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As an international student, I have to admit that one of the hardest parts about moving to England was saying goodbye to my fourteen-year-old Westie, Rontu. After removing Rontu from my suitcase several times (he likes to climb in when he sees me packing) and fielding threats from my father about shipping him over, I embarked on my four-year journey across the pond. Rontu is my companion in the best of times and the worst of times, a fluffy ball of never-ending energy who greets me with affection when I come home and waits up for me when I get in late. Taking care of him brings me peace on days when I know I’m having trouble looking after myself. But more than that, despite not being a trained therapy dog, Rontu always knows exactly what I need to keep me calm when I have anxiety attacks or can’t get out of bed in the morning. Coming to campus, being alone, and not having something more than a plant or two to look after means that I have to find other ways to try to balance my anxiety – and I’ve found that it just doesn’t work the way I’d hope.
I know that despite University regulations, some people keep pets in their rooms. I’ve heard stories of birds and kittens being confiscated, and to be honest, I have to agree with that decision; birds like to sing in the morning, potentially waking flatmates up, and keeping a cat or dog in a room as small as those on campus seems a bit cruel since there’s no space for them to live. But I still think that small pets, like mice and guinea pigs (fish even!), should be allowed on campus. There are so many benefits.
First and foremost, pets bring comfort. A friend of mine living off campus has two guinea pigs, and every time I visit her, I’m inundated with a sense of calm as I cuddle the younger one, Gatsby, and feel his little teeth nibble me with love bites. For students like me, for whom social interaction can increase anxiety but who also don’t want to be alone, being able to feed and water a small pet, like a guinea pig, means that on some level, I’m satisfying a need for engagement within the confines of my own room. The peace that brings me then makes it easier for me to want to go see people in the evening, to socialise outside of my flat for a few hours without feeling completely drained.
But it also provides me with the much-needed opportunity to enforce routine. Caring for pets, even something as ‘independent’ as a fish, requires effort on my part. Small animals will need feeding and looking after several times a day, perfect for those times when I need to force myself out of bed or nip back to my room to de-stress after a meeting. Tanks and cages alike need regular cleaning, making it the perfect excuse to vacuum and clean my own room in the process. And a clean working environment more often than not will lead to a more efficient academic process. In short, given the therapeutic and academic impact that having a pet can have, I would strongly urge the University to review its ‘no animal’ policy and find a compromise to improve overall student wellbeing.