KIDS LEAVING home after graduating from high school don't always leave by themselves. Sometimes, the family dog or cat goes along as well. Studies show that having a pet at college has benefits, but only when it's done right.
Factors to consider in making life work with a college pet include the student's maturity level, the pet's personality, campus housing rules, whether the pet will receive enough attention from a busy student and who will care for the animal if the student must be away from campus. Here, experts share their experiences and advice for making a smooth transition.
Deb Eldredge, DVM, notes that her daughter Kate was already an experienced dog trainer and handler at the time she left for college. And she knew that Kate's course schedule as an English major gave her enough time to make sure that her dog got the activity she needed.
When it comes to housing, colleges and universities that permit pets typically limit animals to certain floors or buildings. Rules address concerns such as noise, grooming and waste disposal. Pet-friendly dorms may also limit animals by size, breed or species.
When Eliza Rubenstein went to Oberlin College, in Ohio, in 1991, freshmen and sophomores were required to live in dorms, where pets weren't permitted. But her golden retriever, Alfy, was a huge part of her life - they made pet-assisted therapy visits and participated in obedience trials - and she successfully made a case for exemption from the dormitory requirement.
"I know that I missed out on some of the bonding and socialization that I'd have experienced had I lived in a dorm, but I met lots of friends with Alfy as my icebreaker, too, and I got involved with the local student-run animal shelter, which in turn introduced me to my future co-author and lifelong best friend," says Rubenstein, who wrote "The Adoption Option: Choosing and Raising the Shelter Dog for You" with Shari Kalina.
Cornell required freshmen to live in a dorm, but after that first year, Eldredge lived off campus so she could have Queezle with her.
"Although I loved my dorm, life without dogs just was not an option," she says. And her dog-friendly apartment proved to be a boon when Dr. Eldredge's own dog, Hokey, was undergoing radiation therapy at Cornell for nasal cancer.
Who pays for the pet's food and veterinary care or looks after him when his new caregiver can't be at home? College students or new college graduates may foot the bill themselves through part-time or full-time jobs, or share the expenses and responsibilities with parents.
For Eldredge, it helped to have a mother who was a veterinarian and only two hours away by car. And she arranged her schedule around Queezle's walk times as much as possible and recruited friends to help when she couldn't.
Whether young people are in school or just starting out in life, having the family pet along on the adventure can bring continuity and contentment, but it's a serious commitment.
"As positive as my own experience was, I don't know that I'd recommend taking a pet to college for most students," Rubenstein says. "College, even with no pets involved, is a time of lots of work and not much money for most of us. If you're thinking of adding an animal to the mix, be sure you plan for the challenges as well as the fun."