were given away or sold.
Although Bowie and Pierce do not live in I.V. anymore, they are often summoned for appearances. Bowie is relatively famous in Isla Vista as a highly sought-after party guest, and her Instagram reflects all the love she gets.
Social standing aside, when it comes to taking care of Bowie, Pierce said it is easier than might be expected, even easier than the needs of a dog, for comparison.
Bowie gets her tank cleaned once a month and only has to be fed four times a month. She needs water and a heating pad, but a light is not necessary. The trade-off, however, is that she eats live rats, which can be unpleasant.
Pierce is going to be attending the University of Hawaii next year where snakes are not allowed, but this is not the end. Bowie will stay with Pierce’s family and friends until they can be reunited again.
Whether these unique pets are sticking around on the walls, crawling around on backs and shoulders, or slithering and coiling around necks, one thing is for certain: these pet owners are all in good company.