Pets are a popular way to add some depth and structure to your college experience; whether it’s the traditional cat and dog or an exotic chinchilla, animals can add real joy to life. While a lot of people talk about getting an animal companion, the actual process of doing so can be confusing. There are so many options that it can be overwhelming. To break it down, there are three main categories: adoption, fostering, and volunteering.

Adopting a pet is a big commitment, but if you are ready to make that commitment, Philly has so many great shelters to choose from. Many shelters in Philly work with the city’s animal control to help save animals. If an animal is found wandering the streets of Philadelphia, it is seized by animal control and assessed to determine where it should be placed.Shelters in Philly then take in cats and dogs to help them look for more permanent homes. Some great no–kill shelters in Philly include Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PSPCA), and Animal Care Control Team of Philadelphia (ACCT). And the process of adopting is pretty simple: “If you are interested in adopting, the application is the first step. You can do that [at the physical shelter] on the spot while you are looking around, or you can do it online ahead of time, or you can pop in, drop [an application] off,” Ame Wiltzius, the manager at PAWS in Old City, explains. 


Photo: Sophia Zhu


Once the application is processed—which can take anywhere from a couple of days to one week—the shelter will reach out to confirm approval and share animal care information. There is an adoption fee, which mostly accounts for the medical status of new animals. “The fee includes that they are already spayed or neutered and microchipped, [and that] they are up to date on vaccines,” adds Wiltzius.  After all of that, you can bring your cuddle buddy home and experience the true joys of pet owning. Plus, you’ve helped saved a life.

If you aren’t interested in the long–term commitment of adopting, yet you still want a pet in your home, pet fostering is a great option. “Fostering can be a lot of things; it is good to think about it as a volunteer position because we do rely on you for things to help get the cat or dog adopted and to take care of them in the meantime. So it is a great choice, especially for students,” Wiltzius says. “A few months at a time each semester is a great way to participate and help save lives.” 

PAWS, PSPCA, and ACCT all have strong fostering programs. In these programs, a pet is fostered for anywhere from a week to two months, giving it a home while it waits to be adopted. The foster parent provides all supplies including food and toys, but medical care is provided by the shelter. All you have to do is simply apply online or at the shelter of your choice.

Another way to foster a dog is through raising a service dog. “I had wanted to as long as I can remember, but my parents were not on board, so as soon as I moved off–campus and was able to, I just decided to go for it,” said Malia Szyman (C '20). She raised a service dog through Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) after discovering the group in elementary school and deciding that when she went to college she would join the program. The CCI fostering program gives a volunteer a puppy for a year and a half. For another six months the dog goes through a training to become a service dog. Then, the dog is given to a person with disabilities. 

Photo: Sophia Zhu


While it isn’t full adoption, fostering through CCI is still a big commitment. Foster parents have to teach the dog basic skills, provide all supplies, and pay for all medical necessities. Fostering a dog is a volunteer position, so CCI does not give any form of financial support. CCI prioritizes college students, so once an application is filled out, a puppy could be sent to your home within a few weeks. Malia also started a club called Step–Up, where people who foster service dogs receive support from other Penn students. The members of Step–Up schedule to walk and spend time with the dog for an hour. 

If fostering is also too much of a commitment, there are so many alternative volunteer opportunities to get to spend quality time with animals. “Any shelter relies on volunteers and PAWS especially. We have volunteers helping us do the animal care in the mornings and evenings,” Wiltzius said. “They help us change litter boxes, change water, feed the kitties. We have people who come in just to socialize with really scared or aggressive cats. We have dog walkers come to walk dogs…It may not sound glamorous, but it’s so important because that is the day–to–day, hour–to–hour work that makes our work possible. Without our volunteer help, we would have no time to help adopters find pets and send the pets to a home.” Student volunteers can go to shelters at any time of day that best fits their schedule. Most other shelters have similar volunteer programs.

College can be a stressful environment and animals can bring in some extra happiness. If you can't commit to adopting a dog, fostering and volunteering are amazing alternatives, and all allow you to spend some time with quality companion


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