By Amanda Stickels, executive online editor

*source prefers they/them pronouns

Sophomore Lae Czarny walked into *their bedroom and saw their tarantula, Sylvester, hiding in his cage with one of his legs broken off earlier this year.

Fear and shock soon took over Czarny as they hoped that Sylvester was still alive. They called for their father, Ken Czarny, and told him what happened. Lae was relieved when he said Sylvester would not die.

Although Ken and Lae weren’t there to see it, Lae assumes that Sylvester’s leg got caught in the mesh canopy at the top of his cage, and he fell while trying to get it out.

Almost immediately after finding out Sylvester was alive, Lae hopped onto the computer to do research. They wanted to make sure that losing a leg was normal for a tarantula, which it is. Eventually, Sylvester’s leg grew back.

Doing research on their pets is a normal activity for Lae because they own a tarantula, bearded dragon, guinea pig, two cats and four fish.

“I just [want] to give my pets the best life they could possibly have,” Lae said.

Growing up, Lae remembers that their family always had “way too many” pets like cats, dogs and fish.

Ken also remembers having pets around when he was younger. As he got older, he continued to own animals and introduced them to his children. Constantly having Ken’s pets around sparked Lae’s passion for animals.

Lae especially remembers finding tadpoles at a park in Rolling Meadows. Ken wanted to show her how frogs developed, so he took a couple of them home.

Together, they nurtured the tadpoles by feeding them boiled lettuce. When the tadpoles grew into frogs, Ken and Lae released them back into the park. They both decided to make it a tradition because Lae enjoyed watching the tadpoles develop their legs, lose their tails and become frogs.

The experience of growing frogs inspired Lae to get a pet solely for themselves.

Lae started doing research to convince their parents to get them a hamster in sixth grade. After realizing that a guinea pig would be easier to take care of than a hamster because they’re more social and live longer, Lae spent their summer going into seventh grade reading articles, scouring books and watching videos about guinea pigs.

Eventually, their parents let them get one in eighth grade. Lae named the guinea pig Walnut. Ken felt that Lae was ready because of all the research they did.

However, the research didn’t stop when Lae got Walnut. It became a hobby for them. Ken recalls seeing Lae do research for weeks at a time before getting a new pet.

When Lae got a bearded dragon, Nessy, right before their freshman year, their sister put together a booklet of what she would eat, what kind of cage she needed and which heating lamps to buy since Nessy is cold blooded and needs a source of heat to keep her warm.

Supplies, such as heat lamps, are an essential part of taking care of the animals. Ken plays a big part in driving to the pet store and buying the supplies for Nessy, like food.

Lae knows each of the animals’ diets and makes sure their pets stay healthy.

Nessy eats live crickets, vegetables, fruits, kale and mustard grain. Sylvester also eats live crickets along with mealworms and other types of live bugs. Walnut, the guinea pig, eats hay.

When Lae gets home after school, they first check to see if Sylvester ate all of his crickets, and then feed the fish. Nessy is fed around dinner time because sometimes Lae will give her leftover vegetables from dinner. Ken also helps feed the animals when Lae isn’t home.

Along with feeding the animals, a big component of taking care of the animals is cleaning the cages. Ken cleans their cages about once every week or every other week because Lae usually doesn’t have time. However, Ken and Lae both spot check daily to make sure there isn’t anything that shouldn’t be in the cages.

“It’s like taking care of a person, so you never stop taking care of them. You’re always caring for them, no matter what,” Lae said.

According to Lae, taking care of their pets not only teaches them responsibility, but also helps strengthen the bond between them and their pets.

Lae believes that in the same way people need to spend time with friends to develop a stronger bond, they need to hang out with their pets to get to know them better and have a deeper relationship.

Often, they’ll take Nessy out of the cage and play videogames or watch TV with her. They will even walk around the house together. Lae also likes to do homework and study next to their pets’ cages.

Simply sitting with the animals and feeling their presence is one of Lae’s favorite ways to spend time with them.

This also is a great stress reliever for Lae. Hunter and Peanut, their cats, particularly have helped when Lae has had paralyzing panic attacks.

Hunter and Peanut would sense when Lae had one and immediately come to comfort them.

The presence of another living thing allowed Lae to realize that they were not alone. Petting Hunter and Peanut would make them focus on the cats and not on bad thoughts, and gradually, Lae would recover.

Lae said that their animals’ love for them always gives them a sense of comfort.

“It’s just like no matter what, they will love me because I feed them,” Lae said. “They’ll always love me because I’m giving them a good life.”