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I love animals. I volunteer at rescue centres both at University and at home, have four house rabbits in my family home, and plan on working for animal charities once I graduate. So, then, I am not being biased when I say that the University’s pet policy is absolutely spot on.
Not too long ago, an article was written for SCAN highlighting why the policy should be revisited, explaining how having a small pet could calm anxieties, bring joy to stressed students, and bring that missing something to many students’ flats. Well, yes – I miss my bunnies every single day I’m not at home and I often think how nice it would be to see them hopping around my university room whilst I’m trying to get those last thousand words onto my computer screen. ‘Think’ being the operative word in that sentence.
It would not be fair to any animal to put them in a cage in University accommodation. I should also point out that I am not pro-cage; animals need space, no matter how small, and a cage can more often than not restrict freedom and compromise a pet’s happiness. I sound like I’m reading from a manual, I know, but I’m not. I know lots and lots of people who cage their pets, and that’s all very well, so long as they ensure their pet gets the access to space (and to the outside, species-dependent) they need. The problem with student accommodation, however, is that it doesn’t allow for all of this space and fresh air and light – if you’re going to have a guinea pig, as suggested in the article preceding this one, you need to give him or her space and time to run around.
Did you know that when animals like guinea pigs and rabbits are truly happy that they run at huge speeds and jump around? Well, they can’t exactly do this if they’re cooped up in a cage in the corner. Moreover, it is not up to a human being to decide when a guinea pig or rabbit or hamster decides it wants to be happy. Rabbits are crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk) and guinea pigs scatter their active-time through the day and the night. I challenge any student – even the ones who claim to stay up every single night of their lives until three in the morning – to tell me they are going to be okay with night-time crazies from hyperactive animals. Exam time? They won’t understand that you need a solid few hours of sleep. Job interview in the morning? Same thing. Moreover, these animals are not solitary. Like humans, they should have a friend – so, each of these reasons apply twofold.
Now, for the dreaded two words: vet bills. They are real things, okay? If your animal is sick, it is up to you as its carer and owner to take it to the vet and foot the bills for any procedures it might need to make its life painless and happy. You can’t wish away an issue like mites or dental work in rabbits, just like you can’t wish away what can amount to hundreds (and thousands) of pounds of fees to pay for these procedures. And no, going to a cheaper vet doesn’t make it okay – most small animals are classed as ‘exotic pets’, meaning that you should see a savvy vet who knows what they’re talking about when they see your pet.
I know it’s a kicker, but thinking of your fellow students is also something to bear in mind. Though your flatmates might be on board with the idea of a ‘flat hamster’, who’s to say someone in the building you don’t know doesn’t have a severe allergy to fur or dust that might flare up? That and the fact that yes, small animals also make a heck of a lot of noise. Fish? Okay, fish I’ll pass on. But guinea pigs? Rabbits? Hamsters? They can make an unholy racket at times and there’s not really a way to stop them unless you’re to put them in a tiny confined area with nothing to amuse them. If you think that’s an option, I refer you to my previous paragraphs.
I have loads of points I could throw at you. I could mention how animals’ life spans don’t date to when you finish your degree and that if you’re an international student who wants a pet you can’t exactly take a hamster back home with you. I could mention that thousands of small animals end up in rescue homes every single week because people realise they can’t look after them… or move and can’t take their animals with them. I could mention that, really, the University might want to keep their rooms free from bits of hay, chewed wallpaper and that smell you can’t quite put your finger on but you know your pet makes it. I could mention that on top of vet fees, there’s food for the animals, toys and things to keep them busy, the supplies like pens and water bowls and handbooks and hay and, and, and… and I could mention the responsibility. If you’re looking at a pet to benefit your academic performance because it might calm you down and make you happier in your environment? I would argue that that’s not right. If you ever commit to having an animal, you need to have its welfare at the forefront of your mind.
I’m an animal lover. I wish every single day that I could rescue every bunny in the animal shelter I look after when I visit. I wish I could have bunnies in my room in Lancaster – but I know it’s not feasible. I would urge anyone who misses home, misses their pet or just wants to spend time around animals to volunteer at Animal Care, Lancaster, where there are loads of animals who would love even an hour of your time to show them some love.