They trudge for miles a day, their feet bleeding from salted roads while they desperately search for shelter from the cold. No one will take them in, at least not with their matted fur that may denote fleas.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) puts the number of abandoned animals in the U.S. at 3.5 million dogs and 3.4 million cats every year, a fraction of which are from Athens. From Ohio University’s campus to the outskirts of Athens County, abandoned animals wander in search of stability. According the the Athens County Dog Shelter staff, they have picked up 321 abandoned dogs this year.
“I am very surprised at the amount of dogs we get in the shelter daily,” says manager Heather Norman. “We do not adopt a dog out every day, but we do get in strays daily.”
A few of those Athens strays previously lived in the comforts of homes with owners they trusted to care for them. Now, those animals face challenges like struggling to find adequate shelter, fighting disease and defending themselves from predators. After relying on humans for survival for years, cats and dogs are ill-prepared to face such circumstances.
Once an animal is separated from its mother to be sold to a petless family, it misses an opportunity to learn survival instincts. Instead, it has food served in a silver dish placed at its feet two to three times a day and the comfort of a plush bed for an afternoon nap. As a result of domestication, animals are not equipped to fight for shelter and food.
There are also smaller characteristics that change through breeding, such as how loud a dog barks or the length of an animal’s coat—such changes are the difference between life and death for an animal thrown on the streets. Pet abandonment is an issue across the world, and college campuses are no exception. Students that adopt pets should be aware of the sacrifice it requires, says Karen McGuire, a board member and adoption facilitator at the Athens County Humane Society.
“[For] a student in particular, you’re looking at a 20-ish year commitment,” she says. “Really think about it, and if it doesn’t fit for you, volunteer. There are cats and dogs in shelters that need attention, so you don’t have to own a pet to have contact with an animal that needs love.”
Far too often, people come to realize that owning a pet is an extensive commitment and costs a considerable amount of money. In a chart estimating the cost of pet ownership, the ASPCA found that for an average, medium-sized dog, the total cost for the first year of ownership averages $1,779. Considering the sum includes medical bills, the cost of spaying and neutering and frequent food purchases, it may seem like an affordable investment, but for college students on a budget, $1,779 is several months of rent.
To control the population of strays, shelters encourage pet owners to spay and neuter their pets. The Rascal Mobile Clinic is a great resource for those with small budgets and has reduced prices for neutering cats and dogs, says Norman. Students often relocate for work or study abroad, leaving their pets behind. As a result, animals who thought they found their forever home end up back at the shelter or in a box on the side of the highway.
Nonprofit organizations like the Athens County Humane Society and Friends of the Shelter work tirelessly to provide healthcare for sick, injured and abandoned cats and dogs. They take in hundreds of stray animals every year and work with shelters and Petsmart to find suitable forever homes.
Student organizations like Paws For A Cause and Bobcats of the Shelter Dogs also give opportunities for students to fundraise, play with and help find homes for strays in Athens shelters. McGuire advises students to make necessary preparations before welcoming a new pet home, so that those animals do not end up abandoned. At the humane society, she says the staff always checks that prospective pet owners are providing suitable homes.
“When we adopt and screen, one of the main questions is ‘Are you allowed to have a cat?’” she says. “And we call the landlord to see how long they are going to live there, and we ask ‘What are you going to do this summer when you go home?’ That becomes a big issue because if you don’t do a good adoption, the cat’s going to come back to the program anyway.”
Dorms on OU’s campus require cats and dogs to be registered as emotional support animals before they can move in with their student. The first step before registering an animal is to have a doctor give an assessment and then provide a note saying the animal is meant for emotional support.
University Courtyard Apartments allows a maximum of two pets per apartment with a $350 deposit and an extra $25 monthly rent. It also has a number of prohibited breeds, such as pit bulls, rottweilers, Great Danes and others. Some apartments, such as River Park Apartments ($250 deposit per pet; $25 added to monthly payments), River Gate ($300 deposit per pet; $35 added to monthly payments) and the Summit ($250 deposit per pet; $25 added to monthly payments), limit pets by their weight and by how many are allowed in each unit. All pet requirements and fees are included on their websites as well.
Even if a student has found pet friendly housing at OU, they should be sure to make arrangements to house pets over breaks and after graduation.
“I also do all the postings for the lost and found, and I would say there is probably an up-tick in found cats toward the end of the semester,” McGuire says. As fun as the idea of having a furry friend at college may sound, students should consider local neighborhood strays and be knowledgeable about their budget and time before committing to a pet.