Jump to content

Getting a Pet in Grad School


Recommended Posts

So I've been thinking of getting a pet when I go to grad school. I have done quite a bit of traveling in the past few years, so it wasn't feasible. Now, I will likely be in one location for several years and it seems like a good time. Right now my roommate has a cat, and I could seeing myself getting one of my own when I go to grad school. I like cats and they are (fairly) easy to take care of. I'd prefer a dog though. I know dogs are expensive, require a regular walk schedule, and limit the places you can live because many apts don't allow them.

 

Current PhD students and/or current dog owners- I solicit your advice and experiences! Is it especially challenging to have a dog during a PhD program? Do you recommend it? Is it possible to fit pet-related costs into a graduate stipend budget? Do the hours make it impossible? I do not expect to have a partner and plan to live alone, although I may have to have a roommate, depending on the cost of living where I go. What are the pros/cons? If you are a PhD student with a dog, do you feel that it's been worth it or do you wish you'd waited until after finishing? Is there anything I should consider that I haven't discussed in this post?

Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm also glad someone asked! I already have a dog and I'm applying to grad school for the Fall. I'm so nervous I will have a hard time finding an apartment...it is much easier to find one with a cat. I'm also worried I won't have time to give her the attention she needs.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Okay, first of all, you don't always have to pay more in rent. Some places charge a pet rent, but there are many that don't. Also, some charge a pet fee but others don't. My current place charges a one-time $150 fee, which I just viewed as part of the security deposit, but which you could also view as a ~$10/month rent increase. I've also lived in places (rented through individual owners) that didn't charge anything for having a pet. But, depending on the dog you get/want, you may need to pay more to have a place with a fenced in yard, for example. As for the rest, well... there's the finances to consider (vet bills, dog food/toys, replacing anything the dog destroys [and there's pretty much guaranteed to be something], paying/finding someone to watch the dog when you're out of town) and the time factor. Do you have an hour or two throughout the day to spend walking, training, and playing with a dog? Are you able to commit to socializing your dog (dog park, playdates, etc.)?

 

Here's two things I would suggest. First, work with/through a rescue group, rather than just going to the animal shelter. This is especially important if you don't have much experience as a dog owner because they can help you understand what will and will not work given your personality and schedule and the dog's personality and needs. Also, you're more likely to get a dog that already has some training (and have people to consult with about continuing that training), which can be very helpful if you don't have that experience yourself. Second, before adopting a dog, consider fostering. That gives you 99% of the experience but without much of the costs. You get the experience of taking in a dog whose background you know little or nothing about, training and working with that dog, and that sort of thing but typically the rescue group is a 501c3 and covers all of the vet bills (and sometimes also food) on your behalf. Fostering is an incredible experience and I've fostered dogs for years, including for about 2.5 years in grad school. One of the downsides though is that you are likely to be responsible for taking the dog to weekly or monthly adoption events, talking to potential adopters, etc. Again, this is a time commitment but one that I personally find to be worth it.

 

In thinking about your question though, I was struck my thinking that the first few months of a big life transition are *not* a great time to get a dog as dogs can be very demanding on your time. Someone else asked me about this recently and this is part of the email I sent in response.

 

------

Every group I've fostered with has required that I or someone from my household drop off and pick up the pet from weekly adoption events. Also, when I fostered in [one state], the group had a home visit and trial period as well, which meant I had to go to the prospective adopter's house for the home visit with the dog, drop the dog off if the visit went well, and, in one case, pick the dog back up when the person backed out of the adoption. Since you can't really take dogs on public transit, you'll need a personal vehicle to do all of these things.

 

As for traveling with the dog, that is really dog-dependent. Some dogs get sick every time they're in the car. It's something you can work on but that takes time. One of my foster dogs, Daisy, peed in the car basically every time she was in the car for the first 4.5 months I had her. If you have a dog like that, then you can't easily travel with him/her.

 

At any rate, I wouldn't make any decisions until you get settled in your position and get a sense of what your days will be like. If you're expected to have a lot of face time on campus or in the lab, then having a dog is more complicated unless you have a roommate that can let the dog out when you're unavailable. In general, fostering isn't for everyone. You have to be willing to love and treat a dog as if it's your own then let it go to someone else without getting bitter or sad. It also means taking in a dog that probably has some sort of problem that needs to be resolved (physical, behavioral, or whatever). It probably means housebreaking, crate/kennel training, and leash training. A lot of those training things can be avoided if you adopt from a local rescue group that keeps their dogs in a foster home and has the foster parents do that training for you. Adoptions cost more in those cases but they can also save a lot of work, which is a good thing if you're unfamiliar. The upside to fostering is that you won't have to pay vet bills (and really, don't foster with any group that makes you pay the vet bills out of pocket). Oh yea, it's difficult to foster if you can't show that you have experience living with and working with dogs (I'm not sure if you do). If you don't, they typically make you volunteer first so they can get a sense of your comfort with dogs before they send one to live with you, which totally makes sense to me. And if you foster, you basically have to commit to keeping the dog until it finds its forever home. For me, that's been as short as 3 weeks and as long as 5.5 months...

Hope that helps. I'm happy to chat more about this if you want.

-------------

 

Again, this is just my experience and opinion. A cat, imo, is much easier to adopt because you don't have to worry about how long ze can hold its bladder while you're in class or the lab or wherever.

Link to post
Share on other sites

This is a great thread. I really want to get a dog, but... I have more experience with cats, and I just don't think I'll be able to take care of a dog the way I'd want. I would want to invest in the kind of dog breed I'd want, and I can't see that happening without help or something. I love shelter dogs, but finding the perfect fit/acceptable breed/etc is no easy task. It is a reassurance that cats are wonderful companions and need less attention. 

 

A pet seems wonderful for grad school, though. 

Link to post
Share on other sites

I have a cat and two dogs. I rescued my cat when I was on a trip in Tijuana, and both my dogs were acquired through Craigslist. Owners basically couldn't take care of them anymore.

 

My place doesn't charge for a pet deposit - just a monthly pet fee of $20. The last place I lived at charged a pet deposit and pet rent. Really, it varies. I know some apartments restrict certain breeds or have a weight requirement.

I lucked out with the place I currently have as it has a huge yard. I installed a doggie door and the dogs are able to access the yard to do their business.

I'd say if you're going to get a dog, get an older one. Puppies require much more time/attention and you really can't leave them unattended for long periods of time, even if they are crate trained. I'd also go with what others have said - wait until you are settled in - but in that case I'd say find a place that is pet friendly. I have used craigslist to find all the places I've lived at, and always check the 'cat' and 'dog' boxes to see the pet-friendly results.

Obviously, you want to ensure you are able to take a dog out on daily walks and whatnot. Dogs can get destructive if they don't have an outlet for their energy. I learned that with one of my dogs when I first got him....I would get home from work and find the place destroyed. I definitely recommend crate training or taking them out before you go to work/school.

As for the costs....I go to the weekend low-cost vaccination clinics at pet stores to get my pets their shots. I got my pets neutered at a low-cost clinic as well. I do, however, have information on the closest vets/clinics should an emergency arise. I get a huge bag of dog food which lasts about 3 months (this might vary on breed). Supplies/toys/etc. can be found on craigslist for cheap.

I'd say the costs are mostly in what they destroy. The start up costs of getting a pet are maybe around $250-300. However, if you adopt from a group, your pet should already have its shots etc.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Having a pet will definitely limit your leasing options. You might not be able to get the locations you want, the pet friendly apartment might charge you a lot more for your pet. My apartment charges me $200 pet nonrefundable fee, $200 pet deposit, and that's just for one pet. Any 'undocumented' pet warrants immediate deportation, a $100 fee, and a $10/day penalty for everyday the pet remains within the residence. (it's fkin ridiculous) I have two cats, and I'm pretty sure my landlord is aware of it. So far, nothing has happened, although I'm not expecting to get my pet deposit back because of it. ANYway, I find cats really easy to take care of. You don't have to walk them, give them too much attention, and litter training is already coded into their DNA. All you have to do is buy them a scratching post, leave them a few shipping boxes from Amazon, get a few rounds of vaccines, and be good for life. Same deal with outdoor cats, except they require a little more maintenance in terms of vaccines and vet visits. I had originally wanted a dog, but I find a cat to be much easier to manage, especially with a grad school schedule.

 

 

They'll also kill bugs and eat them, which is a nice bonus.

 

And perhaps this stems from my background as an only child, but I think it's better to get two cats. They'll keep each other company, so there's no reason for them to self-destruct, or cause havoc in your home.

Edited by spectastic
Link to post
Share on other sites

In addition to the excellent fostering and volunteering advice above, another option is to seek out a shelter or rescue group nearby that helps find homes for "small and fuzzy/scaly/feathery" pets: rabbits, reptiles, small birds, etc. They're often lower maintenance pets, and some have shorter lifespans than cats and dogs. Definitely do your research beforehand, though; some reptiles and birds have crazy long lifespans. Gotta think ahead about how much moving around you'll be doing in the next 5 or so years at the very least.

 

I had a leopard gecko when I was an undergrad, and she was about as low maintenance as a pet can be, although she wasn't super affectionate and was sometimes difficult to travel with. One of my current housemates raises rabbits (primarily for meat, but in the meantime, they're "pets"), and they're a lot more affectionate. We feed them organic fruit and veg scraps that are safe for them to eat. I imagine having 1 or 2 instead of, y'know, 15+ in a large hutch would actually be pretty rewarding and straightforward.

 

As others have mentioned, leasing options, rent, fees, and so on vary greatly. I've noticed it's really hard to find a 9- or 12-month place to lease that allows dogs here; however, many places don't seem to mind smaller animals, and/or permit outdoor pets (rabbits, chickens, so on).

Link to post
Share on other sites

I have only had cats, no dogs, but everyone else has given really good advice already! I only want to add that it's useful to look up the rules/laws in your future home. For example, in case anyone is reading this is planning to move to the province of Ontario, Canada, the laws are very protective of pets. In Ontario, landlords cannot have "no pets" clauses and they cannot charge extra rent or extra fees because of pet ownership. There is also no security deposit allowed in Ontario rentals (but you do have to pay last month's rent up front, and they can bill you for damages after you leave). 

 

The rules in Ontario are very different than most states and even different from other Canadian provinces! So I would strongly advise that you make yourself knowledgeable about your tenant rights/responsibilities before paying a fee you didn't have to pay etc. 

Link to post
Share on other sites

I've had my dog (and a few previous dogs) for several years and in several states and in several apartments.  Finding an apartment which takes dogs over 50 pounds or so-called 'bully breeds" is harder than finding an apartment with a smaller dog.  Like previous posters, I found you may be required to pay a larger initial deposit but only a small ($25 or less) additional monthly fee.

 

The first year and last year of a dogs life are the most expensive.  You don't know, of course (and I don't want to sound callous or morbid here, but just make a point) when the last year is going to be.  So my advice is to avoid getting a puppy if possible to save yourself the additional vet costs, training, and chewed everything that a puppy will cost you.  I didn't follow my own advice with my current dog (adopted at 6 months) but I can assure you her "start-up costs" were easily 10 times her adoption fee.  Also, I think it's only humane to start a small fund for your pet to afford a graceful exit for them if they come across a life-threatening health issue.  You may plan to have your dog for ten-plus years but dogs often are born with health issues which surface much earlier, and you will want to be able to afford as much vet care as possible, as well as provide a comfortable end to their life if needed.

 

Somewhere in the middle of that expensive but adorable puppy stage and the expensive and heartbreaking end of a pet life, you will usually hit a stride of medium maintenance and medium cost.  My dog costs approx. $50/month in food plus $25/day if I have to board her.  She goes to the vet 2 times a year which costs about $100 each time. Throw in a couple baths for when I'm lazy and I'd say she's about $1000 a year.  And worth every penny.  I mean look at that mug ^^^

 

As far as time spent keeping her happy:  if I'm not at work I try to spend as much time as I can with her. That includes two mile-plus walks a day in the -20 wind chill right now.  If you have a spouse, they are wonderful for walk-sharing, but do not rely on a roommate to co-care for your pet. Your roommate will not love your pet as much as you and your pet may fall through the cracks.  Not saying roommates aren't good in a pinch, or are all bad, but a dog's life is hopefully longer than any given roommate situation and a dog deserves at least one persons full attention.  I know dogs who have been given up to shelters because two roommates both decided to half-care for it & it never got the attention or structure needed.  That said, I love all my ex roommates very much and keep up with all of them.  This isn't an anti-roommate PSA, but dog ownership is best when there's someone clearly "in charge" of that animal's complete care.

 

I could go on an on about dog ownership but I don't want to prattle on too much and you are welcome to PM me with any specifics.  Clearly, this Queen is a proud pup mother as demonstrated by my picture  :wub:  :rolleyes:  :wub:

Link to post
Share on other sites

At any rate, I wouldn't make any decisions until you get settled in your position and get a sense of what your days will be like.

This was posted a few days back, but just to reiterate this, it is a very good idea to find out what your "settled" schedule is like rather than taking in a new pet at the same time you are starting grad school. Also, great advice about fostering, though in my case the fostering turned into adoption--when someone was finally interested in adopting after almost three years, I realized I'd had the critter too long and couldn't give it up.

 

If you are really looking for "furry friend time" but aren't sure about the responsibilities of pet ownership, consider volunteering a couple hours a week at the local animal shelter to walk dogs or interact with the cats or small critters/exotics--besides you getting your time in with the animals, many don't get any time to interact with people except when volunteers take them out, so you are doing a lot to improve their quality of life and make them more sociable (read adoptable).

 

Also, I saw above Pears mentioning rabbits with short lived pets (with the excellent caveat that you should do your research on the lifespan of all pets). House rabbits can live 12-15 years. That is similar to cats and longer than most larger dogs, so they are a very long term time commitment. Obviously their lifespan is much shorter if kept outside (4-6 years), where they tend to get worn down by the weather and parasites, or killed by predators like raccoons. Outdoor hutches may need heating depending on the weather in your area, which can be quite expensive on a seasonal basis if your local power source is coal or oil rather than nuclear or hydroelectric. Further rabbits are harder to adopt out than cats or dogs, so the consequences for the pet rabbits are often grimmer than with a cat or dog if you decide it doesn't work out--very few shelters take adult bunnies. I think they are great pets, but shouldn't be treated as short term critters, and require daily maintenance. Also, if you do get a indoor rabbit, there is no reason to keep it caged all day like you might a rodent--they are easily litter trained, and just like cats, if they have a buddy are much less likely to destroy the world.

 

EDIT: consider the annual cost of keeping your pet as well (http://www.aspca.org/adopt/pet-care-costs). If you are not in a funded program and hurting for money, they may be more than you can comfortably afford on top of rent and your own groceries.

Edited by Usmivka
Link to post
Share on other sites

I know I'm taking my cat with me wherever I go once I determine whether the stress of the move would be too much for her (she's getting quite old). After living without her for four years I'm really excited. We've been best friends since I was 7 :) and in a way it's nice that her age makes her not super playful anymore. She just likes to cuddle now. And eat.

 

I would like to get a dog but I know how much work they are. And my cat would probably not be too pleased to have to share my attention. I think if I weren't for lab work though, I'd definitely get a dog. If I were studying at home all the time, then it wouldn't be too inconvenient to let it out and stuff. And they could snuggle with me while I worked :D

Link to post
Share on other sites

I am currently neither a dog owner nor PhD student, HOWEVER:

My mother is a veterinarian, I've worked in a veterinary hospital/doggy daycare/pet store, and I grew up with as many as 10 dogs at one point. I love dogs, and I know just about all there is to know about caring for them properly.

That being said, I have absolutely no plans to adopt a dog anywhere in the near future. The amount of money and time required to take *good* care of a dog is far more than I feel is possible at this time in my life. My mother had dogs when she was in college/veterinary school, and she herself advises against it, although she acknowledges she'd do it all over again despite the numerous difficulties. 

The cost alone is just... insurmountable on a grad school budget (at least for me). The cost of a good quality dog food isn't cheap, and depending on the size of your dog, you might end up buying quite a lot of it. And then of course there's the whole having to be home every few hours to let out the dog/take it for a walk. Speaking of which, if you are your dog's only companion, spending only an hour or two with it a day is simply cruel. Dogs are pack animals. They are very social. Ideally they should be kept in at least pairs, but if they are kept singly, the owner should be willing to spend a significant amount of time playing with/training/loving them. Add on routine vet costs, the inevitable dental procedures, the unexpected bloodwork/xray/stitches, the brand new shoes they destroy, the wall they chew a hole in, buying a cage/bed/toys/treats/medication/supplements/grooming, etc. etc.... the thought of a dog while in graduate school is overwhelming. I envy those who are able to take on the task and do it well, but those people must have money from some other source or a very generous funding package. Or they have lower standards for pet care, which isn't necessarily the end of the world, depending on what those standards are. But too many people adopt a dog, but then don't take proper care of it. I have seen it so. many. times. I currently work in a pet store, and the number of people complaining about how much their dog costs is astronomical. Newsflash: dogs cost serious money, people. And leaving a dog home alone all day is absolutely unacceptable for all but the most independent breeds.

I currently have two cats and four rats (rescues) that will be attending graduate school with me, which is a lot to handle. More than I would recommend to someone else, especially an inexperienced pet owner. But compared to owning a dog? 2 cats and 4 rats is nothing.

In short... if you're going to get a dog or any pet, just make sure you really, truly understand the financial/time commitment required. You obviously seem to be on top of it by virtue of starting this thread, so I don't want you to think I'm criticizing you... I'm just hyper-sensitive to the issue after having worked in the pet care field for so long and meeting so many uninformed, misinformed, uncaring pet owners. A good pet owner is truly a rarity, and I think more people need to be aware that pets are expensive, time-sucking little buggers. 

But they're so, so worth it. 

Edited by BostonClem
Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks all for the great advice!  I grew up with a dog, and currently live with a roommate who has a cat. I would really love to be able to have a dog, and I'm not giving up all hope yet, but I'm definitely planning to wait a few months after starting school to decide if I can handle ANY pet. That being said, I'm 90% sure I'm going to end up getting a cat or two, (I know many cats do better in pairs, but some rescues have cats that are used to being the only pet, so I'll just have to see). Based on my experiences taking care of my roomie's cat, I'm pretty sure I'd be able to handle it. I will probably have to wait on the dog front until I have a partner I'm living with, but perhaps we'll see. Depending on where I go, I might be able to find somewhere to live that involves a roommate with a dog- all the perks, only some of the responsibilities, none of the costs! Thanks everyone for all the advice! I'm also hoping this thread will be helpful for others considering finding a furry friend during grad school!

Link to post
Share on other sites

EDIT: consider the annual cost of keeping your pet as well (http://www.aspca.org/adopt/pet-care-costs). If you are not in a funded program and hurting for money, they may be more than you can comfortably afford on top of rent and your own groceries.

That chart seems off, at least for dog food. My dog does eat premium dog food (Canidae grain-free with lamb) and it's $60 for a 24lb bag. Granted, a bag lasts me about 3 months but that means I'm spending at least $240 on food, not counting any dog treats I buy (and there are treats, both store-bought grain-free things and things like carrots, peas, and pumpkin).

 

In short... if you're going to get a dog or any pet, just make sure you really, truly understand the financial/time commitment required. You obviously seem to be on top of it by virtue of starting this thread, so I don't want you to think I'm criticizing you... I'm just hyper-sensitive to the issue after having worked in the pet care field for so long and meeting so many uninformed, misinformed, uncaring pet owners. A good pet owner is truly a rarity, and I think more people need to be aware that pets are expensive, time-sucking little buggers. 

But they're so, so worth it. 

Very true. I agree with everything in this post. I will say, though, that if you adopt a slightly older dog, you'll find that they are much less demanding on your time/attention. I mean, I got my dog as a grad student and I fostered dogs as a grad student. I can afford it but I also have never been one to hang out in coffee shops all day, eat lunch out all the time, etc. The money that some people spend on those things for entertainment is money that I spend on my dog. And, for the record, while cats seem cheaper, they're really not that much cheaper when all is said and done. The biggest upside to a cat over a dog, imo, is being able to be gone longer without having to worry about the bathroom issue.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I think a dog is a bad idea - I remember days where I didn't remember to eat or didn't go home from 5am to 2am the next morning. You can't leave a dog alone for that long, or at least it's not exactly kosher. A cat would be fine as long as you feed them or, better yet, get one of those autofeeders.

 

The pet I really reccomend for grad students is a Marimo.

 

See how long it takes you to kill it. Then consider if you really can take care of a cat or dog while attending to your studies.

 

I would request that if anything you not get a pet in your first semester. Wait.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I tend to satisfy my love for cats by rooming with people with a cat or two... I've had 4 roommates with cats already, haha. I may try to do that in grad school. Then I can take work breaks by snuggling with cats, but then I can go back in your room and close the door if I want. And no litter box scooping necessary! :)

Link to post
Share on other sites

That chart seems off, at least for dog food. My dog does eat premium dog food (Canidae grain-free with lamb) and it's $60 for a 24lb bag. Granted, a bag lasts me about 3 months but that means I'm spending at least $240 on food, not counting any dog treats I buy (and there are treats, both store-bought grain-free things and things like carrots, peas, and pumpkin).

 

You mean within $5 of the approximated annual "minimum cost for humane care" in the chart? I'm surprised it was that close.

But the point wasn't to suggest that if you have X much money, you can afford this pet--rather that pets are expensive and must be budgeted for.

 

Also, the older my dogs were, the more time was needed to care for them. This seems to be more or less the opposite of your experience. Old age means potential medical issues that can be time consuming and messy. And just like old people, old dogs have to pee all the time. I suspect the geezers were a lot older than you meant in your post though.

Edited by Usmivka
Link to post
Share on other sites

You mean within $5 of the approximated annual cost in the chart? ; )

Umm, no. For a medium dog, the chart says $120. I spend $120 every 5-6 months, so that's definitely not $120 annually as the chart says. And my dog is barely considered medium-sized by most standards because she's 22lbs... I think of medium as 25-50 lbs and on the dog food she's on, that would add 1/2-1.5 cups a day, so you'd be going through the bag much faster. I think my shock was that they said premium dog food but somehow the cost is so low. I know what all the major premium dog food brands cost (because I've looked into all of them for my dog) and they're all $50-70 for a 24-28 lb bag. Also, toys/treats are going to be more than $55 for pretty much any dog because one toy is usually $10 and a bag of treats $3-5. So unless you can stick to 3-4 toys and then 3-5 bags of treats for an entire year, you're going to spend more than that. My guess would be that chart is a few years old and thus the prices are a bit out of date.

Link to post
Share on other sites

"You mean within $5 of the approximated annual "minimum cost for humane care" in the chart? I'm surprised it was that close.

But the point wasn't to suggest that if you have X much money, you can afford this pet--rather that pets are expensive and must be budgeted for."

 

 

This was the edited post. I'm not surprised you spend more than the listed minimum cost. At least one of the posters above wanting a pet has commented in previous threads about their financial hardship and unanticipated grad school costs, so I think some sort of guide for a minimum cost for care is not off base. I find the chart a useful tool to get at the point being made about expenses, and singling it out to say it is "off" without presenting an alternative makes it less likely that people will bother to check it or something like it for guidance.

Edited by Usmivka
Link to post
Share on other sites

Usmivka, your edit came after I made my post. I don't think my post tells people not to check the chart. I think it's quite useful for people to know that the chart's estimates may be *under* what you spend so that you'd need to add 10-20% per category to even approximate your annual expenses. I'm not sure why that wouldn't be useful guidance for someone considering a pet... I personally consulted several people with dogs to get an idea about expenses, in addition to having an idea based on my experience fostering. You'll always get different amounts when you consult different people. I was merely trying to add another perspective on annual costs to the thread. I didn't attack you or anything you said, while you attacked my claim about the chart and my expenditures...

Link to post
Share on other sites

Before you get a dog, find out what the laws are about dogs. In my current town, it's against the law for a dog to be chained up outside to a fixed object (post, tree, fence, whatever) for any reason for any length of time, even if supervised. A dog may be tied to a trolley system, but only while a person old enough to be responsible is on the premises. So, people with dogs in my town have to make plans for that. In my previous town, the rule was that if you let the feral cat live on your property for more than 3 days, it was legally your responsibility. In most locations, it's against the law to own a snake longer than 6 feet in length without a permit.

And so on.

Most people never think to check city ordinances about pets before blithely getting one.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.