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Owning a Pet in University: What’s All the Fuzz About?

It’s 8 o’clock on a Sunday morning. I have a half-drunk, almost cold cup of coffee sitting beside me and at least nine tabs open with various research articles discussing the effect of rising atmospheric CO2 concentration on crop yield—not exactly what I would call my happy place. Then I look up and see Harry, my 10 month old kitten, curled up on top of a stack of blankets, his little face buried under his paw, and all is right in the world—figuratively speaking, at least. I’ve owned Harry for eight months now, after adopting him from the Humane Society (#adoptdontshop).

Many university students struggle with whether or not to adopt a pet, unsure if they have the time, money or space to care for a little creature. It is certainly a decision that should be given some thought. After all, you are making the choice to take in another life, and that’s never something that should be decided lightly. To help you make as informed a decision as possible, I spoke to a number of Western students to get their opinions on the pet experience: Allie Hardy, a third year Sociology and English double major who is BFFs with her cat, Todd; Becca Serena, a fourth year MIT and creative writing double major who loves her bunny, Rosie, to bits; Melanie Elizabeth, a first year English major, who has two cats named Charlie and Cheeto; and Jessica Beasley, a fourth year Anthropology major who doesn’t have a pet. With their help I’ve put together a list of things to consider before adopting. Read on for pics of these cute critters and to find out what to expect from your potential future furry friend: the good, the bad, and the pugly.           Melanie’s cats Charlie (left) and Cheeto (right).             Katie’s 10 month old cat, Harry.                                                         Becca’s bunny, Rosie.            Allie’s cat, Todd.   

1. They will keep you on your toes

If you’re hoping for a low-maintenance always-cute and purrfectly instagrammable pal, I have news for you. Believe it or not, animals do not simply exist to be adorable. They have needs, personalities, and bad habits, and will constantly surprise you. Especially with young animals, everything is a toy (including that piece of string that they definitely should not eat and your house key that they knocked under the couch and then forgot about). That can be cute, until you’re running late for class and can’t find said key. Melanie told me she struggles to keep up with her kitten’s energy: “It’s crazy. Most days I get home and just want to sleep but he wants to play.” If you’re the type of person who likes to get home and chill out, be prepared to adapt to meet the needs of your new pet. Just like any relationship, there will be ups and there will be downs.

2. They will poop. A lot.

So much poop. And no one else is going to clean it up, unless you train your pet to use the toilet (0/10 experts recommend). This is a major reality of owning a pet. Litter needs to be changed every one to two days, dogs need to be picked up after a couple times a day, and cages need to be cleaned at least once a week. Becca mentioned this as a minor downside and I agree. Even during exam season, it’s not a house chore you can push aside to focus on studying because there’s a little animal relying on you to keep the bathroom clean. And sometimes it’s super gross.

3. They will distract you.

I can’t count the number of times I have been studying and Harry has tried to nibble my pencil or lay across my keyboard or textbook. Productivity has definitely decreased since he came into my life—in the cutest way possible. Allie agreed, adding, “you just need enough willpower to not just spend hours playing and cuddling with your pet.”  It can be great stress relief, but it is something to consider if you already struggle to stay on top of your workload.

4. They will be difficult.

Harry is a hungry cat. No matter how much he is fed, he still begs whenever the fridge is opened. And being the resourceful, survivalist house cat that he is, he’s learned to take matters into his own hands. It’s not uncommon to hear him rustling about in the cupboards, chewing through a loaf of bread, or with his face buried in the garbage can. It can be extremely frustrating having to constantly get up from what you’re doing to pull your pet away from doing something they shouldn’t. Oh, and forget about leaving food out anywhere. Have to run to the bathroom in the middle of a pizza? Forget it, you have to bring that with you unless you want it to be half nibbled and fuzzy when you get back.

5. They will cost you money.

Food, litter, vet bills, toys…They all cost money. And pets never contribute. Food can cost less or more depending which brand you buy, and the same is true for litter. And you may think the vet can be avoided for the most part, but some adopted animals don’t come fixed or with their shots, and you have to be prepared for a medical emergency. Melanie explained that one of her cats was prescribed a specialty diet by the vet that costs over $100 a month: “Being a student it is super tough when some weeks I get less groceries to ensure my cats can eat.” For Jessica, as for many students struggling to support themselves as they get through school, this is a major deterrent. Allie recommended that “if you don’t have a lot of disposable income then maybe wait to get a pet until you do so they can live their best life too.” Or, be prepared to save on some purchases for yourself, such as clothes or takeout.

6. They will warm your heart.

When pets are sweet, they are so sweet. Especially when you live with them for extended periods of time and get to observe them growing up, adapting to their home, and learning to love you. It can be really entertaining to watch them experience something new for the first time, especially with young animals. On top of that, when they come curl up next to you your heart will absolutely melt. Allie feels the same about Todd, who is super fluffy and cuddly: “It’s really great sometimes when you’re feeling down to just have a kitty cuddle fest.” Don’t underestimate the power of furry friends to boost your meow-od; studies are beginning to show that having a pet can improve your mental health. Melanie has experienced this first hand: “They definitely do help with my stress levels and are amazing companions!”

7. They can be logistically challenging.

Jessica pointed out that for those who are from out of town, having an animal that needs care can be inconvenient. I’ve had issues finding someone to feed Harry when I go away, and if you don’t know anyone who’s willing, kennels are quite pricey. Additionally, if you go home for the summer and are unable to bring your pet, it can be difficult to figure out what to do. There are definitely ways around it, however. If you’re considering getting a pet, take some time to think about these things in advance to save yourself some panic later on. Allie also suggests considering how your new pet will interact with other animals in your household. Some animals simply don’t get along with each other no matter what, so if your roommate already has a dog it might not be the best time to bring home a new kitten.

8. They are a big commitment.

One of the most important things to consider is that, depending on the animal, they will most likely be with you for a good portion of your life. This means they will outlive your time at Western and will need to move into the next stage of your life. Every decision you make now has to involve another little life; many apartments aren’t suitable for dogs and it can be difficult to find a pet-friendly home. This was something that came up when I talked to Jessica: “It’s such an unstable time in your life for such a big commitment and it’s not fair to get a pet without being able to fully commit your time and energy and love to them.” It’s important to consider this before deciding to adopt a furball. “If you can commit then go for it,” she said, adding “I just know I can’t because I work four jobs, go to school, volunteer, plus friends and family, so I’d never be home.”

Becca also brought this up as one of the limitations of having her bunny: “It is difficult because being so young, you want to go out and explore and stay at school all day but you can’t do that when there’s a whole life relying on you.” If you’re the kind of person that likes to spend whole days at the library or who works a lot, you may want to think twice before adopting a pet.

9. Each animal is different.

Cats and caged animals (bunnies, guinea pigs, birds) tend to be a lot more low maintenance than dogs, which require exercise and much more training. Although all animals need babying when they’re younger, cats tend to become much more self-sufficient as they age, and can be left alone for longer than dogs can. These are all things to consider when deciding between pets.

10. They will love you wholeheartedly.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched Youtube videos about cat communication to try and figure out if Harry likes me or not. I’ve decided he does, based on the way he’s laying across my lap as I write this and how he curls up next to me to sleep. He just has a funny way of showing it. In any case, pets can be incredible companions. Don’t underestimate the amount of love you can feel from a creature that can’t communicate—having a cuddle buddy can be extremely cathartic. “Getting Todd is the best thing I ever did,” Allie said, adding that he always brings a smile to her face. Becca agreed, “I just get to love her and she loves me back, which gets me through school.”

The most important thing to remember is that owning a pet is a huge responsibility and not something that should be done impulsively, especially if you do have other roommates. If you are thinking about getting a pet, take some time to really think the decision through before checking out some local shelters. If you think you can handle the challenges that come along with a pet and are prepared to make the commitment to them, then go for it! Pets are great stress relievers, companions, and playmates. The Humane Society has a ton of animals just waiting for homes, and they usually give them their shots and fix them for you. There are a number of other shelters in London as well, so there are plenty of options!

If you do decide a pet is too much for you, please, please do not just leave them on the side of the road. Most places allow you to surrender animals back to them for a small fee, ensuring they are cared for and giving them the opportunity to find another loving home. Pets take a lot of time, attention, and money, but if you are willing to put in the work on top of your class and study schedules, they will make it worth your while. I’m absolutely pawsitive.

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Katie is a fourth year Health Studies student at Western University. Born in Canada but growing up in a multitude of countries (re: three), she couldn't resist the siren call of Tim Horton's and moved back to attend school. When she's not Facetiming her dog, she can usually be found at the gym, making iced coffee, pointing at other people's dogs, or resisting the urge to order pizza at the strike of midnight. You can find her on instagram at @katieeolney
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