Many students want to adopt a pet while in school, but being unprepared to care for that animal is not funny or endearing—it’s harmful.
By Alec Cudmore, St. Edward’s University
If you’re in college, you’ve likely been struck at random times with an insatiable urge to immediately adopt an animal.
Perhaps the stress of school guided you there, or maybe a breakup has left you yearning for that special connection. Whatever the case, there is little doubt that owning a pet can be wonderful for your mind and contribute to a healthy lifestyle, but be warned—college students are often guilty of underestimating the amount of care required for properly parenting an animal.
As a result, first-time pet owners end up in situations in which, whether they know it or not, they are mistreating their pet. Here are five common mistakes to avoid when it comes to owning a pet.
1. Locked Up
Dogs are social creatures, and leaving them alone when you have to go to class can be a heartbreaking experience for everyone involved. There have been a few cases where friends of mine have kept their dogs locked in their room (usually in a situation in which their roommates were gone all day as well) for about eight hours at a time.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that, even as a dog ages, it still needs to be active. Being kept in a confined space gives your pup very little room to explore and exercise, leaving them more prone to heart disease and other health problems.
If you’ve got a full schedule, and you know there won’t be anyone readily available to care for your pooch, avoid giving into puppy love for the time being. While dogs are great at reducing stress, the feelings of the animal need to be taken into consideration as well.
2. “Fish Are Easy”
A common compromise is to buy a fish instead of a furry friend for the supposed convenience of care. Fish don’t have to go for walks, they don’t destroy your carpet when you don’t give them attention (that would be highly disturbing), and they’re mess-free! All fish-ownership requires is a few pinches of food and a good cleaning now and then.
Don’t fall for it.
A proper fish owner spends huge sums of money to give a fish the life it deserves, and unfortunately, many students just don’t have the funds for that. Unfortunately, undergrad creativity often overcomes undergrad penury, meaning that instead of properly caring for their sentient friends, students just buy cheap fishbowls, fill them with tap water and a few decorative pebbles, and then clean them every other week. Such an unstable environment can wreak havoc on a fish’s stress levels, and it’s easy to be oblivious to the animal’s anxiety because they have such a limited ability to communicate.
While opinions on fish sentience vary from person to person, it’s safe to say that in a world where empathy and happiness are the goal, fish should be given the proper care they need, not negligent half-assery as the result of a now debunked myth about their limited memory.
3. Party Animal
Dogs, cats and even rats are sturdy animals, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t prone to the same anxieties we humans face. College life is pretty sociable for many students, and that means many homes are prone to massive parties with loud music, drinking and general shenanigans, which directly disrupt the stability of an animal’s home.
While students may have weeks to mentally prepare for a party, animals have no such foresight; the changes can’t be communicated in advance. Imagine turning around to find your house is now home to fifty more people than it was before—no warning, no idea it was going to happen. That’s stressful, right?
Animals can certainly adjust to a lot, but they make sudden adjustments in the same way humans do—by getting anxious.
While having parties isn’t off the table for pet owners, it’s recommended that a safe space be designated for the pet, such as a bedroom to retreat to if the party gets too loud. Reading your pet’s body language is the number one step in taking proper care of them.
4. Balcony Prison
Don’t do this. Just don’t do this.
If you need a pet in your life so badly that you would keep it outside on a tiny balcony all day, then you have a larger personal problem to deal with.
Staying on a balcony for that length of time is essentially a prison cell. It may seem like a logical alternative to keeping your dog in your apartment (all that darn feces would be so much easier to clean off concrete, right?), but it’s actually worse than keeping them trapped in a bedroom. Balconies get hot, they get cold, they’re probably high up, they’re scary, they’re lonely—just don’t fucking do it.
5. Uncommitted Relationship
Adopting a dog to spruce up your party-going look is about as asinine as it sounds, and it can cause some pretty big discrepancies between unwilling hosts and party guests. But the main issue here is the mindset that comes with owning an animal. Are you adopting a pet for the right reasons?
There are quite a few factors that subtly impact our decision-making everyday. It’s always fun to post about new pets to social media, but too many times have Instagram likes been the sole consideration in major life decisions. After the initial attention, the novelty of a new pet wears off, which leaves owners caring for an animal they may not be as equipped to handle as they had originally thought.
In the same vein, even though it sounds obvious, never adopt a dog as a show of faith to a romantic partner. Couples adopt pets as a sign of commitment to shore up faltering relationships, only to break up a week later, leaving an animal with the equivalent of joint custody between divorced parents, which can cause a lot of stress in a pet’s life.
Before getting a pet, really think through the ramification (there are normally more than you might think). Consider your schedule, your current stress levels and your free time, and then ask yourself if you’re willing to make the sacrifices it takes to care for an animal the way it deserves to be cared for.
People who have come to terms with the fact that adopting a pet is not akin to buying a piece of furniture are people who can be wonderful pet owners. Your living situation is an important part of your life, and getting a pet is a lot like moving in with a new roommate. If you put thought and consideration into the decision, as you would any relationship, then you and your pet will be a-okay.