By Katie Steiner, Summer 2010
The increased expenses, responsibilities, and time that accompany pet-ownership might seem like the last things a graduate student would seek to elicit. However, pet-ownership during graduate school is common for many students, including at least three from Alliant who feel that caring for a pet actually reduces more stress than it induces. Clinical PsyD G1 student, Jessica Samuelson, adopted her 10-month old kitten, Max, when she moved to San Francisco last August. Circumstances had always prevented her from getting the cat of her dreams, but she now has the chance. Jessica shared that having a cat has brought light-heartedness to her most stressful days. “It is fun just watching him play and cuddling with him,” she said. However, unexpected financial burdens have accompanied this joy. Max recently fractured the femoral head in his leg and had to undergo a $3,000 surgery. Jessica advises students considering pet ownership to be aware of the pet’s medical issues and unexpected costs. She also said that it’s very helpful to have a car to be able to take her cat to the veterinarian and also to lug home big bags of cat food. Regardless, Jessica would do it all over again and has no regrets, she said.
Amber Hagar is finishing her first year of the PhD program and simultaneously caring for her 10 year old cat, Chloe, as well as her two fish. She was a sophomore in college when she first found Chloe, who was then just a stray kitten hiding under a car. Ever since, Amber has been “obsessed” with Chloe, who has stayed by her side, even road-tripping with her across country when she moved to San Francisco.
Similarly to Jessica, Amber revealed that a drawback to having a pet is the sense of responsibility related to immediately taking them to vet if they’re sick. Since Chloe is now a “senior cat” at age 10, she is requiring more frequent medical care. However, Amber whole-heartedly feels that the pros outweigh the cons. Amber describes Chloe as affectionate and intuitive.
“Animals can sense feelings,” Amber said. “If I’m having a bad day, she will come sit on my lap and purr, and it is calming just to pet her.” In addition cats' keen intuition can make them superior judges of character. “If my cat doesn’t like you, then that says something,” she said.
But cats are generally low-maintenance; what about caring for a dog while in graduate school? Clinical PsyD G1, Emily Kruger, does not recommend getting a dog to people who will not be “freakishly” into it and “look at it like it’s a kid.”
Emily had always had a family dog, and when she transferred to a large university her junior year of college, she found herself depressed, feeling that she was missing a vital part of her support system. Once she and her boyfriend adopted their French Bulldog, Penelope, Emily would look forward to going home. “It’s just a great feeling when you walk through the door and someone is super thrilled to see you,” she said. Emily revealed that during times of stress, her dog can pick up on it. “She knows when she’s needed,” she said.
Aside from the financial costs of owning a dog, Emily also shared that her study habits became less diligent once she got Penelope. It was much more exciting to take her to the dog park and house-train her. However, the love that Penelope has brought into her life overshadows any costs.
It seems that all of these pet-owners agree that their lives have been exponentially enhanced by the relationships with their pets. An individual must be willing to sacrifice their time and finances on behalf of this relationship. The unconditional validation, care, and warmth make pets a buffer against stress and depression. Oh my, this sounds familiar: Kind of like therapy.