Pets on Campus: 3 Rules for Keeping Pets at College

For young adults living alone for the first time, college can feel like the perfect time to finally adopt that lizard they weren’t allowed to have growing up; for those who grew up with animals, missing the family dog might feel like a black hole that desperately needs filling. Keeping a pet at college can be wonderful for both the owner, who’s gained a cute friend guaranteed not to copy their physics homework and the pet, who can enjoy companionship and a loving home. In any instance, before getting a pet you need to check with your residence and understand their pet policies. Assuming they do, college living also presents unique logistical challenges that students should take into account before adopting a furry, scaly, or feathery friend.  

  1. Respect your roommates. Since most college students live with other people, sharing a room, apartment, or house, they should take those other people into account when adopting a pet, and take their pet into account when searching for roommates. Dogs and cats, who roam the whole house or apartment and interact with all occupants, absolutely need the buy-in of all roommates if they’re going to enter a living space. Enclosure pets that stay in the owner’s room, like hamsters, lizards, or fish, only need enthusiastic buy-in from the folks living in said room, but everyone in the house should be aware of the animal – especially one that might sneak out of their cage and into other living areas. By making sure their roommates are ok with their pets before they move in, students will both protect their relationship with their roommates and ensure they’re living in an environment that’s good for their animal.     
  2. Respect your limits. College students are often busy, strapped for cash, and uncertain of their future, and pets, for all that they bring joy and companionship into someone’s life, can exacerbate these things. Students looking to get a pet should consider their own limits – on time, funds, travel, living space – before adopting a pet. Even seemingly low-maintenance pets, like cats or gerbils, can be expensive to provide for and have a need for attention and emotional energy from their owners. Animals are wonderful companions, but they’re also a responsibility, and college students should know how many things a pet could add to their already lengthy to-do list before adopting. 
  3. Respect your pet. This is the most important rule of pet ownership, in college or anywhere. While it’s understandable that college students experiencing independence for the first time might be desperate for an animal companion, the college lifestyle is not always good for an animal. For example, busy people living in small apartments should not adopt puppies who need attention all day and room to run – no matter how many cute girls walking said puppy attracts. Nor should people who move at least once a year invest in keeping chickens. The most important thing a prospective pet owner should consider is whether they are in a place to properly care for their pet – not just love, but care for. College students may love their dogs, but if they don’t have time to walk them every day, they’re not able to care for them. It’s a key distinction, and anyone looking to adopt a pet needs to be honest with themselves about their answer. 

Keeping a pet in college can be both incredibly rewarding and incredibly difficult. Of course, those struggling with the logistical challenges of pet ownership shouldn’t resign themselves to a life without animal companionship; some colleges bring “stress animals” to campus to help students relax during exams, and any town will need pet sitters and animal shelter volunteers. Everyone has room for animals in their life, if not their apartment. 

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