School is in session and many students at college may pause for a moment and consider adopting a pet to live with them. After all, this will provide an instant companion and help deal with the stress of homesickness, right? Before you answer “yes,” think it through carefully.
Nearly every university has provisions against students keeping pets on campus. Even those who choose to live off-campus may have difficulty finding housing that will allow them a pet. A student who finds that his or her living situation allows a pet will want to consider the long-term commitment. A pet’s lifespan can be 15 years or more, considerably longer then the time spent in college; therefore, the students need to make sure they are willing to adopt for life. A pet should never be adopted on a whim.
Aside from housing constraints and possible commitment issues, a pet takes time to care for. Between classes and possibly work (not to mention parties) students need to consider whether or not they will have time for the pet. A goldfish is one thing, but a dog is quite another story. Most dogs require two 45-minute walks a day, a big commitment for anyone. A cat, however, could make a great companion for a college student given the right circumstances. Cats don’t require walks, they pretty much litter train themselves, and they do better when left alone. I would highly recommend that the cat be kept indoors, as there are too many dangers for cats in college towns. Students should also become educated about cat ownership and must realize that cats can live longer than dogs-sometimes up to age 18 or 20, so they should be willing to make that commitment.
Here is a summary of questions students needs to ask themselves before adopting a pet:
• Why do you want a pet?
• Do you have time for a pet?
• Can you afford a pet? (Not just food but medical bills as well.)
• Are you prepared to deal with the special problems a pet can cause?
• Can you have a pet where you live?
• Is it a good time to adopt a pet?
• Are your living arrangements suitable for the animal you have in mind?
• Do you know who will care for the pet while you’re away on vacation or break?
• Will you be a responsible pet owner?
• If you have roommates, do they all agree on allowing a pet in the home? And will they follow the same rules as the pet owner, e.g., not letting the cat outside?
• What will you do after school ends-if moving back home, will your parents allow a pet in their home?
• Are you prepared to keep and care for the pet for its entire lifetime?
I have the luxury of living on the Mesa near Santa Barbara City College and many students have pets. In my experience college students sometimes move in with a cat and then move out without their pet. These cats are abandoned and forced to fend for themselves. End of the summer dumping is a sad reality.
If you visit any local animal shelter you’ll find many young pets-victims of irresponsible pet owners who allowed their pets to breed. But what you’ll also find are adolescent pets who were obtained when they were young, were possibly never trained properly, and then were relinquished to shelters at an adolescent age, which can be a difficult age to adopt. These were animals were adopted by people who didn’t think through the responsibilities of pet ownership.
So what’s the answer? Should a college student adopt a pet? If a student is thinking about getting a pet while at school, the pros and cons must be weighed carefully. Students must educate themselves in regard to proper care for the particular pet they are looking to adopt and most importantly they need to make a lifetime commitment. If they can make that commitment, I say, go for it and enjoy a terrific companionship!
Lisa Acho Remorenko is executive director of Animal Adoption Solutions.