By KATIE STOCKDALE
“The best part about having a dog is every night, when after a long day, they are thrilled to see you,” said Jill Conway, senior journalism major. “She’ll jump on top of me, it’s so cute, she just cuddles up next to me, she’s like ‘I’m so happy that you’re home!’ And like, that’s the best.”
For Conway, having her dog Luna has been a singularly wonderful experience. Despite pets presenting a financial burden to college students, when Conway’s boyfriend decided he wanted a dog, she knew they were going to get one. At first, Conway was concerned about the responsibility of taking care of a pet but she was quickly swayed.
“[My boyfriend] started looking online and I was kinda like oh shit, okay you’re gonna get a dog, I’ll help you with the dog,” said Conway.
Growing up, Conway’s house always had dogs. Her mother once rescued a dog by telling the shelter that Conway and her siblings weren’t her children, because the dog was labeled as a not good with children. Conway therefore knew the responsibilities of a dog owner. She and her boyfriend started saving up, and they split the cost of Luna the Catahoula leopard puppy, along with all of her supplies. Initially, with her fee and her supplies, Conway spent about $400 and since then spends around $100 a month for food, toys and bones.
“Really, what kills me is going to the vet, they charge you $65 as soon as you walk in the door,” said Conway.
Living off campus, Conway faces the extra expense of apartment complex pet fees. By acquiring Luna halfway through the lease at her first apartment, Conway avoided the $300 pet fee.
But when she moved down to SoHo, she paid a fee of $250, a price that seemed average to her from her apartment hunting.
Brian Plazzo, a senior entrepreneurship major, also lives off-campus with his dog, Echo. He spends about $35 a month on food for her, and her grandparents take care of toys, sending her some in the mail periodically.
Plazzo’s apartment also requires a pet fee, $400 for the initial fee and $15 dollars a month after.
“But since I knew that going into it, I had her registered as an emotional support dog, which excluded me from paying any of the fees,” Plazzo said.
Both Plazzo and Conway were aware of the additional costs to their budget before they chose to get a pet, and both prepared for them.
“It was not an impulse, for starters,” said Plazzo. “I had planned it for a while because I thought I was capable of taking on that responsibility and had planned out the summer accordingly.”
For Conway, her and her boyfriend both having steady jobs made it easy not to worry about the additional monetary cost of a puppy. The choice of a puppy because Conway knew that older dogs have more health issues helped as well.
“I think that I’d worry about the expenses if I didn’t have money saved, I would worry more, but before I got a dog I made sure I had money put away in case anything happened,” said Conway. “I guess it’s just important to know you have the money in case something happens so it’s not so much of a worry.”
When the time came to choose their pets, money was the last thing on Conway or Plazzo’s minds. Conway fell in love with the little spotted puppy that reminded her of her own calico dogs growing up, at once.
“She literally rested her head in-between my shoulder and my neck and I was like ‘Oh my god, okay, you’re the one, I’ll take you;’ because she was just so sweet and calm and she didn’t bark at any of the other dogs,” said Conway.
Like Conway, Plazzo prepared for getting a dog, but the ultimate choice was emotional, rather than financial.
“Money factored in to an extent, but I ultimately ended up paying more for Echo because I thought she deserved a better life than the individual who had her at the time was providing her with,” said Plazzo.
For both students, the social and time costs around taking care of a dog affect them more than the monetary costs. Conway does her best to bring Luna along with her and finds that her friends are often more excited to see the dog than her. When she can’t bring Luna along, Conway finds herself leaving early.
“I definitely find myself leaving,” said Conway. “I live in SoHo and I’ll go out to McDinton’s or Lodge and two hours in I’m always going up to the bouncer like ‘I’ll be right back I have to go take my dog out’ and they’re like ‘Oh my god this girl’s crazy, but okay.’”
The adjustment to increased responsibility was difficult for Plazzo at first, especially since Echo is a very energetic dog, but he’s learned to schedule his life to fit her needs.
“I could take her to the dog park for multiple hours and she’d still be running around when we get home,” said Plazzo. “I skate with her in the mornings around 6 a.m. and at night before I get ready for bed, consistently. I’ll take her out multiple times throughout the day, depending on my other obligations, as well. Big social and time cost, but very worth it.”
According to Conway, having a support system around you to help care for your pet helps to alleviate these costs. Being a college student, she’ll often find herself wanting to attend all-day concerts, or go on a quick weekend trip; but first she has to find a dog-sitter. Still, this is all worth it for her.
“But honestly, if you love your pet than I think that the social-time cost is worth it because you got that pet to hang out with the pet and to take care of it and spend a lot of your time with it,” said Conway.
After rescuing his kitten Fang over the summer, Steve Ambrosino, a senior finance major felt confident in knowing he had friends who could find her a good home if he wasn’t able to bring her back to UT with him.
“But after a couple of days with her, I was like ‘There’s no way I’m giving her up,’” said Ambrosino. “So it got to the point that we were attached, and I was like ‘I’m going to do whatever it takes to be able to bring her down to Florida with me.’”
According to Ambrosino, the process of getting Fang approved to live with him on campus was fairly easy. He needed to get a housing letter from his doctor, which stated that he would benefit from having Fang in his possession, not just as a pet back home.
“I had to hand that letter in with a whole bunch of other things, like her vet records, and just a couple of other documentations saying that I was allowed to have her here,” said Ambrosino. “And then the school, even with all that, they can either accept the application or deny it, whether they think it’s a valid reason or not.”
Marcela Cabral, senior advertising and public relations major, also required a doctor’s letter of approval, which cost $150 and needs to be renewed every year. The process of getting her puppy, Othello (nicknames Oats), approved took about two weeks.
Both Cabral and Ambrosino find the added expense of their pets to be manageable. Since both have cars on campus, going out to get food and supplies is also very easy for them.
“My dog is relatively low maintenance,” said Cabral. “I buy the premium dog food brand so that’s about $30 a month. He’s a puppy and still getting his shots but even those are $18 each for three rounds.”
For Ambrosino, a bag of cat food and litter is also around $30 – $35 a month. Companionship was the driving force behind Ambrosino and Cabral’s choices to bring their pets on campus.
“For me it’s nice, after getting out of work or class, being able to back to my room, like if I don’t want to be around people I at least have her there to at least keep me company, so it’s nice,” said Ambrosino.
Cabral’s choice was serious, because she had felt she had hit a particularly bad point in her mental health. For her, getting a dog as her emotional support animal (ESA) was the last step before going on antidepressants.
“After I got him, I felt infinitely better in terms of my mental health,” Cabral said. “Luckily money has never been an issue since he’s young and healthy.”
The phenomenon of becoming a campus star, or really being the manager of a campus star, is one Ambrosino and Cabral encounter daily.
“She’s good with people, it’s funny, after I brought her down here, I always make the joke to my friends that they come and see her more than they come and see me,” said Ambrosino.
Cabral, who has to take Oats out into public campus world daily, faces the same experience, but with strangers.
“Because he’s a puppy, it is a little hard to take him across campus without people stopping to come and pet him,” Cabral said. “Which is fine, but I feel when he gets anxious, in turn it makes me a little anxious.”
Ambrosino believes one hundred percent that if you want a pet with you on campus, you should get one. For him, Fang presents little worry about social or time costs because of her mellow nature as a cat.
“That’s the good thing about having a cat, unlike having to take care of a dog, like having to take them out all the time; I can leave a cat for a couple of hours and she’d just look at me and be like ‘Oh you’re back?’” said Ambrosino.
For Cabral, Oats is worth all the costs, whether monetary or social. Having him with her has made her life better by helping her with her depression, through a simple approval of documentation.
“I think if you need one, having an ESA on campus is very important, but I would try to get it as a senior, maybe junior, make sure you have enough time to spend with them, and to get a breed that is okay with living in confined spaces,” said Cabral.
In Conway’s eyes, having Luna is worth all the extra responsibility. Even though Conway is often thinking about Luna and what she needs, especially if she’s lonely, Luna has changed her life for the better.
“It’s definitely worth it cause it also gets me outside, going to the dog beach, it’s so nice to just stand there; watch your little pet play with other little pets,” Conway said. “It’s fun. Yeah, I would definitely suggest people get one.”
According to Plazzo, as long as you can accept the responsibility of being a pet owner, everything about having a pet is worth it. But you need to be able to give your pet the proper attention.
“I have become more patient, more understanding, and learn something new every day about the responsibility of raising another living thing, which I consider way more than just a ‘pet,’” said Plazzo. “The extra expense has been worth it. Sure, I may miss out on plenty of social opportunities; but the opportunities I’ve had to experience new parts of life with Echo, the good and the bad, are far more worth my time.”
Katie Stockdale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org