By Ada Zhang
The image of a smiling Baylor student walking his or her canine hides the strenuous work that goes into raising a dog while also being in school.
While it is not necessarily easy to have a dog in college, testimonies from Baylor students suggest it can be rewarding. But before students rush into making a big decision, they should consider whether or not they are ready to take on this responsibility.
Baltimore senior and Baylor football player Tuswani Copeland has had his pitbull, Flex, for a year. Copeland got Flex from a breeder in Waco for $200 when Flex was 1 month old. Copeland said the first few months were the hardest because Flex showed signs of abuse.
“He would just sit in a corner and look sad,” Copeland said. “It took a month and a half before he even ate without me in the room. If I wasn’t in the room, he wouldn’t eat or drink. He would just sit there.”
Copeland said Flex would shy away from people, even his roommates. In addition to his anti-social tendencies, Flex also had a chewing problem.
“When I first got him, during his teething stage, he chewed three pairs of Jordans,” Copeland said. “He also chewed a foam roller, a pillow and two posters.”
Despite the problems Flex caused, Copeland said he could not help but spoil his dog. In the beginning, Copeland spent $60 per month on food, toys, bones, treats, a collar and dog soap. Bigger expenses included a bed and a kennel, which Copeland said Flex quickly grew out of. After the initial expenses, raising Flex became much cheaper, totaling to $30 a month for food. Eventually, Flex’s attitude toward people changed, Copeland said.
He is now comfortable with Copeland’s roommates as well as strangers, so long as they let him approach them and not the other way around. Flex has also grown out of his chewing habit.
“It wasn’t until he was 6 months that I could leave him in the house alone without him destroying everything,” Copeland said.
The biggest relief, Copeland said, is being able to leave Flex in the house unattended. Copeland has a unique schedule that revolves around morning football workouts, afternoon practice, and classes in-between.
After his morning workout, Copeland feeds Flex and lets him go to the bathroom outside. Flex then stays in the house until Copeland comes home from practice at 5 p.m.
“I don’t want him outside in the heat,” Copeland said. “But sometimes he stays outside all day. It just depends on the weather.”
Copeland admitted the puppy stage was difficult.
“I thought about giving him away for 30 seconds, but then I relaxed,” Copeland said. “I thought, he’s young and it’s my job to discipline him.”
To those who are thinking about getting a dog, Copeland has some advice: “You have to be responsible and patient. It takes time to train them. You can’t rush it — it’s gotta be on their time.”
Dogs are expensive, Copeland said, so having the financial means to raise a dog is vital.
Batesville, Ark., junior Rachel Teffs is another Baylor dog-owner, but she got her dog for free.
Teffs rescued a 1-year-old great dane named Zeus in July 2012. A Valley Mills resident had posted on Craigslist looking for someone willing to adopt an abandoned dog.
“He was found in a yard where he didn’t have room or food or water,” Teffs said.
Soon after Teffs brought Zeus home, she realized Zeus had a case of separation anxiety. Having been abandoned before, Zeus got scared every time Teffs left the house.
“He’d break the blinds, chew things, jump on windows,” Teffs said. “So for a while I had to replace curtains a lot.”
Teffs said Zeus has not completely overcome the separation anxiety, but Zeus is now kennel trained.
While Teffs is in class, Zeus remains in the kennel until his owner returns. Teff spends $60 a month on dog food, twice as much as Copeland. Zeus has a sensitive stomach so he has to eat a special brand of dog food, Teffs said.
When Zeus came along, Teffs had to make adjustments to her life.
“I used to like to go on trips to Dallas, but since I have him, I have to think about him and plan my schedule around him,” Teffs said. “On my lunch break, I have to check on him. If I really have to go somewhere, I have to find someone to watch him.”
The sacrifices, however, do not make her regret getting a dog.
“It was a good decision because I’m never lonely when he’s around,” Teffs said. “My boyfriend and I have been brought closer. Instead of going out of town, we spend time with Zeus. He’s always there. He always wants to play or cuddle. He’s been a good decision.”
Copeland and Teffs seem to have things under control, but getting a dog is not for everyone. On the About Dogs website, Jenna Stregowski, a registered veterinarian technician, enumerates qualifications for being a responsible dog owner.
She states, “Dog ownership is a serious commitment that consists of vital duties. Before you decide to get a dog, you must pledge to be responsible.”
The first qualification on Stregowski’s list is “Commit For the Long Haul.”
She said even when dogs are sick or misbehaving, owners cannot just leave.
The second qualification, perhaps the one most pertinent to college students, is “Make Time for Your Dog.”
“Bonding is not something you can do once and assume it’s finished,” Stregowski states. “Remember that while you are at work, out with friends, or running errands, your dog is usually just waiting for you to come home.”
Like Teffs said, having a dog can be rewarding, but if students are taking a lot of classes and involved in various clubs, then based on Stregowski’s advice, they should probably wait until their schedules are less busy before getting a dog.
When deciding whether or not to get a dog, Stregowski believes cuteness should not be the only factor to take into consideration.
“Responsible dog ownership means more than adoring your dog,” Stregowski states.