When Kate Eldredge of Vernon, N.Y., returned to Cornell University in 2010 for her sophomore year, it wasn’t to dorm life with a new roommate. She brought along her own furry roommate: Queezle, a 4-year-old Belgian tervuren.
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.
Veterinarian Deb Eldredge notes that her daughter Kate was already an experienced dog trainer and handler when she left for college. And she knew that Kate’s course schedule as an English major gave her enough time to make sure Queezle 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, Kate 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 her mother’s 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. 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.”
Cats may prefer to rely on their eyes rather than follow their noses when it comes to finding food, according to a study published in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science by animal behaviorists at the University of Lincoln in the United Kingdom. Cats have a super sense of smell, but, at least under test conditions, when given a choice they were more likely to use vision than scent to obtain a food reward. Different cats had stronger preferences, and professor Daniel Mills, who supervised the study, says, “If there is a cat which has a strong preference for using its nose, then simple changes in the smell of the environment might have a big impact on it, whereas for others it may be insignificant.”
▪ Exercising with dogs used to mean walking them around the block, but more trainers are offering fitness classes that include dogs as an integral part of the workout. From “Exercise With Your Dog” in Madison, Wis., to “Leash Your Fitness” in San Diego, the classes combine activity and basic obedience, taking both to a new level. Activities include jumping up from a squat, prompting dogs to leap into the air for a treat, zigzagging through cones, yoga stretches and more.
▪ If you see a dog who looks like a miniature Siberian husky, you might be looking at an Alaskan klee kai. A new breed created within the past 30 years, the klee kai is a playful and energetic dog who enjoys long walks and hikes, dog sports such as nose work and agility and playing with toys. They will “talk” to you when you come home from work, spending several minutes telling you about their day. This breed is best suited to an active person or family with an endless supply of lint brushes and a powerful vacuum cleaner.
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton, author of many pet-care books. The two are affiliated with Vetstreet.com. Dr. Becker can also be found at facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.