Owning Pets as Graduate Students

As many of us know, graduate school is a stressful time in which the work seems to never end. It is an experience that can make you feel separated from friends and family and alone as you spend hour after hour doing assignments. Many graduate students try to combat the isolating nature of graduate school by adopting a pet or two or three. Adopting a pet during graduate school has an equal amount of positive and negative aspects which need to be considered before adding a fluffy or furry member to your family. This week we share our experiences with having, thinking about having, and taking care of pets during graduate school.

Stephen: In my first three years of graduate school I did not have any pets to call my own. I grew up with multiple dogs in my house and missed the companionship which they added. It was not until my girlfriend and I moved in together that I even considered adopting a pet again. We discussed at length the potential pets that we could adopt, but more importantly we talked about if we had the time, energy, money, and commitment to give a pet a fun-loving and joyful life while we continued our graduate experience. In the end we agreed that we could afford at least one pet. I was dead set on getting a dog, however my girlfriend reminded me about the time commitment that a dog needs compared to a cat and she did not think that we could properly tend to a dog’s needs. We decided to get a cat…. two cats! Getting cats has been one of the best decisions I have made being a graduate student thus far. They are fun, loving, and require less time to care for than a dog. We named our two cats Ares and Athena! The addition of both of them to our small family unit has actually made us both less stressful and gives a companion to play or cuddle with when we are feeling down. 

Clayton: During the ups and downs of Graduate school, it is always good to have a way to relieve stress and just feel positive throughout all of the papers and stress. While this can be filled with a wide range of hobbies or activities, one of the best ways to quickly relieve stress, at least in my experience, is by having a pet. Right now I live with a dog and two cats, and they can all be equal parts annoying and endearing. Sometimes your work in grad school can become very repetitive: reading a book, taking notes on the book, writing about the book…, and having pets can be a fun way to break the cycle for a little while with something cute and fun. Especially after COVID, when we’ve all been stuck inside for months, my pets have been  great to break up the monotony.

However, dealing with pets can also be a double-edged sword. While they are usually adorable and fun they often don’t fit neatly into our schedules. When I had to be up at 6:30 to drive almost 45 minutes to campus for my 8 in the morning TA class, one of my cats (who was new and still a kitten) had no problem running around and yelling at 2 in the morning. While they can be annoying when you least want it, for the most part my pets have been a great way to relieve the stresses of grad school.

Dragana: Growing up, my family always had pets–cats to be exact. When I started grad school, I was still living with my parents so all of the work taking care of the cats was done by them while I was in school. I would usually come home pretty late, so it was nice to be welcomed by a swarm of meows and pet-sessions. Now that I have moved away for my PhD, I have two new cats which have completely different personalities from the cats at home. Marko, a tuxedo, and Liam, a Persian, are some of the most loving cats I have ever had. Being with them 24/7 as a result of COVID has made our relationship stronger. I have come to realize that they play a big part of my every day. I talk with them, I feed them, I play with them. Liam has become like a shadow lately. When I’m in the kitchen, he is too. Even now as I’m writing this post Liam is sitting on my desk watching me. When I’m sitting in a zoom class, he’s there next to me sleeping. It’s a good feeling to have someone there with me even if no one can see him. 

Even though I chose to focus on the positives of having pets, it’s important to know that it’s hard working taking care of them. There will be moments when they’re sick and you have to take them to the vet which can be a financial burden if you can’t afford a large bill. You’ll have to feed them, clean after them, and give them the attention they need. Even though it’s a lot of work, I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Kiri: When I was in my MA program, I was still living at home with my parents in order to save money. The best part about living at home, besides the free room and food, was our pets. We have three cats, two medium sized dogs, and a behemoth sized dog, and there truly was nothing better than coming home to a surge of fur and drool after a long day of work or school. It was also helpful that as my mom, grandma, and siblings shared “ownership” of the various animals, I got to relish in all of the love and, aside from a few treats given here and there, didn’t have to worry about any of the maintenance. Moving to Tallahassee for my PhD program, though, where I had no pets at all, left a peculiar emptiness in my life. Aside from the abysmal student housing I naively thought would be a great idea to live in, my roommate also made it clear that she was not a pet kind of girl. I resigned to admiring the stray cats that roamed my apartment complex from afar, connecting particularly with one gray cat that liked to slink around our dumpster. I lovingly dubbed him “Little King Trashmouth,” after Dragana gave me the idea because of her love of Bob’s Burgers, and LKT’s choice for a hangout spot. 

This semester, I’ve thankfully found much better housing (and two amazing new roommates) and we are planning on getting a cat the second week of October. We’ve had to have a lot of discussions about the cost and logistics of adopting a pet, and what we need in the apartment so that a cat would have a happy home. Stress has been a huge factor in each of our day-to-day lives, though, and we’re so excited to have a new friend who will hopefully give us lots of cuddles and love to help ease some of that stress. COVID-19 has brought a myriad of heartbreaks, challenges, and stressors, but that one silver line is that this moment is perfect for busy graduate students who have been on the fence about adoption will finally have the time at home needed to give their new pet the love and attention it deserves. 

Chelsi: As I write this, my cat, John Cena, is meowing incessantly at the office door. If I were to let him in, he would first rub himself on all of my books, jump onto my desk, and then proceed to bite at me and my computer. If I go to the living room, he will lead me to his full food bowl, rub on my leg, and then try to bite my hand. Elsa is a much sweeter cat and only meows at me when she’s feeling particularly lonely. They spend their day laying in bed together until they realize that they’re too close and start fighting. Then I’ll have to go break it up and assure them that they can both share a queen bed.

Cats are a handful. I’ve had both of them since my undergrad and they haven’t gotten particularly easier. Since grad school, I have moved three times with them, and each time they scream in the car the entire ride and I have to give apartments hundreds of extra dollars for pet rent. In grad school, I have sometimes felt that I haven’t been able to give them enough attention, especially in the pre-Covid world, where I would be out of the house from morning to night at least five days a week, and often more. Automatic feeders provide their food and they have toys spread all across the floor, but they still want real human contact. In John’s constant meowing at the door, he is telling me that I need a break. My cats give me a reason to come back home and perhaps take a day (or just a morning) off, particularly when Elsa lays on top of me and refuses to move. They take time and dedication and money, but my cats have continued to remind me that my life is more than just school.

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