Should College Students Have Pets?

NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- When William Curtis, a student at the University of Texas at San Antonio, was winding down his studies at the end of the spring semester this year, he noticed something else was on the rise: the number of stray cats hanging around campus.

“My neighbor ended up adopting one of them and I am sure the rest of the residents ended up with one, unless the cats left for other places with food,” Curtis says.

Stray pets, particularly cats, are a problem around college campuses and many shelters report increases in their intake in May and December, at the end of each semester.

“Anecdotally, we’ve heard that the number of strays and animals going into shelters go up,” says Liz Finch, senior manager for community programs and services at the Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, Utah. “There’s quite a lot of feral colonies (of cats) on college campuses; the dogs more than likely end up in shelters.”

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals reports that 86% of pets that are surrendered to shelters are given up due to the owner’s life situation, such as not being able to care for it anymore, having too many animals or moving to a place that does not allow pets.

“If a college student is in an apartment, they are in a transitional phase of their life and it may not be the most responsible thing to get a pet at that time,” Finch says.

Experts say that not considering what they will do with their pet at the end of the semester and cost of the pet are two major factors that contribute to college students abandoning pets they’ve acquired while away at school.

Planning aside, the cost of caring for an animal can reach into the thousands per year, easily.

Dr. Jules Benson, vice president of veterinary services for Petplan, a company that insures more than 100,000 pets, says removing a foreign object from a dog’s intestines can cost $1,000 or more and hip dysplasia, a common ailment for certain breeds, can cost thousands of dollars.

“Unfortunately, college students on a limited budget have nowhere to turn when confronted with these expenses and are sometimes forced to resort to abandoning their pets,” Benson says.

While many pets are indeed left to run wild on campus or are dumped into shelters, others do indeed find their way to the owner’s parent’s house, or with the college student if they will live in their own place after school lets out.

Finch says she was 22 when she adopted her first pet. “But I was committed to keeping it forever,” she says.