Information for the parents of college students
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Considering a Pet Friendly College?

Is your college student considering owning a pet while in college?

As your soon-to-be college student considers the transition to college, the thought of leaving the family pet behind may be devastating.  In most families, the family pet will need to stay with the family.  But if your student is considering either taking her pet along or getting a new pet, she will need to carefully investigate college policy regarding pets in the residence halls and also the realities of pet responsibility.

Are pets at college OK?

The short answer to this question is . . . it depends.

Some colleges are more open than others to the idea of students bringing a pet along.  And, of course, it depends on what kind of pet your student is considering.  At most colleges, fish are OK.  There’s not much chance of your fish disturbing the neighbors – or of your roommate being allergic.  Some colleges are fine with small, caged or contained critters – birds, turtles, gerbils, hamsters, maybe even a snake or a rabbit.  But if your student is considering anything larger, a cat or dog perhaps, things may get trickier.  No matter what kind of pet your student is considering, she should check college policy carefully.

Some colleges will allow larger pets, but may restrict them to certain residence halls.  There will likely be a size limit on pets allowed.  Some colleges will allow a fraternity or sorority to have a single “house mascot.”  Some institutions have a “pet council” that may monitor whether the pet is being appropriately cared for or allow pets initially for only a probationary period.

If pets are not allowed, students should understand that the college may have clear reasons for prohibiting them.  College officials may be concerned about safety, hygiene, or students with allergies.  Although having a pet may be a wonderful thing for your student, it may not feel that way to other students living nearby.

Rules are different for service or therapy animals.  This now includes emotional support animals according to new HUD rulings.  If your student has a medical reason for an animal or a disability that requires a service animal, be sure to contact the college well in advance.

What should my student do if he wants to bring a pet?

If your student is determined to bring or purchase a pet, the first thing is obviously to check with the college about any and all pet policies.  Your student should never jeopardize his college housing by trying to sneak a prohibited pet into his room.  Your student should check with his roommate to be sure that having a pet in the room is agreeable, and possibly even check with other students who will live nearby.

Your student should also think very carefully about the responsibility involved in pet ownership.  Who takes care of a family pet at home?  Will a cage, tank, litterbox need to be cleaned?  Will the pet need to be taken outside and/or exercised?  Will your student be able to afford food, care, and possible veterinarian costs?  Thinking carefully about the implications of owning a pet and having a realistic budget is important, as well as remembering that this is a lifelong commitment (at least for the life span of the pet).

Are there advantages to having a pet while in college?

The most obvious advantage to owning a pet for most people is the companionship that the animal can provide.  This may be important for your student who is now away from home and missing family, and the family pet.  Having a pet companion can help ease the transition and can also be a factor in helping your student meet and connect with other students.  Chatting about the pet may be a great way to begin a conversation.  Some pets are also wonderful for relieving the inevitable stress that comes along with college life.  And, of course, having a pet can simply be fun.

But are there also disadvantages to pet ownership during college?

Along with the advantages to owning a pet, your student should carefully consider potential disadvantages.  Owning a pet is a long-term commitment.  It isn’t fair to the pet if your student becomes bored with the responsibility later.  Unfortunately, many college and university towns have a high rate of abandoned animals due to college students not knowing what to do with a neglected pet.  Owning a pet can be costly – often more than many students realize.  Your student should have a plan for possible licensing fees, vet bills, food, equipment, and care that may last for several years.

Your student will need a plan for what will happen with a pet during breaks and summer vacations.  Some pets, such as a turtle or some fish, may be fine for several weeks, but others need daily care and attention.  Will your student be able to bring the pet home?  Will there be someone available to pet-sit?

It is crucial that your student think very carefully about all aspects of pet ownership before taking on this responsibility.

What else should my student consider?

If the college is firm on a no-pet policy and your student feels strongly about having one, she may need to consider off-campus housing.  She will need to check landlord policies carefully since many apartments also prohibit pets.  Volunteering at a local animal shelter may provide your student the opportunity to be around animals, care for them, and receive many of the benefits without the responsibilities and might provide an alternative.

Whatever your student decides to do about pet ownership in college, it will need to be a carefully considered decision.  He should always have a back-up plan – and that may involve parents.  Be sure to have a conversation with your student to be clear about what you might or might not be willing to do to help with a pet.

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