While in college, many young adults are met with the most freedom they have ever had in their lifetime – there is no one to tell them no (except maybe an RA) which can lead to some spur-of-the-moment, risky decisions.
Unfortunately, such decisions often involve animals.
One of the hardest parts about leaving home is often leaving your childhood pet. Many college students miss caring for an animal and receiving unconditional love in return. Some crave this intimacy, as they have never owned an animal before, and capitalize on their newfound freedom in this way.
However, there are several steps you should take before buying a pet for the first time – whether it’s a tiny fish on your dorm’s desk or a big dog in your first-ever apartment – it is essential to make sure you can handle caring for another living being for the rest of its life.
While it may not seem so serious for the smaller critters, you are making a lifelong commitment to this animal, and you should be adequately prepared to do so. It is heartbreaking to watch college students mistreat their fish in tiny aquariums, hide hamsters and cats under their bed, and return their animals to shelters within a few short months of their adoption.
Here are a few things to seriously consider (and research – always research!) before adopting while in college:
For one, make sure you can afford the animal you desire. This does not only include the cost of the pet, but also their food, toys, supplies, and veterinary bills. While that cute betta fish may only be $8, their tank (of the right size), food, heater, water conditioner, and more, will raise that price to over $50. A cat may seem like a cheap option for those living in apartments, but they become very costly — and quick. While the adoption fee may be $60, you also have to purchase food and water, bowls, litter and a litter box, toys, a scratching post, pet deposits, and many vet visits! When adopting my cat, I spent well over $500 on these supplies and deposits.
While your pet may be healthy at the moment, you should have money laid aside for emergencies — any animal can fall gravely ill, so it is important to ensure you have the funds to take care of your fur baby. Your animal deserves to be cared for correctly, so be positive that you can afford way more than the adoption fee!
Another thing to consider is your time — do you have the right amount of time to commit to your pet? If you are constantly spending time away from home, whether it’s a dorm or apartment, you may want to get a pet that is more low maintenance, like a fish — feed it once or twice a day and clean its tank weekly. If you can afford to spend more time at home with your animal, you can even consider a cat or dog!
It is important to remember that as a busy, hard-working college student, your schedule is going to change — a lot. You should consider if you will be able to commit your future time to this animal, as well. You may have time to walk your puppy three or four times a day now, but what does next year look like? Again, this animal will be with you for the rest of their life — not two months, not until the spring semester, but their entire life. The cat you wanted to keep in your dorm as a secret will likely still be around in ten years! Make sure you intend on committing yourself to this animal, as they’re putting all of their trust in you!
The next thing you should question is the amount of space you have. Do you have enough desk space for the correct size aquarium for your fish, or for your hamster’s enclosure? If you are living in a dorm room, you absolutely do not have enough room for an active dog, and probably not even a cat — most universities do not even allow these animals to be on campus (of course, this does not apply to service animals — we’re talking pets, here). It isn’t fair for a living being to be confined to a space that is much too small for them.
You should never sneak a pet into your dorm. For one, rules are rules for a reason. It’s not that your university is a puppy hater — your school knows that it is not safe or humane to keep an animal confined. Also, sneaking animals into the dorm just to get caught and return the pet later hurts the other animals’ chances of adoption. In fact, one organization I came across when adopting my cat was not even allowing college students over the age of 18 to adopt, out of fear of the animal being stuck in a tiny shared bedroom. One snap judgment can do more harm than you may think.
I advise that you wait to adopt a cat until you live in a space that you don’t have to share, with multiple other rooms for your kitty to roam — like in an apartment. When considering a dog, make sure you have a large enough apartment for them to be active, as well as space for them to get safe exercise and play outdoors.
Animals that live in tanks, enclosures, etc. should always be adequately researched. Did you know that your betta fish should have a tank that is at least five gallons? Yes, the pet store lied to you. Snakes, hamsters, lizards, and more all have specific habitat requirements that you need to follow to ensure that your animal is happy and healthy!
All animals deserve love and a happy home, so make sure you are providing them with one! Do your research; an animal that will spend the remainder of its life with you should not be bought on a whim. Budget well, plan, and have patience! The time to adopt will come.