Dr. Catherine Jauregui with her bearded dragon.
Dr. Catherine Jauregui with her bearded dragon.

Secret Lives: Pet Project


• Rats are brilliant and gregarious.
• Guinea pigs are beautiful but unsuited for a loud household.
• A tarantula lying belly up with its legs in the air should not be prodded. It is not dying, it is about to molt.

Dr. Catherine Jauregui’s seven-year-old daughter, Grace, knows these and many, many other bits of animal-related trivia from first-hand experience. Jauregui, an instructor in the Department of Oral Biology and Diagnostic Sciences, has a virtual menagerie in her home, and Grace is the chief beneficiary.

“My daughter is home-schooled, and our pets add so much to her education,” says Jauregui, who joined the faculty in 2016 after earning her Ph.D. in microbiology from the University of Bristol in England and completing seven years of postdoctoral work.

Those pets include a shih tzu named Snuggle Up, a one-eyed cat named Winky, three additional cats, rats, guinea pigs, hermit crabs, a tortoise, a bearded dragon and, of course, a perpetually-on-death-watch tarantula. The cats have their own room with a gate “so they can avoid the dog if they want to,” Jauregui notes.

Her stay-at-home husband, Mario, she says, “is in the driver’s seat when it comes to looking after the animals, and he works very hard ensuring all the animals always have food, water and clean cages.”

Says Jauregui, “We want our daughter to appreciate that there are lots of living things around us; we’re not the only ones. She has biology on a daily basis, and in a much more up-close-and-personal way than most other children have.” Jauregui acknowledges that she is also fulfilling a lifelong dream of her own. She wasn’t allowed to have pets as a child and is making up for lost time.

Jauregui counsels those inclined to follow in her path to do their homework, researching the needs and ideal environments of different kinds of animals. “Look for a good fit for your family,” she says. “Mario and I are fortunate in that one of us is always at home, so there’s no chance of our pets being neglected. Also, research where your pets are coming from, and adopt, don’t buy, if possible.”

The upshot? “There’s a lot of work but a lot of reward,” Jauregui says.

Still, she doesn’t hesitate when asked if her household is still growing, saying decisively with a laugh, “We are at our maximum.”

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