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July 28, 2010

Pets at College: An Idea That Might Not Make the Grade

dog with girl

iStockphoto

As if starting college isn't hectic enough, there's another decision some consider: whether to have a pet.

Bringing your beloved family dog or cat to school may sound like an easy way to deal with the stress of homesickness and course overload, but there's much to consider.

Off campus

First, most colleges prohibit pets on campus. This may sound animal unfriendly, but these rules help protect animals from situations where they may not get proper care, as well as protect students with allergies.

Where pets are allowed, students planning to bring their pet to school, or adopt one while on campus, need to honestly assess their situation. Often classes, studying, and social activities leave little time to care for a pet. Students need to understand pet-care requirements and expenses, including unexpected medical bills.

Pets 101

There's also the question of what kind of pet. Students may think an exotic animal such as a snake or frog is low maintenance. The reality is, reptiles and amphibians are wild animals who are difficult to care for in captivity, and they also carry salmonella. They are not recommended as pets, and should not be allowed in dorm rooms.

Students can get a pet fix by volunteering at the local animal shelter.

Students should consider who will care for the pet during breaks and after graduation.

"Pets require lots of time, money, and a commitment to providing a lifelong home for the animal—which can be 15 years or more. Students need to consider whether it's the best time in their life to get a pet or whether they can wait a few years," said Nancy Peterson, HSUS cat programs manager.

Animal shelters located near colleges find that students may abandon pets when the animal is no longer convenient. End-of-semester dumping of animals is a sad reality.

Do your homework

So what's the best option? If the campus prohibits pets, the student should not have one. If domesticated pets such as cats, dogs, and small rodents are allowed, the student should carefully evaluate the time, money and care required for the animal's lifetime—and expect the unexpected. A pet with needs the student cannot meet will add to stress, not alleviate it.

Finally, if a pet has a good situation at home, the student should think about leaving the animal there.

Students can get a pet fix by volunteering at the local animal shelter. They will also learn about being a responsible pet owner so that when the time is right, they'll make the grade.

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