At Penn, it seems that puppy love is always in the air. It’s easy to want a furry companion of your own when watching the dogs on the High Rise field frolic in the grass on a sunny day or see how strangers flock to puppies strolling down Locust. Or maybe you’re daydreaming about having a cat to cuddle while studying. It’s obvious that caring for a pet in college is a massive commitment, but the little voice in your head keeps saying that it can’t be that hard, right? The cuteness would be worth it, right? Before you get a pet, consider the following so that it doesn’t end in cat–astrophe.
1. Are you ready to commit?
Ah, the age–old question that applies to nearly everything in your life. When it comes to owning an animal, however, both the short–term and long–term come into play. Avoid falling in love with your pet only to have to give it up due to not having enough time in your daily schedule to give it proper care, which includes feeding, walking, and training.
Celine Cumming (C’19) has owned Rudy, a 3.5 years old mutt, for about 8 months now. He’s not only large but also extremely energetic and needs a minimum of 4 walks a day, with at least one of them being a run or a trip to the dog park. She acknowledges that having him is a huge responsibility and has changed her “overall college path.” For example, she can’t study abroad because she “can’t have him be alone or with someone else for 6 months." She says, "Anytime I go somewhere for break, I have to factor in the costs.”
The costs of traveling with a pet have actually prevented Rudy from coming home to Minnesota with Cumming over breaks. Generally excluding service and comfort animals, airlines charge anywhere from a couple hundred to over a thousand dollars, depending on the size of the animal and whether it travels in the cabin or as cargo. Concerning Rudy, she says, “He’s about 75 pounds and is not an emotional support animal, so it would cost about $1200.”
Furthermore, having a pet can limit your opportunities that aren’t strictly in Philadelphia. “It can be hard to move your dog to a different city or find someone to care for him for a 10–week internship,” Cumming says.
Most importantly, having a pet is a long–term commitment. The average life span of an indoor cat is about 14 to 20 years, while dogs, depending on factors such as their size and breed, are expected to live up to 17 years. Which begs the question, where will you be in 17 years? As the pre–professional you may be, when drawing out your five–year plan, can you easily factor your pet into your future?
2. Who will help take care of your pet when you can’t?
“It definitely takes a village,” says Cumming, who has a roommate who helps care for Rudy.
Davis Polito (C’20) couldn’t agree more. He owns a 10–month old lab–pitbull mix named Shiloh who lives in the Phi Delt house, meaning she has a plethora of brothers to give her love and attention at any time of day.
“It would be much more difficult to have a dog in college without people around to help take care of it,” says Polito, citing responsibilities such as feeding and letting her out while he’s in class. “There’s always people to walk her so that’s never a problem. I don’t have to leave her in my room all day. I can let her be in the house around people so that she’s not getting anxious or bored or ripping things up.”
From class to clubs to nights out with friends, there are numerous activities that draw Penn students away from home. If you decide to adopt, your schedule will have to suffer drastic adjustments to make room.
3. What age and breed of dog/cat is right for you?
The people who walk around campus cradling a sleepy, 8–week–old puppy in their arms are living the dream. But it won’t last forever. Ask yourself what species of pet you want, as well as its age and breed.
Firstly, do you want a dog or a cat? A cat is certainly less responsibility than a dog in terms of potty training and exercise. Cats can take care of themselves in many aspects, but you still need to think about arrangements for when you travel, allergies that your friends and family members may have, and cat-proofing your home so that they don’t accidentally ingest anything poisonous.
How old do you want your pet to be? Rudy had been a stray before Cumming adopted him. She knew she wanted an adult dog because “a puppy requires you to be in the house all the time and they need to be let out once an hour, which I don’t think is feasible for any college student.” While Rudy was housebroken from the beginning, Cumming was still surprised by the amount of time she spent with behavioral training, from crate training to typical commands like ‘sit.’
Meanwhile, Polito started from scratch in all aspects of raising Shiloh, as he adopted her from the New York SPCA when she was about 2 months old, while he was home for the summer.
“Having a puppy is like having a kid,” he says. “You’ll be waking up at 2 and 5 in the morning because they have to go out.” The amount of consistency needed when training a dog surprised him, including the importance of constantly stopping behavior that you don’t want, such as nipping or barking.
The breed of the cat or dog is also important. Some cats require more socialization than others. Dogs vary in size, energy, social skills, obedience, and the level of destruction they’ll inflict on your apartment when bored. As a busy college student, your dream Siberian Husky may not be the best idea, so do your research when you choose!
4. Can you afford the financial costs, including the unexpected ones?
Food, water, and a place to sleep? No problem, you thought. However, the financial costs of owning a pet can be staggering when including the vet and professional grooming bills, toys and crates, and unexpected emergency care. Make sure you’re in a position to take care of yourself first before taking on the added responsibility of a pet, especially since it’ll be depleting your bank account for at least the next decade or so.
But with great sacrifice comes great reward. Having grown up around dogs, Cumming says she felt “there was something missing” in her life at college. From daily exercise, extra security, the cuddles, and the inevitable attention you’ll receive from admirers on Locust, there are many positives to having a pet. If you’re a college student who’s ready to take care of something beside themselves (because God knows that's already hard enough), congrats! The unconditional love and companionship you’ll receive from your new best friend will make it an unforgettable experience.