College is a place to make new friends. But, the fact that you can’t go out and socialize right now doesn’t need to stop you.
Animals can be a source of meaningful companionship, and like people, they have varying personalities and needs. They’ll be a nice roommate who won’t play their music too loud, leave their laundry everywhere or sexile you.
I adopted two ferrets during quarantine and also live with a dog. Though I had been thinking about adopting ferrets before, I will admit I finally committed during an impulsive bid to stave off the quarantine blues.
My pets get into all sorts of shenanigans, adding a vibrancy to my life that contrasts sitting in front of a monitor for hours on end.
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Having a pet can be very rewarding. Aside from driving away loneliness and providing a friendship that lasts several years, they can provide actual health benefits, such as reducing stress and blood pressure levels. And they’re very cute.
But, if you are a first-time pet owner, you should also know having a pet also requires time, effort and money. Especially if you live alone, the stress and upkeep may make keeping a pet a challenge.
Here are some things all students should consider before adopting a pet, as told by other students who own pets in college.
- Does the place where you live allow pets?
If you live in a dorm or in an apartment that doesn’t allow pets, sorry! Violating a lease could result in you losing your residence, not to mention you won’t get the security deposit back.
- What’s your budget?
Pets can be expensive. With food, vet fees, living quarters and toys, the cost adds up quickly. For example, if your monthly budget is $20, a new pet dog would not be recommended.
If you’re looking for a cheaper pet, start out with fish. Fish require a tank, food and water. Remember to do research if you have a specific pet in mind, but set a realistic budget for yourself before you start looking.
- How much time can I give my pet?
Being a college student requires a lot of time management skills, especially if you plan to add a pet into your life.
Some pets, like dogs, require lots of mental stimulation, exercise and playtime for it to lead a happy, healthy lifestyle.
“My biggest piece of advice for people considering adopting a pet is to think really hard about what kind of pet fits their lifestyle best,” Jordin Jarvis, a junior with a leopard gecko, says. “If you don’t have time to walk and play with a dog for several hours each day, get something that requires less time.”
Pets such as lizards require less daily handling. You will also have to remember to feed and water your pet regularly, and potentially groom them, as well as cleaning up after them.
Consider your time with your pet a three-credit class. What would an additional three-credit class in your schedule feel like? Manageable? Overwhelming?
- What are my future plans?
Remember, when you are adopting an animal, you are signing up for a commitment that lasts for several years. Take some time to consider your future plans, and how well an animal fits into your lifestyle.
If you plan to study abroad next year, would you have someone who could take care of your pet during that time? Do you want to move across the world after you graduate?
Some animals, such as a rat, live up to around four years, around the time it takes to graduate college, making a perfect companion for the duration of your undergraduate studies.
Other animals, such as a snake or ferret can live for several years. Are you ready to take care of an animal in your 20s?
Are you prepared for extra expenses and distractions while studying at home?
- How do I feel?
Owning a pet is the beginning of a new relationship. And like any new relationship, you should consider what you’re looking for in this friendship.
“If you want a pet that’ll be very cuddly and fun right away, don’t get a reptile or bird,” Jarvis says.
Huck Boles, a cat owner, says cats “show affection in very different ways than dogs or humans, which can take some getting used to.”
- How does my roommate(s) feel about pets?
Just like checking in with your residence, it’s important to sit down and have a conversation with the people you live with if you live with someone.
Sharing a space with someone else means you need to also get their consent if you are planning on getting a pet. What are some boundaries they would like to set? How will the responsibilities be divided? Is the pet going to stay in your room?
These questions might feel big and daunting. And that’s okay! You might not know all the answers right away.
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- A note about pet stores
Foremost, remember that pet stores are a business before anything else. They want you to spend more money there, including on new pets and extra supplies. Remember to do your research on what an animal needs before you adopt one.
Also, make sure the pet store does not source their animals from pet mills. If you are considering adopting, check out the local animal shelter or rescues.
All in all, be patient with your pet and yourself.
It can feel exasperating when you catch your dog chewing on the curtains instead of the toys you had already set out for them. It might also feel overwhelming at first with the new responsibilities of taking care of them. You might make mistakes. That’s okay.
“Pets take work and time, even if it’s just a fish,” Jarvis says.