I have always been an animal lover, and I have always had pets. When I went to college I missed my dog and fish more than anything. I was pleasantly surprised when my freshman roommate was pre-vet and brought a fish with her to school (without telling me), and through that experience as well as ultimately getting two guinea pigs I have a few important tips on what to consider when thinking about bringing an animal friend into your college life.
Let us get the boring stuff out of the way first, you have to know the rules. While you do not necessarily need to follow them completely, you must know what they are and how strictly they are enforced. The easiest way to find out your university’s guidelines is to look through the residential life or dormitory regulations which will usually have some reference to pets.
Knowing how strict your school is on the subject and how it enforces its regulations is also key. Ask upperclassmen if they know anyone who has a pet that lives on campus and if they have ever run into issues with the school. You can also extrapolate from other residential experiences how the school enforces pet codes. Do your dormitories get randomly checked or are there known times when rooms are inspected?
I was very, very annoyed when my roommate brought a pet. Even though I love animals and ultimately loved our fish, I was frustrated because she did not ask me if I was ok with her bringing a pet. It is important to make sure that your roommate is ok with you adding another roommate to the mix even if it is just a chia pet. Even the lowest maintenance pets take up room and are prone to unforeseeable problems (sickness, smell, care over breaks). When discussing bringing a pet make sure you establish who will have what responsibilities and if you expect them to do anything.
If you are considering a pet you must also acknowledge that it will effect your future housing plans. I admittedly did not think about the fact that while I love my guinea pigs and people love to come in and say hi to them, a lot of my friends are just not comfortable with the idea of having rodent roommates. If your school offers separate upperclassmen housing you must accept that a pet may prevent you from participating in this tradition, and your housing situation may remain more or less the same for the rest of your college experience.
Who Will Benefit?
When you first consider having a pet it is likely for somewhat selfish reasons. You want a companion, you want something cuddly on hand at all times, or maybe you want an excuse to talk to yourself. All of these are ok, but you must honestly ask yourself if this will be a mutually beneficial relationship. Any pet will need certain accommodations to live a healthy and happy life, and you must be prepared to meet those requirements so that all creatures involved are happy. A pet will not be so loving if you cannot provide it with a proper habitat and
diet. I would have been more than happy with one guinea pig, but I quickly learned in my preparation that they are highly social animals and would have the best quality of life if I had a pair of them. This meant getting a larger cage, higher food costs, and more frequent cleanings, but I know that neither guinea pig would have been happy without the other.
The reason why not every animal lover has a pet in college is largely because of the traveling they do regularly. This does not just mean the upcoming break, but all school breaks, summer vacations, and semesters abroad. If you are going to be your pet’s primary caregiver, you must be prepared to take it home with you during school breaks. In doing so you have to consider if your pet can handle the transportation that may be involved. If you normally take a plane to travel between school and home, you should find someone near your school who is willing to care for the pet before you get it. If you cannot, then you should really reconsider getting a pet as traveling long distances regularly is very traumatic for many animals.
Something that I did not consider as seriously as I should have before getting a pet were the recurring costs. A pet is not a one time purchase of the animal, cage, and its toys. I spend an average 40-60 dollars a month on my guinea pigs for their bedding and food which, as a college student, can feel like quite a lot. When considering a pet, try to calculate the average recurring costs ahead of time to make sure you can afford it. In doing this you may also find ways around some of these costs. (I quickly realized that by purchasing bedding on amazon and mixing the bedding with shredded paper that I could cut the initial cost in half.) Make sure that you can access your pet essentials either at a pet store you can regularly travel to or at your school.
A pet can be very enriching to your life and to theirs, but only with sufficient preparation. By considering the ways that a pet will change your life now and in the future as well as being honest about your pet’s needs you can be prepared to make an informed decision. Consider costs, school rules, roommates, and your ability to provide a healthy environment for your animal friend.