Students vacating campus for the summer are leaving behind more than just their school work.
When the school year is over, students returning home or moving after graduation often find themselves stuck on what to do with their animals. While some find new owners for their pets, others are depositing them at animal shelters or even dumping them on the streets.
According to Brittany Hayes, the director of OC Animal Care’s community outreach program, there is a correlation between the time students leave school in May and the number of shelter intakes in college towns.
In May 2017, there were 1,653 intakes compared to 896 intakes in November 2017. But that increase may not be entirely due to students leaving: Spring is also the peak mating season for cats, leading to an increase in stray kittens, said OC Animal Care field worker Amy Hernandez.
Nonetheless, there are students who find themselves unable to take the pets they brought with them to Chapman or took in while here to their next destination.
Chapman alumna Dana Lujack took responsibility for finding a home for her friend’s cat, Captain after he was abandoned in Orange over the summer while his owner went home to Portola Valley.
“It’s always a risk taking an animal to the shelter,” Lujack said. “But I didn’t have another option, he was just bouncing around the neighborhood.”
Lujack said she didn’t want to take the cat to Orange County Animal Shelter because it’s a kill shelter and costs money to surrender a pet. In 2017, there were 3,594 shelter euthanasias according to OC Animal Care’s statistics.
Even when students try to hand off their pets to shelters, they encounter obstacles involving animal health, residency, expenses and refusal for other reasons.
When Lujack couldn’t find another home for Captain, she tried to relinquish him to OC Animal Shelter and was turned down because it was at max capacity and because she wasn’t an Orange County resident.
Lujack ran into the same issues at four other shelters.
A lot of rescue organizations and animal shelters such as OC Animal Care, require proof of residency to take in animals, limiting the options of Chapman students who rent houses and live in dorms.
The shelter has strict guidelines for accepting animals, according to OC Animal Care field worker Amy Hernandez. The shelter can’t be at max capacity, there must be proof of residency and the animal must be healthy and considered adoptable. There’s also a surrender fee which increased from $81 to $306 on September 1.
“People will do whatever they can to get around paying,” Hernandez said. “I can only imagine the amount of students who give up their pets because of financial issues, they’re not going to [want to] pay these fees.”
These restraints reduce the options for students who are unable to take care of their animals while they’re gone for the summer or if they move away after graduation.
When students are unable to find a new home for their pet or can’t relinquish it to a shelter, they sometimes abandon them on the streets with the assumption that the animal will be picked up by the authorities and end up in a shelter anyways, said Hayes.
Kimara Velez, a junior public relations and advertising major, adopted two pet bunnies, Molly and Bambi, with her roommate freshman year.
After a couple weeks of keeping the rabbits in their dorm room in South Morlan, Velez opened the bright green door to find Molly dead, cause unknown. Bambi was getting too big to keep in a dorm room, so Velez set him loose in the Morlan courtyard.
“We couldn’t take care of them,” Velez said. “Bambi was better off on his own.”
Other students turn to friends and family to take in the pets they can’t take with them.
Sienna Newton, a junior strategic and corporate communications and psychology major, bought a six-week-old Pomeranian, Casper, the second semester of her freshman year.
“I liked the idea of having a dog, but I didn’t realize how big of a responsibility it would be,” Newton said.
By finals week, Newton realized she couldn’t take Casper back to her home in London with her for the summer, so she decided to leave him with a family friend in Los Angeles. She never picked up Casper again.
“Students need to consider if it’s the best time in their life to have a pet right now,” Hayes said. “A pet is a lifelong commitment, not a semester-long one.”
The American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) urges students who can’t make the commitment to look into volunteer opportunities at local shelters and rescue groups or find jobs pet sitting and dog walking.