It’s back to school time, and that means many Freshman students entering college will leave pets behind. While some campuses offer pet-friendly dorms, they’re still the exception to the rule, and often have long waiting lists. This puts parents in a tight spot: Nobody wants to be the mean parent who gave their child’s pet away when the child grew up and went to college, but parents facing at least four years of caring for a pet that belongs to an absent adult child are understandably often unhappy about the responsibility. In this post, we’ll discuss some potential solutions to the dilemma of pets left behind when young adults leave for college.
The Family Pet
I always advise families never to purchase or adopt pets for one family member. Every pet owned by a family should be owned by the family as a unit, not by one person, with the possible exception of performance horses, service animals or other pets that are also working animals. Additionally, when a pet is added to a family, an adult should take primary and final responsibility for its care.
If this tactic is followed without deviation throughout the period in which a child is dependent on his or her parents, that child will not have pets that the family resents caring for when he or she leaves for college. It’s tough to remain firm and stick to the rules when one’s child begs continually for their own pet, but in the end it’s better for all concerned, especially the pet.
But If You’ve Already Let Your Child Have Their Own Pet…
….Then what’s a parent to do when the child becomes an adult and leaves home without the pet? A cat or dog might be easy enough to simply absorb into household routines, but some parents find themselves faced with caring for pets they’re afraid of, like tarantulas or snakes, or something like a saltwater aquarium that simply cannot be maintained by someone who isn’t an expert.
One option that might allow parents to keep an adult child’s pet without taking on the full burden of its care is pet sharing. Some people want a pet and have time to care for one, but don’t have the capacity to keep one at their own homes, or live in an apartment that doesn’t allow pets. It may be possible to find a petless pet lover near you and ask if they are interested in taking care of and enjoying a pet while it remains at your home, or taking care of it part-time at their home if possible.
If the pet involved is a snake, this works particularly well. Find a teenager who loves snakes and knows how to care for them but whose parents won’t allow a snake in the house. The snake-loving teen only needs to visit once a week or so to feed the snake; the household owners can mist it and turn its lights on and off.
Long-Term Foster Care
If you can’t keep your adult child’s pet, long-term pet fostering may be an option. Try to begin seeking a foster home long before your child is heading off to college. Focus on family friends and others that you have an existing relationship with. Avoid depending upon a stranger for pet care. Look for someone who enjoys pet ownership and is a good pet parent already, and offer to pay for the animal’s expenses if they take it into their home and care for it until your child exits college.