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How to manage getting a cat in grad school?

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I am hoping to move into an apartment with no roommates and if I do so, I'd like to get a cat. However, there are two serious practical issues. I'm wondering what others with pets do.

  1. It makes travelling difficult. Currently, I visit my family about 3-4 times per year, for at least a week each time, and more like two weeks at Christmas. While I could potentially ask friends to feed the cat and scoop the litter box for a few days, I feel like the amount of travel I do would be asking a lot. At Christmas, everyone is away visiting their families as well. I would not be able to take the cat with me on my trips - it's international travel and my family already has their own cats. As I progress in my program, I also will be attending conferences more often. I suspect that will balance out with family trips (i.e. I will visit less as I travel more for conferences), but can't know for sure yet. Maybe my trips would reduce a bit, but I would definitely still be going home at Christmas each year.
  2. I don't know where I will be at the end of my program. I don't know how feasible it would be to bring the cat with me, or how much of a restriction it would place on housing options. Giving up the cat due to inconvenience isn't acceptable to me, as my family had several rescue cats and I know how being abandoned affected them. I know nobody can give a solution to this given the unknowns, but perhaps you can offer perspective on how difficult finding housing a cat is where you live.

Thanks.

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(1) Can be partially solved through an automatic cat feeder. Depending on what you buy, this can cover a trip up to a week.

(2) I've never had a problem finding a place that will take cats. Even places that say they don't are usually flexible if you offer a bit more (~$300?) on your deposit. Dogs, on the other hand, are usually completely verboten.

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My graduate student friends with cats generally have friends or hire a cat sitter to look after their cats when they are traveling. I think roommates actually help with this, as long as your roommates are okay with pets too and you have a good relationship with them. Most of my friends tell me how great it is when their roommates have pets because they generally get all of the benefits of having a pet around in the house, but none of the responsibilities and vet bills. So, many of them are often willing to cat-sit for a week etc.

My friends with cats usually use a cat sitter + friends combination. The cat sitter is paid to do the necessary stuff like feeding and cleaning the litter box while friends come to spend time playing with the cats. This way, friends get to do the "fun" stuff and no one feels like they are creating a burden for their friends and/or feel like they are obligated to do extra work because of their friends.

Another way is to take your cat to a pet hotel for the week, but that can be pretty pricey.

As for housing, generally finding cat-friendly housing could be more expensive. At my school, all the grad student subsidized housing (owned by the school) have strict no pets rules for allergen reasons. So, few students have pets because it means renting from the private market and costs are about 30% higher than the subsidized housing. However, we live in a very high cost of living area, so I think in general, most apartments and other rentals will be okay with cats as long as you are willing to have a higher security deposit.

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18 hours ago, MathCat said:

I am hoping to move into an apartment with no roommates and if I do so, I'd like to get a cat. However, there are two serious practical issues. I'm wondering what others with pets do.

  1. It makes travelling difficult. Currently, I visit my family about 3-4 times per year, for at least a week each time, and more like two weeks at Christmas. While I could potentially ask friends to feed the cat and scoop the litter box for a few days, I feel like the amount of travel I do would be asking a lot. At Christmas, everyone is away visiting their families as well. I would not be able to take the cat with me on my trips - it's international travel and my family already has their own cats. As I progress in my program, I also will be attending conferences more often. I suspect that will balance out with family trips (i.e. I will visit less as I travel more for conferences), but can't know for sure yet. Maybe my trips would reduce a bit, but I would definitely still be going home at Christmas each year.
  2. I don't know where I will be at the end of my program. I don't know how feasible it would be to bring the cat with me, or how much of a restriction it would place on housing options. Giving up the cat due to inconvenience isn't acceptable to me, as my family had several rescue cats and I know how being abandoned affected them. I know nobody can give a solution to this given the unknowns, but perhaps you can offer perspective on how difficult finding housing a cat is where you live.

Thanks.

Both of these are conquerable issues. For #1, you can check Craig's List or care.com for ads for petsitters. For #2, you just take extra care when you're looking for housing. You can filter for "pets allowed" on most rental search sites. I just eliminate from consideration every single place that won't allow pets. 

18 hours ago, telkanuru said:

(2) I've never had a problem finding a place that will take cats. Even places that say they don't are usually flexible if you offer a bit more (~$300?) on your deposit. Dogs, on the other hand, are usually completely verboten.

In the town I live in now, having any kind of pet, whether cat or dog, makes finding a rental incredibly difficult. My friend has had trouble finding a new rental because she has a cat and that's in spite of offering to pay pet rent and/or a pet deposit. One place said they'd do it but only for $50/month in pet rent! So I wouldn't automatically say that dogs are verboten (I have a dog and have rented in three different cities with this dog) and most places are flexible about cats. In some places, people just don't want to rent to anyone with pets, even when you're an adult with a well-paying FT job and pet references.

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It was these reasons that I waited to adopt a dog until I was finished with graduate school and had a little more certainty and control over where I lived. I didn't want to subject a dog to constant travel and moving and I knew I would have less money, and thus less choice, over what kind of rental I could afford and whether or not it would allow dogs.

But here are suggestions:

1) I use Rover.com to find accommodations for my dog; it works for cats, too. It's a pet-sitting service not unlike Care.com for children; people list how much they cost per night and where they will sit your animal, and you go online and find them through the service. They are insured and also provide a 24-hour vet line for concerns. I have found some wonderful dog-sitters through Rover, including my current go-to. In less expensive college towns rates are usually $20-30 per night; in more expensive areas, they run around $30-50 per night. I pay my current sitter $40 per night, but it's worth it because my dog gets to run around in his huge yard with his other dogs and get loved on by his family every night. Better than a kennel. It is an expense I budget for when I know I have to travel.

You can also use Rover to find someone to check in on your cat instead of having a sitter; it would likely be cheaper.

2. You'd basically be in the same boat as anyone else who has had to move cities/towns with an animal. When I moved to State College for my postdoc, I knew that I would be adopting a dog, so I eliminated any apartments that didn't allow them. That limited my choices and raised prices a bit, but it was a sacrifice I was willing to make. And when I moved cross-country with my dog last August and I simply knew that I'd have to find apartments that allowed dogs. Again, it limited my choices a bit (not as much, honestly) but my dog was a non-negotiable. I don't know of any towns where animals completely aren't allowed and apartments that allow cats are more plentiful than ones that allow dogs. So you know up front that your options will be more limited, but usually there are at least some options.

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6 hours ago, rising_star said:

One place said they'd do it but only for $50/month in pet rent! 

With rental prices around me, that would be maybe a 2% increase in my rent, which doesn't seem particularly extreme. But YMMV, I suppose.

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17 minutes ago, telkanuru said:

With rental prices around me, that would be maybe a 2% increase in my rent, which doesn't seem particularly extreme. But YMMV, I suppose.

The rent at the place in question was $600/month so much more than a 2% increase. And while an 8% increase may not be extreme, it's something to factor in if you're on a limited income (which I was while in grad school). 

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Managing to get a cat in grad school can be hard, but it's doable. Personally, I'd highly avoid schools that require the GRE- cats are notoriously bad at sitting down for lengths of times, much less at inputing a 90th percentile response into the computer. That said, it might be worth trying to get your feline into a European program. Italy has lasagna, I hear. 

Edited by Almaqah Thwn

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I adopted two cats the summer before my program started. I just got back from a week-long trip. I do have an automatic feeder, but I hired a cat-sitter to play with them, clean the litterboxes, and refill the water fountain. It's absolutely doable. However, I would recommend getting two so they entertain each other while you're gone, or get an older cat.

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i had two cats once, until the boy tried to mate with his sister, and then they were no longer friends, so I gave the girl to my mom in the midwest, and they now adore each other.

1. but when I had two, and living by myself, whenever I went on a trip or something, I'd leave out like 4 litter boxes. you have to gauge how much food and water you put out, vs the amount of litter you put out. ideally, you'd want there to be more litter than necessary to accommodate everything they eat. I've had it work for up to 5 days, with no accidents on the floor.. that I know of,. and they didn't seem super pissed when I came back. but every cat's different.

2. as long as I'm responsible, and can take care of my pet, there's no reason why my cat would leave a bigger footprint or cause any more damage to the apartment than a human. so unless the leasing office make unscheduled visits to my room without telling me (which has happened), I ignore any pet regulations. judge me if you want. it's not a matter of morals for me. I just don't like following bullshit corporate rules.

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I do the same thing as spectastic, to an extent. I say that I only have one cat when I actually have two - it saves me $50 a month. Plus, they look alike, and one hides when someone enters the apartment :)

 

Seriously though, I cannot advocate enough for adopting a cat (or two). Without my cats, I'd be depressed and lonely.

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Someone in my cohort is seriously considering getting a Harvard baby onesie for her cat and walking it through the Yard just to see what reactions she gets from tourists. So, cats can be a source of endless entertainment in grad school.

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1 hour ago, pterosaur said:

Someone in my cohort is seriously considering getting a Harvard baby onesie for her cat and walking it through the Yard just to see what reactions she gets from tourists. So, cats can be a source of endless entertainment in grad school.

This is brilliant

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4 hours ago, charlemagne88 said:

Step 1: Never buy a cat

Step 2: Be happy that you don't have a cat

Step 3: Cats are stupid

Step 4: Buy a dog

Step 5: Dogs rule, cats drool. 

Step 6: Seriously, cats suck

Come talk to me next time:

1: You get woken up by barking because your dog saw a squirrel / the garbage man / his own tail.

2: You have to pick up feces with a pooper scooper or a plastic bag.

3: You can't stay at school for more than 8 hours because you need to let your dog out.

4: You notice a sock, a chunk of a dining room chair, or a cardboard box disemboweled on the living room floor.

5: Your vacation becomes a source of stress, since you can't leave a dog at home for very long without someone coming to check on it or let it outside.

6: You have to potty train a dog, since unlike using a litterbox, having to request to be let outside every time it needs to "go" is not a natural instinct.

Now, of course I made this post in jest... I love dogs, and had both growing up. However, as a grad student, having a cat is generally more feasible. This is not to imply there aren't downsides to cats - this coming from someone who just had to fork over $300 for a vet bill (though that isn't cat-specific), but dogs as a whole require more attention.

Edited by Pink Fuzzy Bunny

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There's a lot of great advice here and I don't have much to add.

However, I'd like to point out that anyone with a legitimate need for a companion animal to help with depression, anxiety, stress, etc. can get a letter from their mental health professional recommending said animal for you to help you manage your disability. Per the fair housing act, landlords have to allow the animal and can't charge you a deposit or pet rent (although if the animal trashed the place, I'm sure the landlord could take money out of your security deposit or take you to court for the damages). 

In terms of finding a place to live after graduation, I would find it difficult to believe that there are any places where it's impossible to find pet-friendly housing. However, it might cost you a good chunk of change in deposits and/or pet rent. As previously mentioned, it's usually easier to  cat-friendly apartments than dog-friendly, and small dogs are typically accommodated more often than big dogs. 

Also - when considering getting a pet, don't forget to remember that you will need to have money set aside for potential vet bills (or perhaps a credit card). Serious medical conditions are rare, but they happen. I just forked out over $700 for my dog and one of my cats. Dog got a UTI, and the vet visit, labs, medicine, and follow-up visit was $250. My cat got an upper respiratory infection which I made an appointment for, and in the three days I had to wait, the infection got into his eye and made a horrible infected ulcer. Regular vet visit plus an eye stain and medicine for respiratory infection was $100. Visit to ophthalmologist plus two follow-up visits was $250, and antibiotic eye drops were a whopping $155 for a tiny bottle. I even had to go to a regular pharmacy.

Edited by shadowclaw
Addition

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To add to the above, one lesson I learned: no matter how cute/playful he seems, do not adopt a cat that is already chronically ill. I love you, Murphy, but you cost me way too much!

 

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But Murphy is glad you're taking care of him, otherwise he might have never found someone! @Pink Fuzzy Bunny

I'm also interested in the subject. I really miss having a cat (my mom has a few but they hate being in an apartment) and I'm waiting until I know if I move to the US or not to decide on adopting a rescue in the US. Unless a very sad, abandoned, hungry and cold French kitty happens to have NO OTHER solution but me. Anyway--

So student housing is a no-no except if you have a doctor's note, right? Are there any other members who can attest that it's not that hard to find pet-friendly rentals? Are they almost systematically more expensive, or is it often reflected upon the deposit?

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I haven't had problems finding apartments that will allow cats. The deposit can be high but I haven't noticed that the rent itself is higher. I had two cats while getting my Masters, and they helped my sanity somewhat. I have three now. I'm not looking forward to moving with them, but I love them anyway. 

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What do you mean not looking forward to moving with them? Have they taken over? ;-) 

Okay, this is somewhat reassuring. I'm almost tempted to adopt a cat and fly out to the US with it afterwards. But I'm a decent human being. I'll wait. 

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@Yanaka: Rent for pets vary a lot from place to place. Where I live, it's normal to have an additional deposit for cats. There was one place that was $250 per animal as an extra deposit. And the landlords here seem to be able to find every little reason to keep your deposit, so basically one should treat a security deposit as an additional fee and just average it out over X months as additional rent (if you stay for 2 years, then $250 is only $10 more per month though). Some places here will charge additional pet rent though, which is usually much more than the deposit---I see numbers around $50/month.

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Understood. But that is not the norm, right? Some places don't ask for addition rent or deposit? 

Over here in France, unless you have a "categorized" dog e.g. a pit-bull and such, or if it's a furnished place, the landlord has no say. You can have whatever pet you want and how many you want, free of charge. Boo!

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Most places do ask for a deposit or extra rent here, unfortunately. And I've never gotten my pet deposit back. 

I would look into bringing an animal to the US before you get one in France. Sometimes there are quarantine requirements and they have to get special kitty passports, which I imagine can be expensive. 

And I'm not looking forward to moving with them because traveling with cats is awful. They are terrible travel buddies.  

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True. I hadn't thought of the quarantine issue. I don't think passports are that much over here, but maybe that was only the European one. Anyway I can't imagine couch surfing while looking for places, and having a cat to drag with me. That doesn't sound like a conscientious and animal-loving plan... Plus what happens if I find a place to live from here, and then it was a scam! Yikes!

I loved taking the train with one of our kitties I used to keep with me in Strasbourg. He didn't mind it that much, he would pop his head out of the carrier and look outside the window. Good ol' days. What haven't you gotten your pet deposit back? Because the landlord(s) were living up to landlords' general reputation? 

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In many places in Canada, the rules are much more renter-friendly too. In Ontario, where I lived last, the was a law against "no pets clauses" in lease agreements---so like in France, the landlord has no say over what pet you have unless you have a special breed or break the law with the pet. 

In (my area of) California, landlords seem to want to repaint all the walls and replace the carpet after every tenant moves out. This costs most of the deposit and unless you stay in the apartment long enough to argue that it's regular wear & tear and the carpet would have needed to be replaced anyways, this will come out of your deposit. For example, the state law suggests that paint is good for 3 years, so if you live in a place for 2 years and the landlord decides to repaint, they will charge 1/3 of the cost towards your deposit. Same thing with carpets etc.

However, the # of years thing is not regulated by law. The landlord could easily say that the paint is meant to last 5 years and since you moved out after 2 and they want to repaint, they will charge 60% of the cost towards your deposit etc. The only thing that the law requires them to do is to actually do the work that they charge you, i.e. you can ask for invoices to prove that they actually repainted for the next tenant. But most landlords have their own staff that they pay to do the work (say, minimum wage) but then charge the prevailing market rate for hiring a painter to come and do the work so they basically get to pay themselves to work on your unit with your money. 

I found it extremely frustrating compared to the laws I'm used to in Canada but I guess that's the nature of US capitalism. In Canada, the cost of maintaining the unit and running credit checks etc. are considered business expenses that the landlord is supposed to pay for the privilege of running a business. However, in the US, all of these costs are passed directly to the renter and we have little recourse in the courts. Ultimately, I only got something like $300 out of my $1300 deposit back ($800 deposit + 2 cats at $250/each). Taking them to court would not have been worth the time and effort (which is probably why they are able to do this). The lesson learned is that we didn't really have to bother cleaning the normal wear & tear off the walls and carpets since they were going to make us pay to replace them anyways. 

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