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Have you ever been watching Netflix by yourself and think about how nice it would be to have a furry friend to cuddle up with? It’s no doubt that getting a pet can bring joy to your life — but they are also a huge responsibility. Having a pet is probably the first time in your life someone has been completely dependent on you for everything; it’s basically like having a low-stakes baby. For this reason, there’s a right (and an absolutely wrong) time to adopt a pet into your life.
For example, the wrong time for getting a pet would be the first semester of your freshman year of college, living in a tiny dorm, with more activities and friends than you have time for. And to answer your question: yes, that’s exactly what I did. My heart melted the second I laid eyes on my beautiful, weird, seven-toed cat — and from that moment on she had my heart (and wallet) all to herself.
While I wouldn’t trade her for the world, if I could go back in time, I would consider a few things before taking the leap into pet parenthood. To save you from the same pains, here are some questions to ask yourself before inviting a four-legged friend into your home (or apartment or dorm room).
1. Do You Actually Have Time for a Pet?
What kind of extracurricular activities are you involved in? If you’re in a sorority, how much time do you devote to that a week? I recently joined a greek organization and, in my experience, they’re very demanding. In the first semester alone there were tons of competitions and meetings that took place late at night and lasted for hours. This didn’t help my (or my sweet kitten’s) sleeping schedule one bit.
How much time do you usually spend doing homework (or work) outside of the classroom or office? Also, where do you prefer to study or work? If it’s the library, like a lot of college students, you’re likely going to have to change your ways. With so many activities and obligations, I’ve found that if I also spent my study sessions at the library, I would never be home. So, I have to work at my desk in my dorm (which I don’t mind).
The biggest problem is that my cat seems to love my laptop — her favorite thing to do is take a nice little nap right on my keyword while I’m working. And the times that she’s sleeping elsewhere are just charging her up for the hissy fit she’s going to throw when I’m ready to go to bed and she’s not. It’s extremely hard to play with your pet while doing homework, so time management becomes extremely important. You need to find the time to devote to your studies and your pet, and if that’s not possible to balance then you should hold off on the pet.
2. Do You Have Space for a Pet?
A dorm room is no place for a Golden Retriever or Doberman. When choosing the breed of dog/cat, you want to keep the space they’ll be occupying in mind. You want your pet to be happy and have plenty of room to roam — I know I wouldn’t be too happy all cramped up in a one bedroom apartment all the time. If you simply don’t have the space for the breed or animal that you have your eye on, then wait for when the time is right (good things come to those who wait).
3. Can You Afford a Pet?
Since most of us aren’t rolling in money, you should definitely check your bank account before hitting up PetSmart for that diamond encrusted collar or plush pink bed. While all of that’s nice, being able to pay your car insurance should be a little higher priority. So, make sure that you either have a stable income, money saved up, or parents that are generously willing to pay for your pet supplies because (and I speak from experience) pets are far more costly than most people realize.
Here are some of my real life monthly expenses (for the purpose of explanation):
That’s a lot of money that could be spent on other things like food (or booze) — and a lot of us can’t afford to fork up that much cash. While there are cheaper food and litter options, either way you’re looking at spending at least $100 each month.
4. How Does Your Family Feel About Pets?
If you’re still coming home to your parents for the holidays, will your parents be fine with having a pet in their house for a few weeks (or months)?
This is one thing that I wish someone had reminded me because convincing your parents after the fact is not an easy task. Before getting a pet of your own, you should take into account any allergies or huge concerns that any of your immediate family has with a certain animal.
So, if you’re mom is deathly allergic to cats, don’t think “Oh, it’s okay to get one because I don’t even live at home.” That’s wrong, because then you’ll end up spending holidays and breaks stuck in your college town (or you’ll have to send your precious pet elsewhere) all because you didn’t consider all the angles before diving into it.
While my mom isn’t allergic to cats, that “Oh hey I got an animal” conversation didn’t go over so well. My father, who had explicitly told me not to get a kitten the same week, was obviously upset. Seeing as we have a dog at home he wasn’t too keen on the idea of bringing someone into his precious pet’s “domain.” My mom was also skeptical — but she was soon won over by my kitten’s love and now comes in and steals her from my room every morning that I’m home.
5. Are Pets Allowed Where You Live?
This might seem like a no-brainer, but check with your building first (whether that be an apartment, condo, or dorm) to make sure that your four-legged friend is actually allowed. And if they aren’t, either wait until you move to another place or find a loophole — which is what I did.
I lived on campus when I got my cat and needless to say, my dorm did not allow pets — and this caused many, many problems. First of all, room checks. It’s hard enough cleaning the pigsty that is your dorm room once a month, let alone adding pet supplies (and the creature itself) to the mix. I had to practically bribe an RA on another floor to give up the date of room checks and then cart my pet (and all her stuff) to a friend’s house for two whole days.
6. If You’re Getting a Puppy or Kitten, Do You Know What You’re Getting Into?
Getting a puppy or kitten is a much different experience than an older dog or cat. They’re work — lots and lots of work. They require time and energy spent on potty training, setting a feeding schedule, and constant love and affection. If you are still learning how to take care of yourself, are you sure throwing a baby into the mix is the best idea? You need to have a full understanding of exactly what adopting a pet will require before you make the leap.
If I could do it over again, I would definitely get a full grown cat. For my situation, I wanted an animal that was going to be loving and easy going — which does not describe your average female kitten. Now, if you’re ready to take on that responsibility and time commitment, I say go for it! But, as a college student just trying to navigate classes and living on my own, I had a hard time adjusting.
7. Have You Prepared Your Home Before You Pick Up Your Pet?
Carrying your screaming newborn (or newly adopted) pet into the store because you’re too afraid to leave them alone in your space isn’t the way to go. They’ll try to claw you and (if you’re like me) will get loose in the store and run away from you. So, to easily prevent this unnecessary stress, simply pick up the essentials before you take your pet home.
This might seem like a no-brainer but I just felt obligated to throw it in there because I wish someone had given me a heads up. It’s kind of like “Duh you should bring a rain jacket or umbrella if it’s raining outside” but if no one told you it’s raining in the first place then how are you supposed to know? Anyway, pick up some food, a comfy bed, water and food bowls, etc. so that you can spend some time actually getting to know your furry friend rather than frantically chasing them down the aisles in the store.
8. How Often Do You Sleep in Your Own Bed?
If you have a boyfriend who you stay with often or are used to having sleepovers at friends’ apartments then having to spend most (if not all) of your nights at home might come as a real shock. If you’re taking on a pet child, you should be spending your nights with them instead of leaving them alone. If you’re not going to be at home much, it’s probably not the time in your life for you to invest in an animal that is constantly vying for your attention — just get a goldfish instead.
9. Where Do You See Yourself in the Next Five Years?
This might seem like a ridiculous question to ask, but it’s the most important thing to consider. Do you have plans to travel or move in the near future? When you close your eyes and imagine your life in three, four, or even ten years and don’t see a furry friend by your side, then you definitely shouldn’t be getting a pet. This isn’t a small commitment, so it shouldn’t be taken lightly. I didn’t realize just how much responsibility comes with being a single pet-parent and that has caused me to fall flat on my face a few too many times.
Ellie will (hopefully) be there when I graduate college, get my first apartment, find a smoking hot husband, have my first child, and many other “firsts” I don’t even know about yet. I needed someone who was going to love and cuddle with me; now I have a three-pound fluff ball that licks my tears and eats popcorn with me. While there have been some major growing pains, the pros far outweigh the cons. I personally think everyone can benefit from getting a pet to navigate life with — just make sure you choose the right time to let one into your life.