Vassar’s plethora of pandemic pets

Courtesy of Daphne Knoop ’24.

As the cold and dreary days of winter melt away, the people and pets of Vassar have started to emerge from hibernation. Students, cats, dogs and other critters have enjoyed soaking up the sun on Joss Beach, the Quad or any spot with soft grass and a WiFi signal.                 

Daphne Knoop ’24 adopted her cat, Grendel, at the Iowa City Animal Shelter over winter break. As Grendel is an emotional support animal (ESA), Knoop emphasized how enjoyable it has been to have a companion at college during COVID-19. “With COVID, I wanted someone who I could always be with and not feel separated from,” she admitted. When Grendel and Knoop first met, it was love at first sight (or bite); Grendel bit her future owner’s face mask until it came down. “It made me feel loved,” Knoop said of the interaction. 

Since Knoop had decided at the end of the fall semester that she was ready to adopt a furry friend, she was adamant about finding a cat suitable for college life, one that was relaxed around other people and pets. According to a worker at the animal shelter, Grendel’s only desire was simple: to be treated as a princess. Grendel, the new reigning princess of Joss, likes to spend her days watching her subjects on Joss Beach, eating high-end duck-based cat food and beseeching members of her kingdom for pats on the head and treats.

For those who did not shudder at the name Grendel, lucky you for not being exposed to the ancient Anglo-Saxon, and in my opinion overrated, heroic poem: “Beowulf.” Knoop, who had been reading multiple translations of “Beowulf” during the process of picking out her pandemic pal, was inspired to name her after one of the monsters in the story. “The line that particularly influenced my decision was ‘God-cursed Grendel came greedily loping.’ To me, this encapsulates my cat’s personality perfectly,” Knoop explained. 

Initially, Knoop was worried that Grendel would not adjust to her new Poughkeepsie palace. Luckily, the Joss Princess fit right in alongside her fellow Brewers. While Grendel enjoys a daily dose of downtime in her snug Joss single, she also loves to meet new people and pets, all from the safety and comfort of Knoop’s backpack. Unlike the bloodthirsty heathen for which she was named, Grendel does not bite or exhibit any sort of aggression towards others. “She might be shy at first, but she loves attention and is a total lovebug,” said Knopp.  

While it is difficult to take care of a pet at college, Knoop noted that it is easier than she expected it to be. “I just have to be aware of my cat, like making sure her spaces are clean and that she gets enough exercise,” she shared. 

Sarah Berry Pierce ’22, the owner of Freya Luna, a five month old King Charles Cavalier, agreed that it is difficult taking care of a pet on campus, but worth it. “It has been quite an adjustment but I wouldn’t change anything,” Pierce noted. “It’s definitely interesting to take care of her, but thankfully there is a whole village behind me; I really couldn’t do it on my own,” she added. 

Freya Luna Pierce. Courtesy of Sarah Berry Pierce ’22.

When Pierce first laid eyes on Freya in a Mississippi animal shelter this past December, she knew Freya was the puppy for her. “I looked at her and I just knew I couldn’t leave her. Come on, she’s perfect,” she explained. After a few days of deliberation, Pierce decided to name her companion after Freya, the Norse goddess of love and war. “I wanted her to have a powerful name because I knew we were going to have to grow up together,” Pierce stated. 

Like most college students, Freya is a busy bee who loves to nap. She starts her day snoozing through Pierce’s Zoom classes before heading out for a day of walks and playdates with Cricket, a fellow pup in the THs, and Maude, one of Lathrop’s most beloved furry friends. Freya’s favorite spots to explore are the Residential Quad and the Bridge. “She always stops in front of the Environmental Chemistry lab, which is odd because I am simply not a STEM person, but oddly enough I think that’s her calling,” Pierce joked. 

While not a single student on this campus will defend the watery Deece eggs, rest assured the pets of Vassar will. Both Freya and Grendel will happily scarf down a plate of Deece eggs, day or night. Dylan Cawman ’22, the owner of a green-cheeked conure, supplies her feathered friend with a more nutritious meals of seeds, fruit pellets and a homemade fresh food mix which includes chia seeds, ginger, quinoa and kale. Cawman’s bird, which answers to Tilly, Bird, Beebo Bubs Lady or Ma’am, is especially fond of almonds. “She goes crazy for them and will fly across the room if she spots one,” Cawman noted. 

Tilly with Luca Barton-Cain ’22. Courtesy of Dylan Cawman ’22.

Where will she be flying from? Most likely from her favorite spot: the top of Cawman’s head. Although she stays in her cage most of the day, Tilly will happily perch on Cawman’s laptop during Zoom classes or make herself comfortable on one of her housemates’ shoulders. 

Tilly, a spunky seven year old, flew into Cawman’s life a few years ago, but only recently became a Vassar College resident. Cawman bought Tilly from Barbi’s Bird House, professional bird breeders who also breed birds for the Washington State Zoo. “I know I wanted a green cheek or sun conure since they are very cuddly and have big personalities,” Cawman explained. But when it came down to choosing her new pet, Cawman picked Tilly over two sun conures because of her grey coloring, smaller size and calmer demeanor. 

Tilly came to live with Cawman once she moved into a TH. “I knew I wanted to have her with me, but I didn’t take her my first year since I was not sure if it would be a safe environment in the dorms and with a roommate,” she asserted. Although traveling with her feathered companion from her home in Washington to a TH at Vassar was stressful, Cawman is thrilled with her decision to bring her pet to school.

While living in the TH, Tilly gets along very well with the rest of her housemates. She also loves meeting new people. However, “She will bite you if you poke at her, so caution is warranted,” Cawman admitted. 

Wendell, a guinea pig that resides in Jewett, has also befriended his owner’s roommate and podmates. Hailey Osika ’23, Wendell’s owner, found her fuzzy friend in August when a family in her town was giving him up for adoption. “I have always had guinea pigs so when I saw that Wendell needed a home and knew I had the time and space to care for him, I was in love,” Osika shared. 

Wendell. Courtesy of Hailey Osika ’23. 


During the day, Wendell relaxes in his cage, which comes equipped with a tunnel, a hut and a lot of toys. Osika makes sure to feed him plenty of food; Wendell gets a supply of dry food, unlimited hay, fresh vegetables, Timothy hay biscuits and dried papaya daily. “He is very spoiled,” Osika joked. Unlike the cats and dogs of campus, Wendell generally likes to stay in his cage, only accepting one or two visitors at a time—and only if they come bearing treats.

Osika, who had her previous pet guinea pig on campus with her last year, could not be more pleased with her decision to bring Wendell to Vassar. “With a lot of my classes being virtual this semester, it has been really nice to have any animal to watch and interact with throughout the day while I’m in my room,” she explained. 

While having a pet on campus is undoubtedly extra work, it has proved beneficial for students looking for some extra affection and companionship in an otherwise isolating year. If you do not have a pet of your own but are craving another peek at Vassar’s pandemic pets, do not fear! With warmer weather upon us and classes moving outside, your chances to see the newest residents of campus will only grow. 

One Comment

  1. Lovely! As a retired Vassar employee, I’m thrilled that you students have these animal friends for comfort & responsible solace. Great!

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