Image by Flickr user Yukai

I was without pets for the first years of my life. I did have the occasional goldfish, which lived in a large bowl in my parents’ living room for a few weeks before inexplicably committing suicide by leaping out of said fishbowl and into the radiator. When my age reached the double digits, I graduated to hermit crabs, which held a kind of grotesque charm. Hermie and Herma, as they were named, were distinctly un-cuddly, but I did give them the honor of a burial them in my mother’s flower bed. When I was fourteen, my parents relented and allowed me and my sister to adopt a kitten. It was a truly joyous occasion, as the photograph of my ecstatic face on that Christmas morning shows. We soon were the proud caretakers of Sofie, a talkative black and white runt from a litter of domestic shorthairs in the neighborhood. (Sofie is now an 18-year-old crone who vocalizes her experience just as loudly as she did as a kitten.) Sofie brought a new layer of responsibility to my young life. Still, I felt I wasn’t prepared to make the leap from co-caretaker of a family pet to sole provider for a furry child.

When I started graduate school, I lived with a girl who owned a sweet-natured and protective black lab who bonded well with me. When my first roommate graduated, I happily accepted a new roommate who owned a miniature pomeranian and a Persian cat. Unfortunately, this did not work out quite as well as the previous living situation, as the pom took to relieving himself in my bedroom while I was at class, and the Persian exhibited a depression so severe that she sat unmoving on a chair for days at a time. These situations underscored some of the advantages and disadvantages to owning pets in graduate school. My first roommate was able to balance her scholarly life with being a dog owner, taking breaks from her study sessions to play with her dog and faithfully walking him every day. My second roommate had a more difficult time, underestimating how much time and energy it would take to train an undisciplined purebred puppy. Thus, she had little time to devote to her cat. I vowed to learn from what I had experienced, and waited several years before I considered pets of my own.

When I started the process of adopting a dog, I had a lot of options to consider, and I spent a lot of time researching. I opted for a smallish dog who would be comfortable in the smallish apartment I would have for a while. Instead of getting a puppy that I would need to train, I chose a full-grown dog who was already housebroken and leash-trained. I researched kennel options, making sure I could afford to place my dog in good care when I traveled for conferences. I made connections with a network of grad student dog owners who shared their expertise with me. My patience and thoughtfulness paid off; when I adopted a 2-year-old rat terrier named Dobson last July, I was well-adjusted into graduate life, and could anticipate the challenges my grad student status would pose to devoting time and care to my pet. Grad life with a pet has taken some getting used to, but I’ve found that having Dobson around has reduced my stress, helped me get more active, and generally brought more love and happiness into my life. In grad school, you can use all the love and happiness you can get.

Do you have a pet? What’s grad life with a pet like for you? What’s good about having a pet in grad school, and what’s difficult?


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