Dear UGA students,
Welcome to Athens. This is probably your first experience living away from your parents’ homes and your parents’ rules. What a rush, right? Freedom!
You’ve picked out your furniture and computer. The majority of you will have roommates, whether it’s in a dorm, an apartment, a rental house, wherever. Preferably these people are already your friend(s) or boy/girlfriend, or else you’ll soon become friends. Meeting new people is part of the whole college experience. Everything is going along just right. What else could you need?
How about getting a pet? Wouldn’t it be great to have a puppy or kitten, or a couple of them? OMG! They’re so cute!
Don’t do it. PLEASE don’t do it.
I moved to Athens in 1992 to attend UGA’s veterinary college. I remained in Athens after graduating in 1996, and that’s when I first became aware of what I call “The Letting Loose of the Pets.” Like clockwork, every May there’s a dramatic increase in the number of stray dogs and cats. Although there are some feral cat colonies in various locations in Athens, the dogs and cats I’m referring to are not wild, untouchable animals. They have been socialized—have lived under the care of someone who can no longer have their pet live with them.
There are a variety of “reasons” or excuses why this happens: moving to a different apartment/house that doesn’t allow pets; new roommate or girl/boyfriend is allergic to the pet; returning to parents’ home for the summer, and they won’t allow any animals; roommates are going to different living situations and no one will accept responsibility for the dog or cat; graduation; a pet won’t fit into travel plans.
As a veterinarian, an animal lover and a responsible human being, it breaks my heart and pisses me off when I see this pattern repeated year after year. Most of these domesticated pets who’ve relied on their humans for food, shelter, veterinary care and companionship don’t have a clue how to fend for themselves. They end up hanging around fast-food dumpsters or eating pet food put out for another person’s pets. They get weak and susceptible to diseases from other animals they encounter. They get hit by cars. They can be killed by coyotes.
So, no, don’t adopt that cute little puppy or kitten while you’re in school. Chances are that between classes, studying and partying, you won’t have the time that pet deserves from you. This can often lead to behavior problems, like chewing up pillows. One of the main reasons pets are surrendered to animal shelters is “behavior problems.”
Decide where you will live, work and start a family. Then it might be the right time to adopt a pet for whom you can provide all the material things, as well as the love, play and training that will turn her or him into a beloved family member for the next 10–20 years.
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