A Student's Best Friend Portrait Series by Emma Saldivar

College students around the country were forced to move back home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As Texas followed other states and enacted shelter-at-home restrictions, university campuses emptied out, and many students returned home to their families. Being confined at home while navigating classes online can be taxing on mental health, but some students found comfort in their family pets.

San Antonio, Texas, 04/23/20. Gabby Garza is a political science major at UT Austin and had been in self-isolation for almost three weeks before being able to move home to San Antonio. Gabby is grateful to be back with her family and her dogs, Bruiser and Ollie (an 11-year-old shi-tzu).

“They’re like a good distraction and they keep me from the overwhelming stream of news on my phone or TV.” Gabby said. “They have no idea what is going on outside, they’re just happy that I’ve been home for two months, which makes me feel good about myself.”

San Antonio, Texas, 04/20/20. Joel DeJesus is a sophomore at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York and was forced to move back to San Antonio after his university campus closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Joel said that since he has been in New York for the past two years, his dog Marco has become more his mother’s dog, so it has been nice to get reacquainted with him. “Putting a pause on life during this time can be kind of a bummer, but now I get to reconnect with my roots, even if that’s a grumpy old shi-tzu.”

Because Joel and Marco have grown up together and Joel is back living at home, he and Marco get to rekindle a very unique relationship they once had. “I took him for a walk yesterday and he tried to fight a puppy because he’s a bad dog,” Joel said. “I tell him everyday, ‘Hey, you’re bad at being a dog.’”

San Antonio, Texas, 04/14/20. Mackenzie Sullivan is a senior at Antonian College Preparatory High School and was just accepted into UT Austin’s journalism school. Antonian has also converted fully to online coursework and attends two classes via video conferences Monday through Friday. “It’s hard because it feels like summer, but I still have quizzes and tests," Mackenzie said.

Mackenzie has always been close with her dogs, Jack and Paco (a 12-year-old maltipoo), so sheltering at home has been a wonderful time for her. “I love being with them all the time because they bring me a sense of comfort in these really uncertain times,” Mackenzie said. “If I am ever feeling out of it Jack will lay down with me and Paco will lay at my feet and it’s just the sweetest thing.”

San Antonio, Texas, 04/13/20. Anthony Flammia is a sophomore visual arts major at the University of Incarnate Word. Although he goes to school locally, it has been a while since he was around his pets for such a long period of time. Anthony lost his childhood dog, Rocky, this March, but he says being around his dogs Boe and Mira, is a good distraction.

Anthony says now that he is home, he is starting to see the differences in how Boe interacts with Mira, who was taken in by Anthony and his family right before the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted their lives. “It’s funny seeing Boe go from chill to playful with Mira,” Anthony said. “Now that everyone is close together in the house we all get to see this new friendship between the two of them form.”

San Antonio, Texas, 05/01/20. Melissa Giang is a sophomore communications major at UT San Antonio. Between school and work she didn’t have a lot of time to spend with her dog, Cody, before the shelter-in-place restrictions went into effect. Now, Cody is the only thing that brings Melissa some mental relief from the outside world. “When Cody’s sitting I’ll just look at him, pat my legs, and he’ll jump up to me and I’ll hold his paws so we can do a little dance,” Melissa said.

Melissa says humans rely on our pets a lot more than we like to admit, and they don’t have to do much to cheer us up. “With everything that’s happening, humans just seem so evil, and so a lot of us take comfort in our animals because we want that break from the outside world.”

San Antonio, Texas, 04/13.20. Isabella is a sophomore at Texas A&M in College Station and came back to her home in San Antonio when the the shelter-in-place orders went into effect. Isabella says Penny has always been considered her mother's dog and wouldn’t show her much affection when she was in town during the summer or holiday breaks. Now that Isabella is home, she and Penny have formed a better relationship with one another.

“I just think that the innocent joy pets give to a family is very important right now especially because we’re at home all the time,” Isabella said. “This year was kind of hard already since we had to put down our first family pet, Charlie, but having Penny there made it a little easier for everyone.”

San Antonio, Texas, 04/30/20. Grace Flynn is a sophomore at Southern Methodist University and just moved home to San Antonio after SMU closed its campus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Her dogs, Niko, Sasha, and Oslo (left to right) have brought a lot of energy back into her life as she tries to finish her finance and accounting classes online.

Sometimes they can overwhelm her and sometimes they can bring her some peace. “Sometimes I’m jealous of their sweet ignorance to this entire situation and it helps me remember that this isn’t (hopefully) the end of the word,” Grace said. “It’s also kind of nice because when I feel like I keep messing up school stuff, my dogs still think I’m perfect.”

San Antonio, Texas, 05/04/20. Nia Atwater is a sophomore at Hofstra University in Long Island, New York. She was forced to move out of her dorm and back to her home in San Antonio. Nia is majoring in theatrical costume design so the transition to online classes has been rough for her.

“Now that I’m away from friends and no longer living on campus it feels like there is nowhere to run and hide from all of the work, but my dogs bring me out of that feeling when they want attention or need to go for a walk,” Nia said.

This is the longest Nia has spent with her dogs Brutus and Chiquita (left to right) and she and her family have discovered the very unique personalities of each dog. “Just the other day my dad and I were sitting at the dining room table when he turned to me and said, ‘If Brutus could speak, I think he’d have a British accent.’”

San Antonio, Texas, 04/14/20. Delia Flores is a senior at the University of North Texas and has split her time between Denton and her home in San Antonio looking for a job during the COVID-19 pandemic. Being on UNT’s campus and working gave structure to Delia’s life that was harder to find when she was forced to stay home.

Delia’s dog, Luna, helped her remember the brighter side of life when she was home. “It was nice being home with Luna because she kind of gave me motivation to have a schedule and do things,” Delia said. “I would take her on a walk every morning to tire her out, and she just woke me up a little and reminded me that everything was going to be okay.”

San Antonio, Texas, 04/23/20. Alejandro Davila is a sophomore at Texas Tech University and just moved back home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Transitioning to all online classes has been hard for Alejandro, who is an engineering major. His dog Bexar has been one of the brighter notes in his day-to-day life.

When Alejandro isn’t stuck at a desk for three-hour video conferences for class, he is outside playing with Bexar. “I feel like I am dead inside sometimes,” Alejandro said. “Okay maybe not fully dead, but 99% dead because Bexar is the 1% of me that is still alive.”


Photo Essay by Emma Saldivar