My family has had a pet ever since I was about seven years old. When I left for college, there was definitely a void that had previously been filled by Lawrence, a 15 lb. orange striped cat who liked to break skin every time we “played.” Whenever I called my parents from school, I would inevitably ask, “How’s Lawrence?” to which I’d get an answer like “He’s outside,” or “He’s eating.” It wasn’t much to go on, but I craved the warm presence of a furry animal. Living in dorms, though, meant that getting an animal myself wasn’t an option, though there were a few campus felines who could be found strolling along pathways or sunning on the quad if you had the patience to seek them out.
Showing remarkable restraint, I waited two years after graduating from college to get my own pet. By then I had my own apartment, a steady(ish) income, and an open schedule that came with attending grad school. I adopted a dog from a local shelter—she was over two years old and already potty trained—but I still had to immediately pay to get her vaccinated, microchipped, and spayed, plus I had to buy food, a leash and collar, and a dog bed. So even though my dog was free, she cost hundreds of dollars that first week. And just wait ‘til the vet recommends that your pet have its teeth cleaned. You don’t even want to know how much that’s going to cost you. (For the record, I love my dog and she’s worth every penny.)
No one is going to argue that having a cat or a dog isn’t awesome. They’re cute, they’re cuddly, they make you laugh and cheer you up, but if you are considering getting a pet in college, there are a few things that you need to really think about:
Does the place you’re living allow pets? Will you have to pay a pet deposit or pet extra rent to have an animal on the property?
Before you even consider getting a pet, find out if pets are allowed where you live. You have a much higher chance of being allowed to have an animal if you live off campus in a rental property since animals are generally not allowed in campus housing. Even off campus, though, you’ll find that some landlords are more willing to allow you to have a pet than others. They may tell you that your pet must be under 20 lbs. or that only cats are permitted. They may say that you have to pay a $250.00 pet deposit, or, even worse, that you have to pay a pet deposit and a smaller monthly amount in “pet rent.” This is the landlord’s way of protecting him- or herself should your animal cause damage to the property. This includes anything from scratching at doors to staining the carpets. Even if you find the most well-behaved pet in the world, if you want to live with it, you have to follow the rules.
If you live with roommates, are they okay with having an animal in the house? Who will be the true owner of the animal and keep him or her after graduation? Who is responsible for the costs associated with having a pet?
You *must* have the approval of your roommate(s) before you introduce an animal into the apartment. If they tell you that they suffer from allergies, don’t like animals, or don’t want to live with a pet for whatever reason, you must respect that. If you’re desperate to have a pet, consider a new roommate next year, but don’t do anything to jeopardize your current living arrangement.
If your roommate(s) give you the go-ahead to get a pet, make sure that you understand how much work it will be to take care of the animal you choose. Most dogs and cats shed, so you need to be responsible for keeping mutual areas in your apartment clean and clear of fur (because no one wants to show up to class covered in hair). If you have a cat, put its litter box in a private area; just because your roommate approved of the cat doesn’t mean that he or she wants to step in cat litter before every shower. It is also your responsibility to empty the box in a timely manner. If you have a dog, you need to walk it or arrange for it to be walked when you’re not around. You need to make sure that your dog is potty trained and that your roommate’s shoes are safe from being chewed up. Unless your roommate(s) volunteer to help you care for your pet, don’t assume that they will take on any of the responsibility, and certainly don’t assume that they’ll take on any of the cost.
Though it sounds a little far-fetched, sometimes a set of roommates will choose to get a house pet that is mutually looked after by all who live there. This can be a great way to share the costs and responsibilities associated with having a pet, but you need to have a conversation about who is responsible for the animal after graduation or when you no longer live together. Cats generally live for 12 to 18 years, while dogs live between 10 and 15. Chances are that your pet will last well beyond college graduation. Returning an animal to the shelter because you can’t make up your mind isn’t an option, so before you commit to a house animal, make sure that you have plans for what happens when there is no longer a shared house. If this means that the person who is going to keep the animal pays a few more of the costs upfront but the other roommates share in the responsibilities, so be it. Whatever you decide, get it in writing. You don’t want to be fighting on graduation day about where Whiskers is going next.
Can you afford to have an animal right now? Do you have enough time and money to care for a pet?
All pets need to be protected from fleas and ticks (a monthly endeavor), dogs need protection from heartworms (also monthly), and all animals need to stay up-to-date on their vaccinations (at least annually). You should also plan on spaying or neutering your pet; these are invasive surgical procedures but will prevent procreation and some of the other side effects of having a pet with its reproductive system fully intact. If you adopt an animal from the shelter, you may receive a discount at a local vet for the initial exam and the spaying or neutering operation, but plan on shelling out cash on a regular basis. Don’t forget to factor in toys, food, leashes, collars, bedding, scratching posts, training, litter boxes, and doggie bags too. You need a lot of capital if you want to get a pet.
Rover, a pet service company, estimates that it costs $838.00 to actually adopt a dog, take care of an initial vet exam, and buy supplies like food, toys, etc. Then, they estimate that a dog will continue to cost $75.00 monthly for medicine, treats, food, and toys. An annual veterinary exam will run an average of $120.00. So, before you know it, you’ve spent nearly $2,000.00 in the first year. That doesn’t even include occasional costs, like if you have to go to the vet because your dog gets sick or needs a dental appointment or if you leave town and have to get a pet sitter or board your dog. And then there’s nail trimming, pet deposits, pet rent, dog park memberships, and, yes, a pet license (which is required in some cities).
Cats are generally cheaper than dogs, but you still have to pay for many of the same things. Adopting a cat, paying for an initial vet exam, buying a litter box and litter, buying a collar and then dealing with the recurring costs of cat food, flea and tick medicine, toys, and an annual exam can cost about $1,000.00 the first year and then $600.00 annually. Again, if you have to visit the emergency vet, pay for a sitter or to board your cat, or pay a pet deposit, pet rent, or pet licensing fees, you’ll be paying much more.
Factor in too the number of classes you are taking, whether or not you’re working (and how many hours), and how much time you spend at home. If you’re not around every time your dog needs to go to the bathroom, you shouldn’t be caring for a dog on your own. If you can afford it, you could pay a dog walker to come around, but it’s best for you and your dog if you can forge a bond and take care of your pet yourself. Cats are generally more independent, but you also don’t want to ignore your pet or leave it alone for long periods of time. Consider this before you head to the shelter.
Do you actually want a pet or are you looking for companionship?
If you can’t answer this question with a definitive “Yes, I want a pet,” then you are not ready. You have other options:
- Volunteer at a local animal shelter in your spare time. Not only will you get to spend time with animals, but you’ll be making their lives better while they’re stuck without a forever home. Plus, it’ll look good on your résumé if you commit to a volunteer activity and stick with it for an extended period of time.
- Sign up with Rover or post on your school’s job board that you are available for dog walking or dog sitting. You’ll get to spend time with animals and make a little extra cash on the side.
- Be on the lookout around finals. Many schools bring in shelter dogs at the end of the semester as a stress-relieving activity for students. These free events are sure to result in plenty of dog kisses and smiles.