A guide to furry friends on campus

Waya, owned by Jared Carbone, fourth-year CS, is one of many campus pets. // Photo courtesy of Jared Carbone

While home for the summer, many students are getting to enjoy the company of their family pets. Pets do not always have to stay home, though, and some students bring theirs along to college.

Many, including Jared Carbone, fourth-year CS, find that bringing a pet to college helps them develop a routine.

On his dog, Waya, Carbone said, “Waya is the rock of my schedule, and we are constantly helping each other lead a healthier lifestyle that requires me to plan each day out in advance.”

Campus is fairly pet-friendly, with dogs and outdoor cats often seen around. Carbone lives in Home Park, but often brings Waya into campus on walks or for meetings with other dogs.

“The EcoCommons are great since the squirrels haven’t figured out how to live there yet. Tech Green is classic as well,” Carbone said.

For those looking for a smaller pet, students often adopt or foster cats. Hillary Dong, third-year PUBP major, adopted a pair of cats in January. They lived in off-campus apartments and enjoyed having the feline company.

“They were a huge emotional support for me while I was interning, taking classes and dealing with some mental health stuff throughout the semester. It’s been nice having a source of unconditional love every time I come home, and they’re something I can talk about and bond over with other people,” Dong said.

Emotional support animals, or ESAs, are another good way to have pets on campus. Many students will bring an animal, commonly a cat, to campus with them for emotional support and company as a way to maintain their mental health.

Emma Sweigart, fourth-year LMC, benefits from an ESA.

She detailed how her cat helps her.

“Taking care of her helps keep me grounded and reminds me to take care of myself,” Sweigart said.

A registered ESA can help students who want or need the support keep their pet around no matter the housing situation. Vivian Cheng, fourth-year BIOS, lived in the North Avenue apartments and had a cat as a registered ESA.

“To register I had to provide a therapist letter basically stating that having my cat with me was beneficial for my mental health. I had a lot going on at that time so having my cat with me was essential,” Cheng said.

She enjoyed bringing him around campus.

“This past semester I took him to the EcoCommons a couple of times, and I like to think that seeing a cat on a leash walking by the flowers brightened a few peoples’ days,” Cheng said.

The process for getting an ESA registered can be difficult, though.

“The requirement of a therapist letter may automatically exclude many people who would benefit a lot from having their animal with them but don’t have the funds for a healthcare provider recommendation,” Cheng said.

Fatma Rashed, BME ‘21, had a registered ESA as an RA in the first-year dorms. She said that having him around was beneficial, but that getting him approved was difficult.

“The process was frustrating because you have to get approval from the disabilities services office… but the hurdle was from Housing itself,” Rashed said. “You have to give proof of vaccination and all that jazz, but then Housing holds the process hostage for a while.”

Animals only have to be registered once, though, and after Rashed registered her ESA, he was in the system throughout her time at Tech.

Not all students adopt either. Fostering helps keep animals out of shelters in the short run while they wait to be adopted. Jake Smith, third-year NRE, has fostered four cats over the past year, living with them in his room in his fraternity house.

“[It was] super easy,” Smith said of the fostering process. “I put my name down on a list to receive emails about potential foster animals, and they send like five emails a week with different foster pleas.”

Smith recommends fostering to others.

“It’s nice to have animals around for entertainment and de-stress, but it also helps the animals by getting them out of the shelter,” Smith said.

Having pets on campus is not without challenges, including some unique to the college experience. Larger animals like dogs need attention and exercise.

“To meet his [Waya’s] exercise requirement, I have to block out a significant amount of time to exercise him via walking or running each day,” Carbone said.

Sweigart points out the difficulties of living in close quarters with other people.

“I have had to be very conscientious about preventing noise, odors, damage and the other things that come with having a pet,” Sweigart said.

Rashed spoke about ensuring a pet’s comfort, saying that a challenge was “him being easily frightened by super loud noises, especially unscheduled maintenance in the halls and fire alarms.”

Student pet owners agree making sure your animal is well provided for is essential. Pets are a significant financial undertaking,

“Make sure you have the financial means to pay for [its needs, like] the vet and food, someone to take care of it if you can’t and the willingness to keep it after college,” Rashed said.

Sweigart recommends creating a comfortable space.

“Take advantage of the three-dimensional space in your room or apartment. Providing your cat with places to climb and hide will keep them happy even in a small space,” Sweigart said.

Dong recommends keeping in mind the financial impact pets.

“Pet supplies can be expensive. I also had to take my cats to the vet recently, and some of the vet fees were definitely higher than I expected,” Dong said.

Cheng had similar advice.

“Make sure you can keep up with the regular expenses and responsibilities associated with an animal, especially if you’ve previously split responsibilities with someone else. Unexpected costs happen, so have a plan,” Cheng said.

“But overall, having a pet with you can be the best way to keep a routine and keep your stress down.”