When you’re feeling homesick, your pet would probably be on top of the list of things you miss from your home country. Although there are numerous dog parks and cat cafes in Sydney, sometimes they’re just not sufficient – the privilege of walking your own dog, playing with your cat or having a special family member to welcome you home is irreplaceable.
However, as an international student, can we really afford to have a pet? Beyond budget issues, what is really at stake? How can we adopt a pet under Australian regulations, and in ethical ways?
Here are some explanations that might help pet owners make their decisions.
Where should we look for pets?
Founder and Coordinator of Education and Advocacy at animal welfare charity organisation Maggie’s Rescue, Lisa Wright advises to get a pet from a good, reputable breeder or a rescue organization – and be cautious when buying pets from a pet shop. “If we want to be responsible in our pet ownership, we have to know where the parents of your puppy/kitten came from,” says Ms Wright. “Make sure to check with associations like Dogs NSW for reputable breeders.”
Rescue organizations could also be a better alternative, especially for students on a budget. While animals from pet shop often cost twice as much (or even more) they often come without having been vaccinated, micro-chipped and desexed.
Ms Wright says. “A good reputable rescue would in fact – I don’t know many that don’t – cover the cost of vaccinations, micro-chipping and the desexing as well.”
Unlike the pet shop system where you are free to take your pet home through purchasing, rescue organizations will require aspiring pet owners to demonstrate their commitment through an eligibility test to ensure that the household fully accommodates the well-being of the pets. “We have questionnaire where we ask people to put in an enquiry form, and we ask questions about who will be exercising the pet, and if everybody on the house is on board with it as well,” says Ms Wright. “We can’t guarantee that animal is going to be in that property with the same set of circumstances, but what we can see is long term commitment to that animal.”
Is your accommodation pet-friendly yet?
Nicholas, an international student and a proud owner of a Scottish Fold cat named Maome since 2014, revealed that even the first stages of having a pet is quite difficult if one is unprepared. “I got my cat when I was in college,” Nicholas says. “I faced problems with my college as most colleges does not allow to have a pet indoor.”
When moving out of the college, Nicholas found that it wasn’t easier out there to find pet-friendly rental accommodation. “It was really tough… a lot of rented house, especially apartments [landlords and managers], they believed that having a pet would affect living conditions of other residents.”
As a rule of thumb, it is recommended to inquire the landlords or the building managers about the eligibility of bringing pets into the house or apartment. For more information about having pets in your property, check these guides about animal laws in NSW and keeping pets in strata building.
What does the pet need (and can you afford it)?
As mentioned above, if the pet comes from pet shop, owners should visit a vet to have it microchipped, desexed and vaccinated. “As pets grow up, more vaccinations would be needed,” says Ms Wright. “When [the animals] are younger, the antibodies that they have go out of the system more quickly, so that’s why we do the extra vaccination to keep their immunity up,” she says.“Most vets now recommend 1-3 yearly vaccinations once the animal’s fully vaccinated.”
A number of products to facilitate the pets are also required. Ms Wright mentions good quality litter boxes, collar and tag, dry and wet food, chewing toys for dogs and scratch towers for cats. Along with Maome, Nicholas also had to buy a set of products from the pet shop, including food, flea medicine and designated toiletries, and a visit to the vet for vaccination should immediately follow.
For an average monthly cost (including food and equipment), Ms Wright estimates that it would be around $60-80 per animal – but she advises that this would vary according to the pet’s preference and activity. “It really comes down to what your budget is, and you can actually be a really good pet owner without a huge amount of money.”
In comparison, Nicholas spends $150 a month for Maome’s needs – but he believes it is worth it.“A pet is like an adopted child … it is a part of your family.”
What do you do with your pet when you are traveling?
When Nicholas travels out of town or back to his hometown, he usually takes Maome to a pet hotel near Sydney Airport. Ms Wright supports this idea.“There are some cattery and boarding kennels around the inner City, around the airport, and there’s other places like pet resorts who will come and pick up your pet for boarding.”
If owners prefer to keep their pets at their own home, Ms Wright suggests hiring pet-sitters. “There are pet-sitting service that will come and stay in your house if you wanted, or where people just drop in and feed and exercise your pet.”
At the end of the day, should you get a pet?
After his study is finished, Nicholas plans to stay in town and continue living with Maome. “I should be staying in Sydney with him,” he says.“He has become more of a family than a pet to us… our lives revolved pretty much around him.”
The decision to settle could be the best case scenario for both the pet and the owner. However, when the duration of the stay here is not yet determined, and taking the pet back home still has significant cost, the decision to get a pet might have to be rethought and reconsidered.
“The thing to consider is that most cats these days live for nearly 20 years, most dogs can live for 12 up to 15 years, depending on the size of the dog,” says Ms Wright.”So if you’re here and you’re staying in Australia for a short period of time, you need to consider if you’re moving back after your study in Australia – what would happen to the pet then?”
“We have the second highest rate of euthanasia of companion pets in the world, after the United States, and 80 percent of the cats that go into pounds don’t leave, they get euthanized. So thinking that you might find a home for your pet when you’re going home isn’t as easy as you think.”
Fostering, instead of adopting, might be a better idea for international students, Ms Wright suggests. “So the rescue organization would then put that pet in your home, until there was an adoption inquiry and then the animal goes to its permanent home, and then you have the opportunity to foster,” says Ms Wright.“In that way, you’d still have that companionship and that animal to come home to, but at the same time you don’t have the commitment.”
“Also, if you’re on a budget as a student, it’s really handy because some rescue groups can assist you with any vet and food fees for that animal.”