Zhixing Liu bought a husky puppy with his three roommates in their freshman year. But as Liu has advanced through college at Michigan State University, where he is now a junior studying accounting, things have become more complicated.
“I am not sure if I can take him back,” Liu said. “It’s really difficult to raise an animal with all the school work, like much more difficult than I thought.”
It can also be expensive for food and medical care.
Liu’s situation is shared by many college students who own pets. But Liu is an international student from China, with a limited support network in the United States and the expectation that he may need to leave the country after graduation. That makes the situation even more uncertain for his dog.
“Due to the lack of the pet caring knowledge, immaturity of the owners, the constant unstable schedule and long distance, these young students are overwhelmed and some choose to give the pets away and some choose to ignore the needs,” said Skyin Yin, a former adviser at Michigan State’s Office for International Students and Scholars.
“I know several international students who have pets,” Yin said. “I could totally understand the motives and benefits of having a pet as a company.”
Yin was an international student years ago and had a dog for five years in the U.S.
“I still remember how sure I was that I would never own a pet unless I am financially stable and I have enough time to take care of them,” Yin said.
Pets are known to provide emotional support for many owners, and that could be an important benefit for international students far from home.
In a 2009 survey of Chinese international students at Yale University, 45 percent said that they’ve had depression and 29 percent of them claimed they’ve experienced anxiety, Yale researchers published in a 2013 paper exploring mental health issues among international students. A quarter of respondents weren’t aware of mental health resources available on campus.
Some international students end up selling their pets or giving them away after graduation.
Students — including international students — who aren’t prepared for the long-term responsibilities of pet ownership contribute to the number of pets that end up in shelters, shelter officials say. In 2016, there were 3,139 animals in the Ingham County animal shelter, according to the data of Ingham County Animal Control. It’s not known how many of those animals belonged to students.
“When it comes to bad pet ownership, it is no difference no matter where you are from,” Yin said. “It is all about the education level and readiness and sense of responsibility. For international students here, since they don’t have family’s support to teach them about pets, they especially need institutional, community and peer support.”