Pets are an appealing part of a 20-something’s life. You see your neighbor walking an enthusiastic beagle every day. On snowy mornings, you admire the charming couple who have designed matching coats and cold-weather boots for their two English bulldogs. When your car is buried under a blanket of snow, you just want a team of huskies who can take you to work in a sled. The appeal is there. Pets are snuggly (usually), good companions (usually), and add new life to your space. It is with this romantic ideal in mind that many people decide to rush out and adopt 20 puppies only to later realize that they have made a horrible mistake.
Before jumping headfirst into the pet pool, take some time to consider the following points:
1. Is your roommate onboard?
If not, walk away now. Sometimes roommates will say that they’re going to “vote” on it, effectively bullying the other person into taking on a commitment that s/he may not want and disguising it as democracy. Even if you live with 4 other people and all but one of them wants to bring in a dog, that one person’s rights trumps the rest of the group. It is a huge burden to bring in a pet. It is unfair to and selfish to force someone who doesn’t want a pet to have to commit to one. It has to be an all-or-nothing type of deal for it to work.
2. Are you even allowed to have pets?
Most buildings/ landlords will allow pets provided that an extra fee is paid. However, sometimes landlords who have been burned by irresponsible pet owners in the past who left a trail of stained carpets, chewed up wires, and irreversible pet smells in their wake may dictate a no-pets policy. Do NOT be sneaky and try to hide a pet in your house. Anything from a cat that fits in your purse to a 300 pound St. Bernard can get you evicted. Some landlords will take it a step further and call the humane society to come take the animal away. Make SURE you know the policy on pets before bringing one in.
3. How do your schedules match up?
Pets like water. And food. Some pets even like using the bathroom in places that isn’t the rug. Hell, if your pet takes a fancy to you, s/he may even drop presents on your pillow like dead birds! Make sure that there is ALWAYS someone in the house to watch a dog. There is nothing more pitiful than a grown dog who has to sit in a cage all day because his/her owners work full time. Cats can usually be left alone because they are kind enough to use a litter box (pigs and some dogs can be litter-box trained as well). However, it is still unfair to leave an animal cooped up and bored all day. Pets deserve a loving home. Make sure that you and your roommates have the time to commit to the inconveniences of pet ownership before seriously looking for an animal to share your home with.
4. Make sure you have the funds to handle it.
It’s the same with kids. Vaccinate your pets and make sure they take their medicine. “Natural medicine” and “chemical free” lifestyles do not keep heart worms at bay. Burning sage or dropping gluten from your cat’s diet isn’t going to keep fleas and ticks off of her. “Positive thinking” won’t bump off rabies. Unless you’re attempting to write the canine answer to “Melanie’s Marvelous Measles” (Patches’s Perfect Parvo? Rex’s Radical Rabies?), make sure you have the funds to afford basic medicine to ensure your pet’s health. Furthermore, have money set aside for vet appointments and other incidentals. You never know when a trip may be required.
5. Divide up responsibility.
Mackinzie, Fifi just bit through my $256.99 boating shoes. NOW what am I supposed to wear tonight to the Prime Minister’s yacht party?
Does Mackinzie owe her roommate some money? But what if Fifi was on Donald Clyborne-Wilson’s watch when the boating shoe fiasco occurred? Make sure you know in advance who is responsible for the pet’s destructive tendencies. Nothing will rip a happy roommate family apart faster than unclear roles and responsibilities.
Additionally, make sure everyone knows what s/he has to do in terms of feeding and watering the pet or taking it on walks as necessary. There should never be any questions here. It’s not fair to the pet and it’s not fair to the roommate structure to arbitrarily assign jobs that can be ignored or forgotten.
6. Consider alternatives.
Pets are a colossal responsibility. This is especially true if you are a recent college graduate working a 40 hour week for the first time. If the pet bug is biting, consider the alternatives below:
Consider volunteering at your local humane society.
Try a lower maintenance pet (fish, rodents, hermit crabs).
Ask a friend with a pet to bring that pet over once in a while.
Volunteer to pet-sit or walk dogs on weekends.
Mad props for loving animals and wanting to give one a good home. Just be sure that you can provide and maintain a good home for that pet while still ensuring that you yourself have a good home and strong bond with your roommates.