When I fall in love, I fall hard.
It was midway through my sophomore year of college. Despite sharing my tiny apartment with three other roommates, things were a bit lonely with classes, jobs and sorority functions keeping everyone busy. After much contemplation, I decided that a cuddly guinea pig was just what I needed. But after a night of seemingly innocent petfinder.com browsing that ultimately led to a bus ride to the local Petsmart, I found myself staring through the window at a dozing, six-month old kitten.
Despite my parents’ hesitations and my own better judgement, I adopted the kitten I fell in love with at the pet store. She was small but curious, sassy, and, for the most part, fearless, so she earned a name worthy of a lioness: Nala.
It’s a common-enough story: College student with newfound freedom and independence gives in to the desire to bring a pet home. In my case, the story has a happy ending. Two and a half years later and 1,400 miles away, I’m writing this article and watching Nala laze in the shade of our backyard.
But for many animals and their humans, all too often the story goes like this: College student with newfound freedom and independence gives in to the desire to bring a pet home. College student realizes shortly after there’s too little time, money or space for the new friend. Animal is promptly returned to the animal shelter or rehomed.
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, about 7.6 million companion animals enter animal shelters nationwide every year, a third of which are surrendered by their owners. That’s not to mention the seemingly endless number of Craigslist ads with titles like “cute Siberian husky needs forever home,” “4 month old kitty needs your love” and “Need to Rehome our 2 Dogs :(”
“Choosing a pet is a big responsibility and commitment,” said Angie Sutton of Manhattan’s Department of Parks and Recreation. “All pets need care, both emotionally and financially. Getting a new pet should not be an impulse decision. A dog or cat could be with you for 15 or more years and be around for your first job, marriage and children.”
Parks and recreation oversees the T. Russell Reitz Animal Shelter on Levee Drive, which also serves as the center for animal control. Willie Davila-Rivera is the supervisor for both the animal shelter and animal control.
“We have success stories every day,” Davila-Rivera said, though he noted that if an animal isn’t a good fit, the shelter will take the animal back with no additional fees and no questions asked.
“We don’t want to see animals being abandoned. When people adopted the animal, they had their best interests and hopes at heart, but sometimes life throws curves at you and we always want to do what’s right for people and for our animals.”
Thinking ahead about controllable factors like the type of pet you take home and the commitment it will take to care for that pet can help make a more successful match.
Here are some questions to ask yourself before adopting or purchasing a pet.
Am I allowed to have this pet?
While the city of Manhattan doesn’t have any specific dog breed restrictions, Sec. 6-25 in the Code of Ordinances includes a list of breeds that are held to a higher standard in terms of being considered “dangerous dogs.”
This list includes, but is not limited to, American pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers, Doberman pinschers, German shepherds, Rottweilers, Staffordshire bull terriers and several breeds of mastiffs. This standard also applies to “any dog, whether purebred or mix, that has the appearance and characteristics of any one of the breeds listed.”
Your landlord or property management company may ban breeds from this list and many have their own regulations as well depending on the property, so tenants may want to check their leases. The residence halls do not allow dogs or cats but do allow a number of smaller animals.
Do I have the resources to be able to care for this pet?
According to the ASPCA, the first-year cost of a dog or cat can easily exceed $1,000. While the estimate did include some one-time costs like spaying/neutering and dog training that already may be taken care of when you adopt your pet, it didn’t include costs like the adoption fee, pet deposits, emergency vet visits or kennel services for when you travel. It also didn’t include the cost of replacing things your pet will inevitably destroy.
Even with smaller mammals and reptiles, the costs can add up. Average start up costs for these animals, including a cage/tank, bedding, toys and food can range between $100 to $200 each month.
Pets like mice and hamsters are relatively cheap over their lifespans, one to two years and four to five years, respectively, but reptiles like bearded dragons can end up costing as much as a cat to maintain.
Space is also an important resource when considering a pet. For an active dog, access to a yard to run around in is a must unless you plan on frequently taking him or her to the dog park. Tanks and cages also take up space that may not be available in a small room or apartment, especially as your pet grows.
How will my pet fit in with my lifestyle?
Species, age, size and temperament are all factors to consider when thinking about how a new pet will fit into life and your routine. Be honest with yourself when you consider what you want and how much time you can realistically commit to your pet. If you have an active lifestyle, a dog you can take jogging or hiking might be a great pet, but if you want a low maintenance pet and don’t have a lot of time in your schedule, that dog might not be the right fit for you. Kittens and puppies are popular adoption choices, but remember younger animals are going to need more effort, attention and training than an adult or senior animal.
Remember that if you were lonely at home on your own, your pet likely will be too. Even more “independent” pets like hamsters and guinea pigs respond to affection and can build bonds with their humans. If you’re frequently out in the evenings and on weekends, especially if you don’t have roommates to spend time with your pet, consider the time he or she will be on its own. When you make plans to travel, take into consideration how you’re going to make sure your pet is cared for while you’re away.
Am I able to make a commitment to this animal for the remainder of its life?
While circumstances change and life happens, if the intention to keep this pet for life isn’t there from the get-go, adopting or purchasing a pet may not be the best option for you. Still need your cuddly animal fix? Consider volunteering at an animal shelter or rescue. You can find the volunteer application for the T. Russell Reitz Animal Shelter at the City of Manhattan website.