NAU’s pet show from home

Junior Taijel Benton showed off her Maine coon, Hypnos, at the Virtual Pet Show hosted by LEAP Jan. 15, 2021. 

The first week of remote learning has officially been completed at NAU. Due to the stress of the pandemic and remote courses, NAU’s Leadership, Engagement, Activities and Peer Mentoring (LEAP) organization hosted a virtual pet show on Zoom to set a positive end to the week.

Michelle Gardner, ASNAU adviser and assistant director of LEAP,  coordinated and hosted a fun, interactive pet show open for the entire NAU community, all while staying safe by connecting remotely.

The LEAP organization’s primary focus for NAU students is to implement the tools and opportunities required to strengthen their college experience. LEAP strives to help students develop the essential skills and confidence necessary to thrive and become socially engaged in their daily lives and future careers. 

Like the virtual pet show, these opportunities allow students to engage in their community, have fun and become an involved Lumberjack. LEAP’s initiatives provide the NAU community with the outlets and means to cope with some of the struggles students face in light of current events. 

“Now that COVID’s here, it’s [about] really trying to figure out creative ways to get people to interact and engage, and have an enjoyable college experience through a computer, essentially,” Gardner said. “[Every institution] is looking for creative ways, since we’ve never had to do this before.”

The event was open to any pets and pet lovers wanting to sign up online to watch or display their animal friends. 

The show began with a short Q&A asking everyone questions about their dream pets in the chat and information about their current pets. Those who wanted to share their pets raised their digital hands using Zoom’s reaction feature as Gardner coordinated each participant’s turn to show off their pet.

Junior Taijel Benton volunteered to show off her cat for the event as the proud owner of a Maine coon named Hypnos, hoping to win a prize and meet new people from the virtual show. 

“I’m very close with my pet, so I was like: ‘This would be perfect,’” Benton said.

A group of 14 people total attended the event, with 11 members of the group presenting their pets.

Each participant was given two to three minutes to talk about their pet, how they got them, how old they are and show off any talents and special tricks. Students were able to ask questions about their pets in the chat and share any memorable stories. The participants demonstrating their pets communicated their appreciation for their furry friends. 

“It’s a nice way to make people feel included,” Benton said. “I went to ASU before for a year, and they do a lot of things on campus, so this is a good way to make sure that you’re still feeling like a part of the community.” 

During the pet show, the most common pets introduced were dogs, with breeds varying from English mastiffs to golden retrievers. There were few cats among the dog lovers, but the most exotic pet shown on screen was a shy 2-year-old hedgehog named Snuffles.

Junior Aimee Uribe said they are a fully-online student looking to get involved with the university’s community of students both on and off campus. Uribe attended the virtual pet show to show off her tabby cat, Rocket, among the audience of positive pet lovers. 

“I’m an online student, so I don’t really get to see or be as involved on campus,” Uribe said. “It was nice to do something even if it was only for an hour with other students.”

Uribe also said the event introduced her to the LEAP organization.

Gardner said she wanted the event to allow students to remove themselves from school life for a brief moment outside of classes to engage with one another on a personal level. This opportunity allowed anyone from NAU’s community to join together in their shared enjoyment of pets.  

The audience consisted of various people ranging from anyone wanting to view the pet show without having to own a pet, to those who couldn’t wait to highlight their beloved animals. 

Gardner also provided four prizes at the end of the event. Winners had a choice of a $15 gift card to Amazon or Target. 

Students Julia Igneri, Cheyenne Clutter, Mariah Griego and Sydney Cox were the pet show winners. These randomly selected winners were a mix of both the audience and proud pet demonstrators of the event.

“School life can be very stressful with assignments, especially right now with the pandemic, so things like this keep everything lighthearted,” Uribe said. “It's important to do it every so often especially because they're pets. They're very emotionally soothing.”

Through Zoom, audience members and pet demonstrators were able to take time from their Friday night to laugh, smile and bond with one another. The demonstrations from each pet owner presented the value of their pet's comfort and love provided during this pandemic filled with self-isolation and remote learning.

LEAP will continue to host and coordinate similar events for the NAU community each week where all students are welcome to join and connect.