Raija Hansen: Animal Lover Extraordinaire

Nadine Druar, Staff Writer, Advanced Journalism

“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened,” said Anatole France.

Raija Hansen is a freshman at Notre Dame who works at the Fox Valley Herp Club, or FVHC for short. “Herp” is an abbreviation of Herpetology, which is the study of reptiles and amphibians. She takes care of the animals and is the secretary. The FVHC recently came to Notre Dame with some of their reptiles.

“When I was young, I always wanted to be a paleontologist (digging up dinosaur bones) since I had, and still do, have an interest in dinosaurs…I would love to do something in the field of herpetology (study of reptiles and amphibians) while incorporating my art talent/skill into it. I really enjoy working with the reptiles and teaching others about them. I also enjoy creating various types of art, which I could hopefully use to create pieces of art for my work. To sum things up, I would like to be a herpetologist/artist when I graduate from high school and college,” said Raija.

In her spare time, Raija enjoys drawing, playing video games, painting, taking care of her pets, and playing violin, piano, or other string instruments.

Raija has 15 animals that are her personal pets. She has four leopard geckos named Oz, Grimle, Athena and Rosie Cotton. She says that Oz, her only male Leopard Gecko, is “definitely a ladies’ man.”

“Asking me to choose a favorite [animal] is like asking a mother to choose her favorite child out of six of her own children. She will always choose every single one as her favorite. I cannot choose a favorite kind of animal, seeing as how I am a reptile, horse and dog owner. I’ve also had birds and cats and loved them just as much as all the others,” said Raija.

Her other animals are Angus the Northern Blue Tongue Skink, Hera the Horned Mountain Dragon, Saphira the Iguana, Ajax the Butterfly Agama, Miriel the Bearded Dragon, Odin the Carpet Python, a Shih Tzu named Gizmo and three horses named Talon, Kumba, and Bill.

“Miriel [the Bearded Dragon] is a rescue. I don’t know too much about her past other than the fact that she was abandoned in an apartment over winter with no heat, food or water. Luckily, somebody found her and brought her to my work, which is where I got her.  Because she was left where she was for so long under the conditions that I named off, part of her tail is broken off, she is incredibly skinny, and her hind legs do not work properly. After a bit of work, she is finally gaining some weight. She loves showers and baths, and, even though she was abused and neglected, is overly sweet. She loves to be talked to and have somebody play with her. Believe it or not, she actually chases a laser, much like a cat would,” said Raija.

Many of the animals she cares for were rescued. Even some of her personal pets were.

“Kah Mun Rah, or just “Ra” for short, was my very first snake – a ball python. I adopted him in February of 2013. Sadly, he passed away just recently on Monday, April 13,  due to unknown reasons. He was only 4, whereas ball pythons usually live until they are 40 years old or so.

He was what my work would consider a ‘rescue.’ I adopted him from somebody who had taken him in. The people who first had him got him at a pet store as a baby (the size of a pencil). Once they brought him home, they were absolutely terrified of him; so they threw him in a tank with padlocks on it, never changing his water, taking uneaten food out of there, or cleaning his tank. Eventually, I picked him up from a sanctuary in Milwaukee. He sat in my lap the whole way home. He was actually quite shy, but he eventually opened up. He would never flick his tongue about to gather scents, like most snakes would. He loved to watch television, his favorite channel being the cooking channel and his favorite show being Doctor Who,” said Raija.

Raija says that her dream superpower would be to have the ability to transform into any type of animal, like a bird to travel or a draft horse to help to pull a car from a ditch.

“Animals, unlike humans, are non-judgmental and will love you unconditionally no matter what. I’ve noticed that each and every one has his own individual personality and is much different than the one next to it, if they are the same species or not. If one would look closely, many animals share the same characteristics as some of us humans. Leopard geckos have ‘hands’ that look and function much like our own. Skinks have eyes that look much like our own as well. Skinks share the same diet as some of us as well. Horses, on the other hand, have very human-like qualities as far as being emotional and sensitive. I’ve noticed with mine, they always seem to know when I’m happy and when I’m sad,” said Raija.