For many students, law school marks the first stage in a student’s life where they are living on their own, away from on-campus housing, away from their parents, maybe even away from roommates (if they’re lucky). As a result, students start considering the ultimate responsibility: parenthood—that is, parenting a four-legged roommate.
Brian Glenn Collins, DVM, a veterinarian at Cornell University Companion Animal Hospital, offers a few pieces of advice for those considering dog ownership.
Collins said owning a dog can be a positive experience for law students, adding that he has had several clients who have successfully owned dogs throughout their law school career. He said dogs can actually relieve stress in law school students’ schedules.
“Dogs are always happy to see their people when they come home, which can be a very positive contribution to the wellness we are trying to encourage students and professionals to incorporate into their lives,” Collins said.
Particularly, dogs can improve students’ mental health by forcing them to put down the books when necessary.
“Having a pet helps provide built-in breaks in order to provide care for the pet, such as bathroom trips outside, exercise, play, feeding, et cetera,” Collins said. “Otherwise, it is very easy for a student to spend excessively long hours in the library studying without a break.”
Christopher Alderman, third-year student at Louisiana State University Paul M. Hebert Law Center, is one student who has found a balance. Alderman adopted black lab Angus shortly after he took the LSAT and a couple of years before he entered law school.
Alderman is a member of the LSU Law Center Board of Advocates and holds an internship with the Louisiana Attorney Generals Office, Public Protection Division, Complex Litigation Unit. He echoed Collins’ sentiment; taking care of Angus, particularly bringing him to the park, gave him a valid excuse to get away from law school activities.
“That’s my time away from TV, away from books, away from law school, away from everything,” Alderman said. “And you get contact with people who aren’t in law school, which is nice.”
Alderman initially worried about balancing his law school schedule with taking care of Angus, but he learned it was manageable.
“When I first came to law school, I was worried because you hear about how much reading it’s going to be and you’re going to be up all night, that it’s going to be crazy,” Alderman said. “I was a little worried that he would have some trouble adjusting if I was gone longer than normal or I wouldn’t have as much time to spend with him. Once we got here I realized it wasn’t anywhere nearly as bad as that.”
Alderman said he walks Angus for 30–45 minutes each morning and then spends an hour of quality time with him once he gets home from school. After they eat dinner, Alderman said he often returns to school.
Collins said there are strategies for caring for dogs in the midst of a busy schedule, even when students don’t have time to walk their dogs each day.
“Dog-walking services can be a good option during busy exam times,” he said.
When it comes to choosing the right dog, Collins recommended no particular size or breed, but he advised against adopting dogs younger than six months old, which would need more attention for house-training, socializing, and exercising, and as well as frequent veterinary visits. Alderman agreed, especially for first-year law students.
“That is too much to handle,” Alderman said. “That dog is going to need to go to the bathroom every two hours for the first couple months of its life, and you just don’t have that kind of time. . . . You’re going to be frustrated, and the dog is going to be frustrated.”
Alderman recommended that students entering law school consider adopting several weeks before orientation.
“If you can do it a month before law school starts, to give yourself and the dog a good chunk of time to get to know each other, go for it,” Alderman said.
In addition, Collins suggested law students find dogs with little-to-no history of separation anxiety and lower levels of energy.
“Some dogs will have an especially high energy level and may not deal well with being alone.”
On a practical note, Collins said students should be sure to check with their landlords for their policies regarding pets. Neighbors may also submit noise complaints for barking, and so it is worth considering consequences of those complaints. Though uncommon, students should check with local government or animal control for any local breed restrictions.
As always, money is a consideration, as well. Alderman found start-up costs for adopting a pet, between a crate, spay/neuter costs, vaccinations and other expenses, can run a student around $1,000. Beyond start-up costs, Collins estimated that veterinary care, food, toys, and grooming combined will run a dog owner approximately $1,000 per year. He noted, however, that the cost of owning a dog will vary depending on the dog’s size and health.
“I strongly advise obtaining health insurance for dogs as soon as they are adopted,” Collins said. “There are numerous pet insurance companies to choose from, and there are resources for comparing their individual costs and policies.”
For those who choose not to obtain pet insurance, Alderman said students should save money on the side in case of emergencies. After owning Angus for several years, Alderman said he has had two emergencies so far.
One involved Swiss Miss. Alderman said Angus was still young but near the end of his crate training, so he decided to leave Angus out of his crate while he went to the gym for a short workout.
“I come home and the box of Swiss Miss has been ripped open, and every packet has been licked dry,” Alderman said. “I’m laying on the floor with him crying thinking he’s going to die.”
Surprisingly, yet unsurprisingly, it turns out Swiss Miss has very little real chocolate. Angus was never in danger.
Alderman recounted another scare, though, when they switched flea medication. Angus seized, and they ended up in the veterinary emergency room, where they monitored Angus through the night.
“He ended up being fine, but it was expensive because it was after hours,” Alderman said.
Given all these considerations, if a student decides to move forward with adopting a pet, Collins recommended that prospective adopters check out local rescues to find their future dog.
“While there are many approaches to finding a suitable dog, I think the best approach is to contact local animal shelters and rescues. I would focus on dogs whose temperaments and behaviors are well known, to help reduce the chance of adopting a dog who might not adapt as well to a student’s schedule and lifestyle.”