Senior Ashley Eckert has cared for her first cat Ella for more than nine years. The two developed a special bond in which Ella seems to only trust Eckert.
In the last year, however, they had to make some major changes when they welcomed their newest addition to the family, Marshmallow. Eckert rescued Marshmallow as a kitten in Pulaski County. Although there was tension between Ella and Marshmallow in the beginning, Marshmallow fits in nicely. Today the three room together while Eckert attends school.
“They make me really happy. They are just so darn cute! I mean, they can’t talk, but whatever. They don’t judge me,” Eckert said.
For many, having a four-legged roommate in college can alleviate school anxiety, loneliness or homesickness.
“I think it’s kind of cool because you have a companion. You can get a lot closer to your pet than a lot of people will to you, really,” junior Fletcher Walters said.
Walters rescued his dog Madison in September of last year.
Eckert and Walters’ stories are examples of animals living comfortably with their owners in college. Nonetheless, pets come with responsibilities for which some students aren’t prepared for.
There are three major challenges that pets pose for students: affordability, residential pet sanctions and time.
Pets need annual medical exams, food, litter, toys and treats, licenses, health insurance and other miscellaneous elements. According to Money Under 30: Personal Finance for the Young and Ambitious, a cat could cost up to $1,070 and a dog could top that at almost $1,260 in the first year. Annually, the cost of a cat for a college student could total $705 and $695 for a dog.
Robin Martin has worked at West End Animal Clinic as the office manager and vice president of the Humane Society in Radford for over 25 years.
“To be honest with you, only a small majority [of students] can afford pets, and they do excellent with them. But some come to school and don’t have money. Students just aren’t ready for commitment or finances. A pet is like a child, and only 10 percent are able to take care of their animals because mom and dad can help,” Martin said.
On average, about 25 to 30 animals come in to the clinic each day for vet visits, mostly cats and dogs. New pets must get an examination, vaccines, dewormed and have fleas removed, as well as take a heart worm preventer.
“Heart worm preventer is expensive, ranging from $50 to $60. At this clinic, we break it down monthly for the students, so they can pay for their pet’s medical needs one step at a time. We help with spay and neutering [and] February is spay and neuter month, which is half price. We have also been known to hook students up with reasonable costs,” she said.
Every day, approximately five cats are put to sleep at the veterinarian’s office. Just thinking ahead and preventing the chance of pet pregnancy could save a litter of kittens.
“You can always get a pet once you graduate,” Martin said.
Some students try to resolve their financial dilemmas by sharing the expenses with another student. This usually results in one student holding the burden of costs. Consequently, that student will have to take on a job on top of a heavy workload in school.
Other students, like Eckert, are required to put down a pricey deposit to keep their pets in their living spaces.
Realties and residential units should be researched prior to adoptions for pet ownership confirmation. Fairfax Village Apartments, New River Garden Apartments, Mountain View Realty Inc., Riverbend Apartments, Hunter’s Ridge and Copper Beech are some realties who allow pets with limitations. BCR Property Management and Scottish Hills vary in their pet-friendly and non-pet-friendly units.
Gilbert Real Estate is OK with some pets, but limits the number of pets per residency. LLC Reality does not allow dogs in their units. On the other hand, cats are allowed depending on the location. Valley-Wide Management, Inc. restricts fully grown pets to under 25 pounds with a $20 payment per pet a month and an additional deposit.
Realtors such as Bondurant Realty Corp., Price Williams, Norwood Station Apartments, Highland Village Apartments and Willow Woods Apartments don’t permit pets. However, for most of the above landlords, regulations are based on the animal. Cats and dogs are usually considered the most troublesome, while small rodents, reptiles and aquatic life have been known to cause the least problems.
“Basically, we do that for damage reasons,” said Chenaye Mullins, a leasing agent at Price Williams.
Price Williams’ builders, developers and property managers have been in the area for 20 years with most of their leasing units in Radford. A first charge penalty for taking in a pet is $25. The penalty doubles every time after that, and could eventually lead to the resident losing his or her security deposit. Bondurant Realty exercises similar measures but also makes exceptions for owning pets. If the resident is granted permission to own a pet, he or she must put down a $300 deposit. Either way the outcome is costly.
Most adoption centers in the area check to see where the potential pet owner lives to ensure owning a pet is possible. If no pets are allowed in the residency, then the adopter is not able to own the pet because of the risk of losing it.
“I feel like it would be hard for a student to prepare to have a pet. Pretty much, their schedules are too busy, and they don’t have the time,” Mullins said.
College students in particular are accountable for not watching their pets dependably on their premises. This may be a result of a student’s lack of time and availability to watch over a beloved pet.
Students are busy living the on-the-go lifestyle in college. Every day they are confronted with overwhelming workloads, social pressure and job and extracurricular commitments. It’s easy to see how even the most responsible student may get distracted from pet obligations in school. These problems can be serious for a pet, as some animals are returned to pet stores, animal shelters and some are even abused or abandoned.
This article confirms this scenario in a study on abandoned pets at Ball Park University in Muncie, Ind. At the end of the school year a local animal shelter near Ball Park University would fill up, while in the beginning of the school year the pet population in the shelter would decrease. This suggested that students were getting rid of their pets at the end of the school year, perhaps because they were not allowed to bring them home or were not able to take care of them anymore, and in the beginning of the school year a new shift of students would come in to the shelter to adopt pets.
Chris Gardner has worked in Radford as an animal control officer since June 2004.
“This week, so far, I’ve actually only impounded one animal. I impounded 19 last week, 13 the week before, and then four the week before that. So it pretty much varies from week to week,” Gardner said .
Animals are impounded because there is a control ordinance that enforces the idea that strays are not allowed to run at large. The problem with feral animals is the lack of spay and neutering. Feral animals are able to breed, and for every litter they have about three or four offspring. Each offspring usually only lives for about three years because of environmental exposure, disease or feline leukemia (compared to domestic animals who can live up to 10 to 20 years depending on the breed). One issue is that people start feeding feral animals when they move into the neighborhoods. Providing food is legally taking ownership of that animal and when they leave or move out they legally abandon that animal as well.
Every day more animals are going in the shelter than coming out of it. Dogs and cats are the most popularly impounded animals and they typically stay in the shelter for 14 days. The most common reason animals are taken in is because nobody claims the pets. People don’t take the time to look for proper housing and they usually surrender their pets to citation orders. They can’t or don’t want to pay the finances.
Adoption through Pound Pals, the local pet adoption agency, is a tedious process. Only certain applicants are able to adopt a pet based on property management and background checks. Many people also have been known to use therapy as an excuse to get around owning pets. This method is not a guaranteed way to get through to adoption.
Gardner has mixed feelings about students owning pets because, although some students do well with them, others do not take pets in as their first priority.
“Students should know that owning an animal is a commitment, not just immediate,” he said.
The question of whether students should be allowed to own pets in college or not is an ongoing debate.
“If they’re responsible enough to take care of them, and take them to the vet when needed, I think it’s alright,” said Betty Nelson, a resident of Roanoke.
She is a proud owner of two dogs and several cockatoos.
Walters recognized that “pets are only for certain people. You must have the time, affordability, and a place for your animal after you graduate. You must have money, know the health problems, what to look out for such as shots and the food to buy.”
Sophomore Lucy Genidy decided not to get a pet in college because she didn’t have the money. She is also not allowed to have pets in her residency under Gilbert Realty. Lucy plans on owning a pet one day, maybe a cat, but college may not be the best time for her.
“I don’t think a lot of people are mature enough to take care of animals and having that loving feeling with their pets,” Eckert said. “It really is like owning a child.”
Eckert advises students who are considering pet ownership to ask their parents if they have a pet at home if they can take it to school. Be sure to have enough money to help pay for vet costs, such as getting the animal fixed, and remember that dogs need to go out regularly.
“If you can’t do your own laundry, then you aren’t responsible enough to scoop your pet’s litter,” Eckert said .