Caring for a furry friend isn’t always fun and games if you’re a student.
Cats and dogs live an average of 10 years, making adopting a pet a long-term commitment, one that can have consequences for those still in school.
The alternative — fostering a pet for a short amount of time — can also be a burden.
Rebecca Cuthbert, ArtSci ’14, had to return the three puppies her and two housemates were fostering after seven days. “It was just too much of a commitment. We had midterms coming up … we wanted to try to stick it out for the month, but then at the same time our school was being affected,” she said.
Afterwards, the three beagle and Jack Russell cross puppies were passed on to a new group of Queen’s students.
“When we got the call and they said three puppies, in our excitement … we didn’t really pause to stop and think what that actually meant,” she said.
The puppies needed constant care and attention and could only be left alone for very short periods of time. Cuthbert said she was unable to study for a test because of the demanding commitment.
“I felt bad leaving the house for long periods of time to do work because I knew that if I was gone, then I was making one of my housemates stay home and vice versa,” she said.
It takes a certain kind of student to foster or adopt a pet while they’re at school, according to Lindsay Hadcock, the animal population manager at the Kingston Humane Society.
The Humane Society has around 45 cats up for adoption at all times, and currently about a dozen dogs.
“We do occasionally have animals surrendered at the end of the school year [but] it’s not a huge segment of our intake,” she said. “In some communities, there’s a huge influx of animals at the end of the school year. We don’t see that, thankfully, from Queen’s.”
The Humane Society also offers a fostering program that provides animals with a temporary home if they are sick or too young for adoption. The program has about 100 animals, including cats and dogs. Half of them are currently in the hands of Queen’s students.
“We really try to counsel students against [adopting] pets,” Hadcock said. “We certainly try to encourage … [students] to use the foster program as a means to have some snuggle time.”
Students who spend multiple hours a day on campus shouldn’t adopt or foster a pet, she added.
Pet ownership can also be a financial burden, especially for students. According to the Kingston Humane Society’s website, caring for a pet can cost more than $1,000 yearly. Hadcock said that taking a pet to an after-hours emergency clinic costs around $400, not including any medications.
“You definitely need some money set aside in case of an emergency … [if the pet] runs outside the door … [during] a party and it get hits by a car, who’s going to pay the bills?” she said.
The Humane Society has a screening process for adoption and foster applications. The application requires references to ensure that animals are given to responsible and caring owners.
If a student looking to adopt doesn’t have a long-term plan for the animal, or the means to care for it, they won’t be allowed to leave with it, she said.
“We do adopt out to students if they have family support. We generally like to see ‘mom’ as the personal reference because often we call and they say: ‘are you kidding?’” she said.
Yet pets can be a source of stress relief, blood pressure reduction and emotional support.
“[Having a pet] can certainly be fabulous … if you have a house with six people and everybody wants to walk the puppy, then that animal is certainly going to get a lot of attention, which can be great.” Many students have made the permanent commitment of adopting a pet.
Coleen Tung, Nurs ’14, has a five-year-old miniature dachshund and a cat in her student house. With support from her roommates, she’s successfully able to care for them, but warns students about the risks of adopting a pet.
“The worst is [when] people get animals, realize the responsibility, and then just give them to the Humane Society … which isn’t what I want to do,” she said.
Tung is financially responsible for her dog once she graduates, but for now, her parents pay the bills. Her housemate is financially responsible for the cat.
“I have pet insurance, which I would recommend,” she said. “Our cat one day jumped on the stove … we took her to the vet, and that was an unexpected bill.”
It costs a minimum of about $70 to take your pet to the vet in Kingston, in Tung’s experience. Getting a pet neutered or spayed is another financial burden that’s a necessity, but can be easy to overlook.
Tova Latowsky, ArtSci ’14, has found it challenging balancing her student life with pet care while she’s fostered animals for the past three years.
“A lot of people would think it would be fun [to adopt a pet] but then it’s actually hell. It’s too big of a commitment for a lot of people,” she said.
While fostering four kittens this semester, Latowsky and her housemates had 20 friends over to drink, and one of the foster kittens went missing.
“We didn’t know how long the door was kept open … we were scared we were going to lose him,” she said.
They were able to get three of the kittens into a enclosed bedroom and found the fourth inside the bottom of the couch.
“[He] was hissing … it was horrible. We shouldn’t have had that many people over with so many animals in our house,” she said.
Despite these challenges, Latowsky said that all of the rewards of having a pet outweigh the negatives.
“It makes your house feel more [like] home,” she said.
Haven Moses, and his housemate Kenton Vermeer, both Sci ’15, care for a young dog named Layla.
The dog has been written about on the Facebook group “Overheard at Queen’s” — recently, a photo was posted by a student concerned that Layla was crossing the street alone.
“People want to tell everybody how to live their life … someone said ‘I’ve seen this dog almost get hit by a car four times’… [and] yeah, I have too, but that’s when people come by,” Moses said.
The two students said that Layla consistently escapes outside, and the cause of the problem is when friends are visiting and forget to keep the door closed. “One time this girl just grabbed a ball and threw it on the road right into an oncoming car,” Moses said.
Moses and Vermeer split the costs for Layla’s care, but don’t have a long-term plan set up.
Layla is full of energy and constantly wants to go outside, Vermeer said.
“She gets a lot of walking in the normal weeks, and then once it gets to week five, six and seven she gets a little less attention [when studying takes priority],” Vermeer said.
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