SMU students talk pet parenting

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Animal adoptions can mean more than just wanting a cute face around the house. Maggie Molleston, SMU senior, discovered the joys of being a dog parent when she found and adopted her dog, Max.

“I wanted to adopt an owner-surrendered dog that was not a puppy at all, because I wanted him to be used to a house and people,” Molleston said. “I saw this dog put his paws up to me in the kennel and just said ‘Yep this is my dog I’m absolutely sure of it.’”

Animal adoptions have been a rising trend among college-aged adults for a number of reasons, including wanting a source of stress or anxiety relief, a constant companion, a mood boost or even social connections.

“The most common complaint I hear from young adults is anxiety,” Dr. Stevie Puckett-Perez, licensed psychologist, said. “Additionally, some young adults find themselves feeling uncertain in navigating the new social climate, and are unsure of how to make new friendship connections, and may be feeling lonely being away from family, friends, and familiarity.”

Pet ownership has been linked to better control of anxiety, loneliness and other health issues. Adopting animals has also been known to boost social confidence.

“Having close, warm, and affectionate reciprocal interactions with a pet can boost mood, motivation, and relaxation,” Puckett-Perez said. “They can create opportunities to meet and bond with others, and automatically gives you something in common with many other peers.”

Companionship is a large motivator for most animal adoptions. Because college has the ability to be a social desert for some, the need for a friend can be imperative.

“Companionship is a major motivator for most adopters, and perhaps especially so for college students who are on their own,” Marlo Clingman, communications administrative assistant at the SPCA of Texas, said. “College courses can also be quite stressful, and pets are great stress reducers! Having a furry friend around during this life stage could help students cope with the pressure and emotions they experience during college.”

In addition to gaining a stress reliever, a social motivator, a companion and a morale booster, animal adoptions have extra, hidden perks. According to the American Humane organization, animals can make you healthier.

“People who own dogs get more activity in their day simply by making accommodations for their dog’s lifestyle,” AH reported. “Due to a stronger immune system from being exposed to pet fur and dandruff, many dog owners see a decrease in blood-pressure, triglycerides and cholesterol levels, making them less at risk for heart-disease.”

Obviously, being an animal owner isn’t always a walk in the park, no pun intended. Having another mouth to feed means more responsibility added to an already busy college schedule.

“I set my schedule so that I am home every couple of hours to let her out and play with her. I also have good friends who will go by and hang out with her when I can’t,” Caroline Curran, SMU senior, said about her chihuahua Annie. “If I go out of town, I just board her and send her to doggy day camp! It’s definitely a lot of responsibility but I wouldn’t call it difficult.”

Because becoming a new animal parent can be such a big change, it is advised that anyone looking for a new pet take care to think of the time and monetary commitment. Owning a pet is a commitment that lasts for the entirety of the pet’s life.

“Mock up a budget to see how food, boarding, grooming and routine veterinary care will fit into your monthly expenses,” Clingman said. “Don’t forget to consider the potential of major medical issues that may come up now or later.”

“For young adults who have room in their lives for the responsibility and time commitment that having a pet entails, pet ownership can be a very meaningful addition to college,” Puckett-Perez said. “However, with individuals for whom the added responsibility and costs of pet ownership would be a major stressor, then I would recommend delaying pet ownership until that individual is in a place in their life that allows them to better manage those factors.”

Despite some stressors that owning an animal might promote, some animal owners believe these stressors are worth it.

“I would say my favorite thing would just be having unconditional love and a de-stressor,” Molleston concluded. “Max is my best friend and it’s so awesome to come home from a long day at school or after having a test and having someone there who’s so excited to see you.”

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