Part 42: 'Aw, she's so cute. OW!'

Part 42: 'Aw, she's so cute. OW!'

With the UI celebrating birthday No. 150 this year, we caught up with hundreds of graduates who have gone on to greatness. Every Tuesday throughout 2017, Editor JEFF D'ALESSIO will tell their tales. Today, in Part 42: alums and animals.

Willy, Digit and Squirt the squirrel

In the basement of the College of Veterinary Medicine's Small Animal Clinic, Dr. MATT O'CONNOR met the love of his life — and a few of his all-time favorite patients.

There was WILLY the hognose snake, who came in with an eye infection. And DIGIT the coyote, who'd been struck by a car. And, of course, SQUIRT, the aptly named squirrel, who had a systemic infection (among other issues).

"Squirt liked to pee every time we handled him to administer his medications," O'Connor says. "It was his way of saying 'Thanks.'"

Now a staff vet at Chicago's Shedd Aquarium, O'Connor (DVM '07) points to his time working with ill, injured or orphaned native creatures at the UI's Wildlife Medical Clinic as a launching point for his career. He spent three years as a resident vet at Ohio's Columbus Zoo and Aquarium before starting at Shedd in 2015.

He also found his future bride here — Dr. LAUREN O'CONNOR. Theirs is a love story unlike the many others we've told in this series; it didn't happen on dollar-beer night at a campus bar.

Says Dr. Matt: "I was most fortunate that she randomly signed up to be on my wildlife team and first got to know her when she managed to get me out of my clothes by dousing me with water after a failed attempt at handling a softshell turtle the size of a hubcap that had swallowed a fishing hook."

The puppy and the police officer

To future L.A. filmmaker FRED KOSCHMANN, it seemed like a winning formula at the time: Get a puppy, improve his chances of meeting women.

The playful black Lab he picked out sure looked the part, but OPHELIA wasn't particularly obedient, especially when it came to using her puppy fangs.

"The idea that one could pick up girls on the Quad with a cute puppy proved to be a myth," Koschmann says, "when the main reaction seemed to be, 'Aw, she's so cute. Ow! Ow! Ow!'"

Fast-forward a year. Koschmann (BA '05, MA '06), now in grad school, decides to bring Ophelia along when he and a few friends sneak on to the grounds of the Arboretum with bottles of wine and blankets.

"We assumed this was against the rules but could honestly say we didn't know what the rules were, so I let Ophelia run free," he says. "After a while, we saw a flashlight coming toward us, which seemed to scare Ophelia, who at this point had grown a little larger, though was no less energetic or more behaved.

"She ran barking toward the light until we heard a whimper and things got quiet. We ran after her and found a policeman shining his light on her. She was on her back, rubbing her eyes with her paws.

"The policeman, it turned out, had Maced her. He seemed flustered and full of remorse, saying things like, 'Well, she provoked me!' It was hard to see in that moment how this cute and pathetic dog, quietly writhing in pain, needed to be Maced, and the girls in the group in particular expressed their dissatisfaction toward the young cop."

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