While away at college, many students find comfort and companionship in owning a pet — but for some, the commitment to their animals only lasts as long as the school year.
During this time of the year, college town shelters, like the Muncie Animal Shelter, often see an increase in the number of pets being abandoned.
The animals are abandoned either at the shelter or on the street, said Julie Smith, office manager at the shelter in Muncie, home of Ball State University. And alternatively, the shelter sees a surge in adoptions at the beginning of the year.
"It seems like at the end of the school year, some are moving and cannot take their animals with them," Smith said.
Smith said the shelter cannot confirm that all of the animals being left behind are those formerly belonging to Ball State students, though signs points in that direction. Exact numbers were not available, but Smith confirmed that the end of the semester brings with it a noticeable increase in abandoned animals.
According to the Humane Society of the United States, owning a pet while in college can pose several problems. These include sanctions from universities for having pets on campus and difficulties securing affordable, pet-friendly housing off-campus.
Ball State has a no-pets policy for residence halls. The university, according to the Ball State Web site, additionally bans "newts, frogs, salamanders, turtles, birds, laboratory specimens or any life form that can survive outside of water." With the exception of rule-breakers, the problem of abandoning pets exists among students living near campus only for the school year.
Smith has heard several reasons for students leaving their pets behind.
"Some are moving or may have gotten a new job or something like that and are relocating or are moving back home," she said. "Sometimes, mom and dad just don't want the pet at home."
The animals that are brought back to the shelter typically are revaccinated and put back up for adoption, Smith said. Some students, however, don't bother to take an unwanted pet to a shelter at all.
"We found an iguana thrown out on the street," Smith said. "An iguana can't survive in this climate."
But not all Ball State students are irresponsible or unprepared pet owners, she said. Many students will go out of their way to return a lost pet or send stray pets to the shelter, Smith said. Some even will take the time to pass out flyers.
"It's education, just educating students to remind them it's fun to get a kitten during the school year but it's not just a short-term commitment," Smith said. "We understand that when students get a job that sometimes it's impossible to take a pet with them. We're trying to educate and remind students that it's a commitment."
Smith and the Humane Society agree on one key piece of advice.
"It's important to make a back-up plan when adopting," Smith said.
This story was filed by UWIRE, which offers reporting from more than 800 colleges and universities worldwide. Read more at www.uwire.com.