Lakewood Ranch senior Caitlin Sollazzo shows off her passion at the Manatee County Fair.
A wall of her bedroom is covered with black cow spots.
So it’s easy to say 18-year-old Caitlin Sollazzo, a Lakewood Ranch High senior, is enamored with cows.
She grooms two of them daily and loves to show them affection. Sometimes that leads to problems, such as the time when she was 11 and she required stitches after a baby cow accidentally bit her finger.
At this year’s Manatee County Fair, which runs Jan. 11-21, Sollazzo will be showing Freddie, the offspring of one of Sollazzo’s cows, Faye, she artificially inseminated after taking at course on the subject at Dakin Dairy in Myakka City.
She is totally invested in her animals.
“I just love cows because they have more personality than a person would think,” she said, “I enjoy showing them off.”
Her mother, Joanne Sollazzo, said she was the kind of child who played with stuffed animals instead of dolls and even brought her pet rabbits on leashes in second and third grades to watch her older brothers play soccer.
Her obsession with cows, specifically, started in fourth grade after she became friends with Cara Zeveney, who leased a cow from Dakin Dairy for the fair. The following year, in fifth grade, Sollazzo had Zeveney’s mother, Danielle Zeveney, as a teacher.
“I got to know the family really well,” Sollazzo said. “They knew how much I loved animals and thought (showing cattle) would be a good fit for me. They offered for me to keep one at their house.”
Sollazzo leased her first cow, also from Dakin Dairy. She named it Milkshake.
“It was something new that excited me,” she said.
Every day for months preparing for the fair, she traveled to the Zeveney’s home to tend to Milkshake. After Milkshake returned to the dairy following the fair, she went to visit her there every weekend.
“I missed her,” Sollazzo said with a shrug.
The following year, Caitlin became a cow owner after her parents bought one, a Brown Swiss she calls D.J., at an auction. D.J. now lives on a dairy in Okeechobee. This year, Sollazzo will show one of D.J.’s babies, named Dallas.
Sollazzo has shown two to three heifers at the Manatee County Fair since sixth grade.
Joanne Sollazzo has laughed because her daughter’s hobby has given her experience cleaning up manure, clipping cows and visiting diary farms across the country. But she does it all to support her daughter.
“I never knew you did these things with cows,” Joanne Sollazzo said. “I grew up in Sarasota by the beach.”
As a senior at Lakewood Ranch, this may be Caitlin Sollazzo’s final year participating in the fair, but she hopes her involvement with cattle can continue in some capacity. She wants to be a veterinarian — she’s decided against specializing solely in large-breed animals — and she wants to keep cows of her own, just as pets.
“I want cows for fun,” she said.