Leaving your pet is by far one of the hardest parts of going away to college. There is nothing quite as soul-crushing as the feeling you get when you catch sight of your dog’s pitiful expression in the rearview mirror as your family’s car, newly emptied of all your living essentials, drives off into the sunset, leaving you lost and dog-less. You find yourself calling your parents on FaceTime just to ask them to put your dog on the screen, and you jump at every opportunity to show your new friends every dog picture in your camera roll. As college students, not being able to curl up with our best buddies on the couch after a long day takes its toll on us, and there is no doubt that it takes some getting used to. Having lived over five thousand miles away from my pup for almost an entire school year, I have learned that the five stages of grief absolutely apply to missing your dog. Although we eventually overcome the pain that comes with being separated from our four-legged friends, the stages that compose it are something that every college dog owner has experienced.
“I can’t believe the day has finally come!”
While we all knew that leaving our dogs to go to college was inevitable, none of us were prepared for the emotional rollercoaster it would take us on. We refuse to believe that we will no longer wake up every morning to find our pooches peacefully sleeping at the foot of our beds and see a pair of pleading eyes looking up at us from under the table at every meal. We all knew this day was coming, but we never knew that it would arrive as quickly as it did.
“I should have spent more time with my dog at home.”
Ah, yes. Another wave of guilt from feeling like you took your dog for granted while at home and didn’t spend as much time with him or her as they deserve. You wish that you had put your phone down more often to give them a belly rub or gone outside and played tug-of-war with them during your homework breaks instead of watching Netflix. Feeling like a bad dog owner is something that everyone who has been away from their dog for long periods of time has felt, and it is enough to make us want to catch the next flight back home and apologize to our pups for every second we didn’t spend with them.
“Why is this happening to me?”
As we begin to adjust to life without our dogs, the fact that being away from them for extended amounts of time is now our reality is enough to make us feel generally frustrated with the world. Though going to college requires making some sacrifices, being able to come home to our dogs every day should not be one of them. We are angry because we don’t deserve to be apart from our dogs for months at a time and sad because coming back to our quiet dorm in the evenings just isn’t the same as walking through the door and having our dogs squeal with excitement and jump all over us.
“I just wish my dog knew I’m not going away forever.”
No matter how many times we try to reassure our fur friends that we’ll be coming back, the heartbreaking reality still looms over us: our dogs just don’t understand. As much as we’d like to think they could, dogs can’t comprehend why their humans are here one minute and gone the next. We try our best to forget about the fact that there is a language barrier between us and our dogs and convince ourselves that they somehow know we’ll soon be back to give them the affection they deserve.
“Well…I guess waiting until break won’t kill me.”
While learning to live without our dogs is a difficult process, overcoming the pain it comes with, though challenging, is not impossible. As time moves on, the idea of seeing our dogs in the upcoming break makes us all the more excited to go home. The pain of being separated from our best buddies is eclipsed by the anticipation of being reunited with them, and all of those times we asked our parents to send us dog pictures are now distant memories. Though we still wish that we could wake up to them licking our faces every morning like old times, we recognize that no matter how far away from them we may be, our dogs love us unconditionally and will always welcome us back home.