UM students on dog parenting, ‘It’s just like having another kid’

Mareshah Morton, a senior majoring in Africana studies and psychology, unexpectedly met her four-legged best friend last summer when her mom’s wife decided to get a quarantine puppy.

“She’s in the military. She doesn’t have time to have a puppy and I’ve always wanted a dog. So, I told her I’d watch him, train him, raise him until he’s out of that puppy stage,” Morton said.

But after spending months of the COVID-19 pandemic, including her Fall 2020 semester, with the puppy, Morton couldn’t part ways when she headed back to UM in the spring.

“I just couldn’t imagine having put in all that work being so emotionally attached to him to then just end up having to let him go,” Morton said about her now one and a half-year old Yorkie-Poo named Nori. “He felt like my dog at that point.”

Now, she lives in the University Village with Nori and he has become a big part of her life. When planning her schedule this semester, Morton scheduled all her classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays with breaks in between so she can go back and walk him.

“It used to be overwhelming at first when he was so young because it really is hard to have a puppy. But now, it’s just gonna be a coordination thing in terms of traveling or moving. I’m sure I’ll confront it at some point,” Morton said.

Mareshah Morton and her one and a half-year old puppy Nori
Mareshah Morton and her one and a half-year old puppy Nori Photo credit: Mareshah Morton

Morton’s not the only one that became a dog mom over quarantine.

Allie Fraga, a sophomore at the university majoring in accounting, was a high school senior when COVID-19 hit. After years of wanting a dog, she finally got a Yorkie as a graduation gift in May 2020. Fraga named her puppy Rey, after the Star Wars character Rey Skywalker.

“I grew up watching dog shows and training shows, so I kind of already knew a little bit about how to train a dog. And since it was summer, I had all day with her,” Fraga said.

Rey, a little seven pound dog, currently lives with Fraga, her parents and her two siblings in South Miami. Being such a small dog, she has ample space to wander around freely. However, Fraga and her family have grown such an attachment that they do not like leaving her alone.

“She can be left alone. She doesn’t really bite furniture or anything,” Fraga said. “But we always have to have somebody in the house and that can conflict when multiple people have different plans.”

Juan Carlos Ramirez, a senior majoring in journalism and Spanish, also recently became a parent. This semester, he bought a purebred American Pit Bull named Minerva. She is only four months old and lives with Ramirez and his friends in an off-campus house.

“My friends and I, we really took on becoming a dad because it’s just like having another kid,” Ramirez said.

Even though Ramirez got Minerva when he had a full course load, he was able to train her and smoothly fit her into his daily schedule.

“When I work out, I usually warm up with a run. So instead of doing that over at the gym, I’ll just do it here with my dog and then go do my workout at the gym,” Ramirez said. “It’s doing small stuff like that to keep her in my life.”

Alec Studnik, a junior at UM, is another dog dad at UM who finds ways to incorporate his son in his everyday life. He has had his bichon — named Albus, after Dumbledore’s beard — for almost three years now.

“If I have a 9 a.m., sure I could roll out of bed at 8:45 a.m. and probably make it on time, but instead I’ll be up at 6 or 7 a.m. to walk Albus, feed him and hang out with him a little before I leave,” Studnik said.

But it is all worth it for him.

“Coming home after a long day and seeing him wag his tail and bark his little hello will never get old,” he said.

Lucky for these dog parents, the University of Miami and the surrounding area are very dog friendly.

“[My roommates] will take her to the park and the beach, so it’s really nice,” Ramirez said about Minerva. “And my dog loves campus. She loves to walk around and see people and there are really nice grassy areas where she just likes to lay down.’

Minerva also gets along with people and other dogs that she meets. She loves to go up and just smell or play with other nearby dogs.

Rey, Fraga’s puppy, loves going for car rides around Miami with her family.

“If we say, ‘You want to go bye-bye,’ she immediately gets into her little doggy purse,” Fraga said. “She loves going in the car.”

Rey recently came to UM for the first time with Fraga’s dad and she loved sitting by the Starbucks in the Shalala Student Center. Although she loves to meet new people, Fraga said that she prefers males over females.

“I guess it’s because she’s a female. Because even if it’s like a random guy that comes to our house, she’ll pay more attention to them. Females, she’s more distant,” Fraga said.

Morton started many conversations and met many other dog owners. At her home in Maryland, Morton never knew her neighbors before she got Nori — now, she knows most of them. Here at UM, she frequently walks Nori around campus.

Mareshah Morton plays with Nori outside
Mareshah Morton plays with Nori outside Photo credit: Mareshah Morton

“Of course, people, especially walking through the freshmen area like Hecht and Stanford, they love to see dogs and everybody’s always like, ‘Oh my gosh, it makes me miss my dog so much,’” Morton said.

Every Wednesday, Morton visits a dog park with her friend who owns a golden retriever.

Dog parents Morton, Fraga and Studnik all expressed the same sentiment regarding their furry friends: having their dogs around has been one of the best experiences.

“Everyone who knows us knows that Albus is the most important part of my day everyday. He’s always so happy to see me and anyone else who crosses his path and it really just brings a light feeling even to bad days,” Studnik said.