Student pet owners balance costs with love of their animals

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It’s 7 a.m. and Joey is jumping on Carlie Wirebaugh.

Joey is a 1-year-old, 60-pound English chocolate lab and American lab mix. He wants Wirebaugh to wake up to take him outside and give him breakfast.

A typical day for Joey includes him eating, sleeping and playing, said Wirebaugh, a senior advertising major at Michigan State University.

“After breakfast, I put him in his crate while I go to the gym,” she said. “Then I let him back out and hang out while I get ready for work or class.”

About 57 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds own a pet, according to data from the 2017-18 American Pet Products Association National Pet Owners survey. But for college students in that age group — who may have limited time and income — being a pet owner can come with challenges.

Wirebaugh and Joey live with two human roommates on Milford Street in East Lansing. Wirebaugh said she gets plenty of help from them, but Joey still occasionally spends eight hours in his crate. 

“Sometimes my roommates let him out though on those longer days, and I always try to take him to the park to burn off some energy,” she said.

Owning a dog could be take a financial hit on a college student. Wirebaugh said that she spends a lot on trying to keep Joey healthy.

Wirebaugh and her boyfriend found Joey through a breeder and have had him since July.

“We bought him for just over $900,” Wirebaugh said. “His litter had some odd gene deficiency that could discolor their typically chocolate fur, so we got him cheaper than most chocolate labs go for.”

When Wirebaugh first got Joey, she had to take him to the vet fours times for standard vaccinations. Each visit had an office fee of $20, in addition to fees for the actual vaccines and other tests. Joey also recently was neutered.

“The last two visits we made were to get him neutered,” Wirebaugh said. “The first cost just under $100 and I got him his heartworm medicine for the next six months, along with the cost of the tests they ran before scheduling his neutering. Then for the actual neuter, it cost just around $250.”

Joey gets fed Hill’s Science Diet twice a day. She buys him a 30-pound bag of food every month. It costs about $40 a bag.

Her parents and friends love giving Joey things. Her roommate, Amanda has gotten him a couple of toys. Her mom always gives him some toys when she goes home.

Michigan State senior Leah Hoane sleeps all night with her cat, Leia. Once her alarm goes off, Leia hears it and lies on Leah’s chest to wake her up. Leia is a 8-month-old cat that weighs 6 pounds.

Hoane goes to class and work, so Leia sleeps all day until she gets home. When Leia hears the front door open she runs to the door and greets Hoane. She cuddles briefly and then gets playful and then jumps around on the furniture in the living room.

Hoane believes owning a cat in college could be easier than owning a dog: Cats don’t require as much time and attention as a dog. They also don’t need to be taken out for walks because they can use a litter box.

Hoane buys Leia a small bag of food twice a month and buys her a new toy every time she goes to the grocery store. She said Leia is a cat that plays with anything she can get her paws on.

“She finds about almost everything,” Hoane said. “My friend got her a toy for Christmas and before she took the gift out of her bag, Leia had found it and was already playing with it.”

Leia is named after the Star Wars character. Hoane is a Star Wars fan and found Leia on May 4 (recognized as Star Wars Day by many fans) in 2017.

“When my old roommate and I found her and we thought she was a boy,” Hoane said. “I was going to call her Yoda, but then we found out she was a girl and named her Leia after the princess.”

Another expense on having a pet in college is purchasing pet insurance to cover medical costs. Hoane said she pays $26 a month for a plan through Banfield Pet Hospital, which included her spay, deworming, rabies, vaccines and regular office visits.

Students who can’t afford a pet but want one can seek help. There are numerous financial aids for pets. The Humane Society of the United States lists national organizations that provide financial aid to owners in need.

“The cost of owning a pet in college is an investment,” Wirebaugh said. “Not only for the money but also for your attention and love. There is an emotional cost of owning a pet. They become like your child and you look forward to being with them all the time.”

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