From sharing pets to partying, college life can be rough on animals and owners

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Veterinary Technician Ori Eizenberg said college students that decide to get pets have to work to make their homes comfortable for a pet. Whether they share a pet with a roommate or not, he said having a pet in college is challenging but not impossible. (Video and photos by Leora Arnowitz)

By Leora Arnowitz

Ori Eizenberg awoke to screaming outside his Gainesville apartment at 2:30 a.m. His neighbor, a college student, was throwing a party and her pit bull got into a fight with a boxer, who was brought to the apartment by a partygoer.

Eizenberg said in his work as a veterinary technician at the Affiliated Pet Emergency Services, he has seen several cases of college students' pets winding up injured after a party. In one incident a dog was brought into his office with marijuana toxicity. In another, a dog was hit by a car after running out while its owners were distracted.

Despite all this, Eizenberg said college students can make responsible pet owners, but he said it is no easy task for busy college students on a fixed budget to make their homes a healthy environment for a pet.

"If you have a party, the pet is not going to have your full attention, and that is normal," he said. "But you have to have the sense to put your pet away or not have it at home so it doesn't get hurt."

College students also struggle to care for a pet financially. It is important to have a parent as a financial back up in case the pet has an emergency, Eizenberg said.

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the average yearly cost of owning a cat or dog is estimated to be between $1,035 and $1,843.

"Students will call our office with an emergency, and we tell them to bring the pet in, but when they hear our fee, they say they can't afford it and don't show up."

Though many students Eizenberg meets love pets, he said some realize they cannot provide a pet with a proper home while in college, so they opt not to get one.

"They're not going to be stationed in Gainesville for a long time," he said. "So they decide to get a pet at a later time when they are more stable in terms of jobs, a place to live, money and so on. The will to have a pet is there but they won't necessarily get one."

Melissa Lugo is one such student. The University of Florida senior said she is "pet obsessed," but she would never get a pet in Gainesville.

"I really don't think it would be fair to the animal," Lugo said. "I am on campus and studying in the library so much. I feel like it would be lonely a lot."

For those who decide to get a pet in college, Eizenberg said the biggest challenge is finding enough time to spend with the pet.

"A dog, for example, needs a lot of attention," he said. "You have to walk it twice a day. It needs a lot of socialization. You know, there is a reason why people get dogs before they have kids. It is a ton of responsibility."

University of Florida sophomore Catie Skipp shares her dog, Finnigan, with her roommate. She said though she is not the dog's primary owner, she struggles to balance her school commitments and the time she wants to spend with Finnigan.

"Sometimes I just feel bad for him because he is home alone a lot while we are in class," she said. "We don't like to leave him alone a lot, so I can't always go to the library for as long as I would like or things like that."

But despite her concerns for her pet, Skipp is confident that she and her roommate have provided Finnigan with a good living environment.

"He gets so much love," she said. "He is kind of really spoiled. And we can tell he is really happy."

Eizenberg said this is the most important factor that needs to be in place to make a college student's home a healthy environment for a pet.

"If you love animals, you are going to have a good home for a pet," he said. "Now might not be the right time to get one, but if you feel it is then I am definitely pro having pets in college."