Students and pets: coming together to help end the pet overpopulation problem

by Melissa Lampert 0

More than 54,000.

That’s the number of dogs and cats that entered city shelters in Los Angeles in 2012. One in four healthy or treatable animals were euthanized the same year because they ran out of time and there simply wasn’t enough space—that’s about 13,000 adoptable animals. While the numbers are staggering, there is hope for a better future for the homeless dogs and cats of Los Angeles and the Santa Clarita Valley, and college students can play a key role.

With the number of animal rescues and programs designed to confront the pet overpopulation problem in Los Angeles increasing, those statistics are changing. In fact, Santa Clarita is home to four no-kill animal rescues, meaning they only take in animals they have room for and will never euthanize an animal for space, instead providing housing and loving care for homeless pets to live out the rest of their days if they don’t get adopted. According to a statement by Best Friends Animal Society, shelter deaths in Los Angeles have decreased by approximately 50 percent in the last two years. But what about the remaining 50 percent, which translates into more than 3,000 adoptable dogs and cats killed per year in Los Angeles city shelters alone? Most COC students might think there’s not much they can do to help—but they would be wrong.

While many studies have been done about the physical and mental benefits of having a pet, researchers are now putting the spotlight on college students in particular, and what they’ve discovered can help both animals and students alike.

Researchers at Ohio State University recently found that college students who have a pet may handle the stress of their college years better than those who don’t. Sara Staats, lead author of the study and psychology professor at Ohio State, conducted an extensive study of university students in comparison to adults, finding that almost one in four college students believed their pets helped them get through tough times. Further, students who had at least one dog or cat were less likely to report feeling lonely and depressed as a direct result of having their pet.

“Medical studies have proven that having a pet can reduce stress and improve mood,” said Briana Fugitt, supervisor at the Santa Clarita-based dog rescue New Leash on Life. “Animals are able to provide unconditional devotion and don’t pass judgment so people naturally tend to feel drawn to them.”

The top reported reason students had pets was to avoid loneliness, a feeling often experienced by college students starting over in a new town or remaining behind in their hometown after many of their high school friends moved away to attend different schools. Without the stability of a constant circle of friends or family members close by, sometimes for the first time in their life, college students are more susceptible to feelings of loneliness or having difficulty coping with a variety of new situations, according to Staats.

“Having a puppy has been therapeutic,” said COC student Luzzei Tsuji. “Cuddling with a cat or running with an energetic dog has the ability to boost even the worst moods… I would recommend adopting if the student is willing to make the commitment and has the time. It is challenging to juggle classes and a pet, but it is possible.”

Of course, pet ownership isn’t right for every COC student. It’s a decision that should be made carefully, keeping in mind that having a pet is a big responsibility and a commitment for the lifetime of the pet.

Before adopting, you should check with your landlord or parents to make sure you’re allowed to have a pet, and think about whether or not a pet fits in with your plans for the future. For instance, if you’re planning on transferring to another school or moving to a new city after graduation and aren’t sure where you will be living, it probably isn’t a good time to adopt—unless, of course, you’re determined to find pet-friendly housing. Most school dorms do not allow pets, so students continuing their education need to be prepared to find off-campus housing.

“Having a pet at such an unstable part of your life is a decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly,” Fugitt said. “It’s just important for students who are considering a pet to really examine the needs of the animal and be sure that they can provide a lifetime commitment to that animal.”

Another thing to consider is what kind of pet is right for you. Puppies and kittens require much more supervision, care and training than adult dogs and cats, and dogs must be taken outside several times a day, while cats can simply use a litter box. You should also make sure buying food, toys or cat litter and paying for routine veterinary bills fits into your budget long-term.

For students ready to take on the responsibility—not to mention be showered with unconditional love and constant companionship—adoption can be a way to make the transition into adulthood a little easier. And in turn, every person who chooses to adopt from a rescue or shelter is saving two lives—the life of their new companion and the life of another animal in need who can fill the empty spot.

“Pet overpopulation is a huge issue all over the world,” Fugitt said. “In the U.S. alone, 10,000 animals are euthanized every single day. That’s roughly 365,000 animals killed every year. The reason is simply that there are just too many animals who reproduce at a very rapid and constant rate and there aren’t enough homes… The hope is that someday this issue will get under control so that no pet has to face the uncertainty of the shelter system ever again.”

COC students who might not know where to begin the search for their new pet don’t even need to leave Santa Clarita. Dog lovers can visit New Leash on Life in Newhall, which rescues dogs from shelters and houses them on a 13-acre facility, or the Brittany Foundation in Acton, which focuses on harder-to-place dogs like seniors, disabled or abused dogs, or what they call “media condemned” breeds like pit bulls. Cat lovers can stop by the Petsmart in Stevenson Ranch, where Kitten Rescue houses adoptable cats in the store and brings kittens to all-day adoption events every weekend. Adoptable dogs and cats can also be found at St. Bonnie’s Sanctuary in Canyon Country.

Most rescues include the cost of spaying or neutering, vaccines and pertinent medical testing for cats in their adoption fees, which usually go directly toward saving more animals. The Los Angeles County Animal Shelter in Castaic may be a slightly less expensive option, and COC students who rescue from a shelter that euthanizes animals will be saving their new best friend from what could have been the end of their life.

“There should not be an overpopulation of animals in our world, but there is,” said Heather Pedersen, a Santa Clarita resident who works at Best Friends Animal Society’s pet adoption center in Mission Hills. “We are showing people all over that it can be stopped, and these amazing animals deserve to be well taken care of and in a place they can call their home.”

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