Approximately 6.5 million pets enter animal shelters annually in the United States. When someone adopts one of these pets, they can not only change the life of the animal, but also bring joy, companionship and responsibility into their own lives.
Jessica Holt, assistant professor in agricultural communication at the University of Georgia, said that for students in the right situation, “having the responsibility of a pet is a great idea.”
Holt said pet ownership is “a great opportunity for students to think beyond themselves, while also being mindful and thinking within their means.”
One student who has recently adopted a pet is sophomore management major Taylor Bailey. Bailey adopted an eight-year-old German Shepherd named Joy from the Humane Society of Northeast Georgia. For Bailey, adopting Joy has given her an excuse to get out of her house while also being responsible in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
November was National Adopt A Senior Pet Month, founded by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. On average, senior dogs have a 25% adoption rate, as opposed to the 60% adoption rate of younger dogs and puppies, according to statistics from ASPCA.
Bailey said she thought she made the right decision adopting a senior dog as opposed to a younger one, because a puppy seemed to be 10 times as much work as a senior dog.
“Puppies are a lot of work, they really are,” Holt said. "I am very much on board with training your animals and training them young, but there's something to be said for older dogs that are a bit calmer.”
Senior political science major Kyla Miller has turned to her new pet for companionship in the past few months. Miller adopted Sasha, a three-year-old Australian Shepherd from Australian Shepherd Advocates.
“Having a dog made me able to get out of bed in the morning because I had someone to take care of other than myself,” Miller said.
In this way, Sasha has helped Miller’s mental health greatly.
“When you’re working from home and doing your classes online, not leaving the house for days at a time, it’s easy to get depressed and sad,” Miller said. “Having Sasha around has helped my mental health tremendously.”
However, the added responsibility of a pet who relies entirely on its owner is intimidating or unrealistic for some. For students who aren’t ready for the years of commitment that come with pet ownership but would still love the companionship of a pet, Holt recommends volunteering at local animal shelters or fostering animals from places like the Athens Area Humane Society.
“Pets are one of the things that really allow you to not think so much about yourself,” Holt said. “We get so worried about all the burdens that we carry, and animals have a really great way of reminding us that we're not the only important thing out there and we are not the most important thing in the world.”