CARTOON: Happy National Love Your Pet Day

National Love Your Pet Day has many pet owners setting aside extra time to pamper and give even more affection to their pets. To some, this can seem ridiculous. They may feel that pets don’t contribute much to our lives anyway, and instead drain us of time, money and energy.

In reality, pets contribute significantly to our lives, especially for college students. A recent study conducted at Ohio State University found college students with pets reported feeling less lonely and were in turn less likely to report feeling stressed and overwhelmed. The same students reported feeling their pets helped them significantly through difficult times in their lives.

This idea seems contradictory, considering pets (especially dogs) require copious amounts of attention, something that non-pet owners seem to feel is a deterrent for getting pets. It’s a question I often get asked myself regarding my own dogs: “how do you find time to take care of them?”

It’s true; I have an insanely busy schedule. I struggle to make time for myself occasionally. But honestly, making time for my dogs has never been something difficult for me. It’s rewarding for me to be able to go home to see them during the day, and it’s even more rewarding for me to be able to come home at the end of the day to their wagging tails and unconditional love. They make me want to stay home and that’s not a bad thing. I never mind nights in as long as I’m with them.

Understandably, for those who value their nights out, this seems crazy. Obviously for me, it’s no questions asked. I want to stay home to spend time with my dogs. I want to make time for them because as studies show, pets really do make a difference in our lives. They drastically increase the quality of my life, and it seems I’m not the only one who has experienced this.

When I got my first dog River, I was 17 and trying to figure out how to be an adult when in reality I was a teenager navigating college. Really, I wanted a cat. But when I saw a photo of this tiny little mini -Australian Shepherd, I instantly fell in love. We had an instantaneous connection from the moment we met two years ago, and I would have sacrificed anything to have him in my life. I still would.

He’s an amazing dog that has always deserved love and a good life, and I intended to provide that for him from the first moment he climbed into my lap and snuggled up to me as a tiny little fluff ball. I didn’t expect to find him, nor was I actually searching for a dog at the time. It wasn’t something I particularly considered. It was all coincidence (and maybe a little bit of fate).

River was there for me while I struggled to figure out how to be in college. I would take him on long walks while I took breaks from studying and writing columns, and he would try to lick away my tears when I got too overwhelmed. River also laid next to me in my bed or on the couch countless times when I found myself unable to get up some days due to my health; he was also there when I got a diagnosis and stayed by my side when he knew I wasn’t OK.

Things only got better when my mom rescued our second dog, Isla, while I was out of town. At seven months, she still only weighs ten pounds, and while she is a contrast to River, I’m grateful for her all the same. I was worried and perhaps a little scared of having a second dog, as I wanted first to make sure I would not be adding stress to my first dog’s life. The result, after nearly five months, has been quite the opposite.

If anything, Isla brings out the best in River. She has continued to be his companion, his best friend and his ultimate playmate. I look back on the time I was so scared of River’s reaction and wonder what was thinking. I can’t imagine River without his smaller sister now, but at the same time, not every lifestyle supports two dogs. We were just fortunate that Isla fit so perfectly into my life. Even though she was a surprise, she has been one of the best additions to our family.

Unfortunately, not everyone is as kind or grateful to their pets as the devoted pet owners who today celebrate Love Your Pet Day. Perhaps it’s not so much that they’re not grateful, but more so that they don’t realize how big of a commitment a pet can be.

While I find it simple to find time for my dogs, it’s not always so easy for some people. Even if they want to make time for a pet, they may just not be able to. Many college students desire a pet in their new apartment for the very same reasons put forth by the aforementioned studies. Truly, they have pure intentions, but find themselves in a predicament when they can’t take care of their new furry friend.

This is a dark, unfortunate truth that is especially clear in a college town like Lubbock, where there are many stray dogs who were abandoned roaming around, as well as months-old puppies who were returned to shelters by students who found they weren’t able to care for them. Neither of these options are fair to the dogs who form attachments to their new owners and don’t understand why they’ve been left behind.

Having pets, although desirable and seemingly glamorous, is just not for everybody. Anyone considering getting any kind of pet should be sure they have time and money to support the animal, as well as understanding that with pets, like cats and dogs, having them is typically a 10+ year commitment that really shouldn’t be broken. Pets get attached to us just as much as we do to them.

For those who can’t or don’t want pets but still want to celebrate National Love Your Pet Day, I recommend donating time and supplies to local shelters, or simply contacting a local shelter to ask what most would benefit the dogs being cared for there. It may be a good opportunity to see if a shelter needs volunteers and see how you can spend quality time with sheltered animals who, like other pets, need love too.

In addition to this, donating funds to national organizations that combat animal abuse and abandonment is a great way to show love today. While our dogs are surrounded by toys, treats and shelter, not all dogs and animals have these luxuries, therefore these are good ideas even if you do have pets you’ll be loving on today as well. There is room in our hearts not only to love on our own companions, but also to reach out to those organizations that care for those in need.

Considering this, in a sense we do owe our pets a day just for them, full of pampering and quality time. If anything, just one day isn’t enough to show them our appreciation when we actually consider how much they do for us. Every day should be National Love Your Pet Day, but it’s good to have a specific day just to remind them how much they mean to us.

That being said, I will make sure to remind my dogs, River and Isla, how much they have contributed to my life and give them lots of pets to make sure they really understand how I feel about having them around.

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