Students give an inside look on life with non-traditional pets


Carlee Rigatuso, Reporter - Business Manager

When we think of pets our minds can often be drawn to fidos or felines, not parakeets and hedgehogs. At Bellevue West, some students have the privilege of calling these untraditional pets their own. Whether it’s rescued turtles or rambunctious rats, each owner has a unique story to share.

Mady Bartlett – Hedgehog

Senior Mady Bartlett holds Herbert the hammock-loving hedgehog.

Senior Mady Bartlet has a 6-month-old hedgehog named Herbert and has owned him for two months now. The story she shared about how her family adopted Herbert wasn’t your ordinary pet store pickup.

“My brother was at a swim meet in Elkhorn and we were super bored waiting for his next swim to come up,” Bartlett said. “We were looking at things to do around Elkhorn and a breeder for hedgehogs came up in Fremont. She had a sale on her hedgehogs because she had too many., so we ended up going to Fremont after the swim meet and we picked up Herbert.”

Bartlett considers Herbert’s care to be fairly easy. She stated that the only struggle she really faces with him is the fact that he is nocturnal. 

“During the day, he’s really sleepy, but he starts to get more active at night,” Bartlett said. “They just recommend having a wheel or something he can run on.” 

Bartlett had also mentioned that it is pretty inexpensive to care for him as well. Some of Herbert’s favorite treats consist of fruits and vegetables that can be found in your fridge already. Herbert also enjoys mealworms and spending time in his hammock. 

Izzy Szelagiewicz – Rat

Junior Izzy Szelagiewicz holds her rescued rats.

Junior Izzy Szelagiewicz has three rats named Poe, Remi and Dobby. Szelagiewicz has had Remi and Dobby for about three months and Poe for almost a year. Szelagiewicz said that caring for rats is easy if you have free time, and the expense to do so is similar to a more traditional pet. Szelagiewicz explained that for the most part, her rats tend to be pretty independent. 

“They are litter box trained,” Szelagiewicz said. “They are amazing.”

Szelagiewicz mentioned that her rats also have toys to chew on, such as wood, since rats’ teeth are constantly growing. In addition to munching on wood, some of their favorite snacks include yogurt bites, eggs, and even stolen Doritos. According to Szelagiewicz, Dorito theft isn’t the only mischief Poe, Remi and Dobby get into. 

“They love roughhousing and to play fight,” Szelagiewicz said. “They even like to chase my cat and my dog.”

Chase Van Briesen – Turtle

Senior Chase Van Briesen holds shrimp savants Shellton John and Turt Cobain.

Senior Chase Van Briesen has two turtles named Turt Cobain and Shellton John. According to Van Briesen, Turt Cobain is about five years old and Shellton John is about three years old. Van Briesen didn’t buy these turtles from a breeder or pet store, due to him living in close proximity to a lake he actually found the turtles himself. 

“Turt Cobain was a hatchling and probably could’ve lived on his own,” Van Briesen said. “Shellton John was more of a rescue: he was out on the road, he was missing an eye and his shell was damaged.” 

Van Briesen explained that early on, caring for his pets was costly and somewhat difficult. Not only was he caring for an injured animal, but also two animals he had never owned before. 

“The worst part is having to clean out the filter,” Van Briesen said. “After a while we learned how to properly filter and treat the water with more natural bacteria instead of cleaning it to a point where it was actually bad for them.”

Van Briesen believes the difficulty of care for his pets now is medium. Van Briesen had even suggested that the amount of care and cost can be less than that of more traditional pets. 

“With a dog you have to be more active while taking care of it,” Van Briesen said. “They [turtles] can do almost everything they need on their own.”

Van Briesen said that one of Turt Cobain’s and Shellton John’s favorite snacks are shrimp and that they don’t have any favorite toys. 

Kalista Begley-Bird


Chester the playful parakeet props on senior Kalista Begley’s shoulder.

Senior Kalista Begley has a Sun Conure Parakeet named Chester who is five years old. Begley had said that her family had been searching for a Sun Conure for months and were finally able to buy Chester from a pet store in Omaha. Begley described Chester as easy to care for, but a bit expensive when it comes to toys.

“He loves anything that is made of wood or straw so he can chew,” Begley said. “He chews through them within a couple of weeks.”

Begley also said that in addition to wood and straw, Chester loves steam and taking showers. 

“On Sundays, he takes showers in the sink,” Begley said. “We turn on the faucet to shower and make it low pressure. He loves it.”

Chesters other favorite things include peanuts and his green bed that he sleeps in every night

Leilani Chancey – Gecko

Senior Lelani Chancey is the owner of a leopard gecko named Tammy. Tammy is four years old, three of which have been spent with Chancey.Chancey discussed some of the essential ways to care for Tammy. 

“You have to make sure the temperature and humidity is right every day,” Chancey said. “You also need a heating pad and a heating lamp.”

While Chancey described Tammy’s care as being fairly cheap, she still considers it mildly difficult. Tammy’s favorite snacks include crickets and her favorite things to do are climb her tree hut and sunbathe.