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Furry Fish and Other Exotic Dorm Pets

'Twas the night before school and all through the house, there wasn't a sound -- not even a mouse. That's because Waylan the red-tail boa constrictor, at the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity house, ate it for dinner. Though not formally initiated, the slimy Lambda Chi boa is just one of the many creatures that roams the halls and provides comfort for the students of Franklin College, a private liberal arts school just south of Indianapolis, IN.

"I've had two snakes while in college -- the first one I had for a year was a small king snake called Apollo," senior Chad Fleetwood says. "But then I got Waylan, and he now lives in my room in a huge aquarium."

While juggling classes, a social life, and piles of homework, many college students today are taking on an additional responsibility -- pets. But at Franklin, there's more than just the standard dorm-room pets allowed by most colleges. In addition to inflatable furniture, lava lamps, and CD players, exotic and weird animals are becoming essential Franklin College dorm decor. And, hiding them from resident assistants and administrators is more challenging than taking a calculus midterm. Well... almost.

"Waylan got loose around the freshmen men's dorm for about two months last year, and although no one saw him, we did find skin shedding in each of the rooms," Chad says. "We finally found the three-and-a-half-foot boa, and I ended up being reported to the director of student affairs."

Strange college pets often prove to be good icebreakers, especially at parties. For two years, senior Kate Travelsted owned a hamster (also known as a 'furry fish') named Teke.

"Once I couldn't find him for about three days," Kate says. "Then, while studying late at night for my history midterm, I had a huge craving for Twinkies. When I reached in the box, instead of pulling out a Twinkie, I pulled out Teke," she recalls. "It was funny at first until I saw he had cream on his mouth and realized he had almost eaten the last one."

Feeding Frenzy

While college students are known for their strange eating habits -- pizza at 2 a.m. or a daily diet of caffeine and fast food -- feeding strange pets is definitely a lesson on the food chain. Chad feeds Waylan, his boa, four to five mice a week, which he gets from the biology lab on campus. And, sophomore Dusty Brahlek, who rooms at college with two small lizards, feeds them live crickets. Although she had them since her freshman year, she has had no problems with flying insects thus far.

Pets Are Smart, Too

Franklin's pets also have an appetite for learning. Up until last year, the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity had brother Argos, a golden retriever with one mighty personality. Periodically scoping out the campus, Argos was hungry for adventure. Wanting to expand his wealth of knowledge, he would occasionally take advantage of open doors and quietly walk into philosophy, English, and journalism classes. One time in media history, Argos entered the room, looked up at the professor, realized he couldn't understand a word, and left with a disappointed look on his face.

"I couldn't believe he didn't want to stay and listen to my lecture on libel law," Professor Joel Cramer says jokingly.

Argos was quite a celebrity on campus and even won second place in the Delta Gamma sorority "Most Beautiful Eyes" contest last year. He would have claimed first place if nominee senior Jason Hogan hadn't quickly gathered votes upon being told he would lose to a dog.

Some students, however, do adhere to the pet rules as stated in Franklin's "The Key: A Guide to Campus Life." According to this conduct code, "health regulations prohibit having pets in residence halls, except fish in aquariums of 10 gallons or less." Seniors Bonnie Bartee and Sarah Shupert abide by the "Fish Only" rule, but these sea creatures need just as much care and attention as other animals. After one of Bonnie's fish died, she had to decide how to dispose of it.

"We didn't have a fish net to scoop him out of the tank with, so we had to use a spoon," said senior Jaclyn Linkmeyer, Bonnie's friend. "Sadly we had no other choice than to flush him down one of the toilets in the dorm's community bathroom. Thankfully, the fish chose to go down." She has since gotten a replacement fish for the one that died.

Although her fish are not furry like Kate's, Sarah has rather strange roommates: two magnetic fish she's had since she was a freshman. Named Kibble and Bit, the fish have magnets in them that attract and repel off each other so they can move around.

When roommates are the ones who are repelling each other, many students find the creature comfort they need through the caring and nurturing of their furry multi-legged friends.