Willow

Opinion columnist Haley Czuma discusses the impact of adopting her dog, Willow, while in college.

“I don’t support you getting a dog, but I support your adult decision if you feel like you can take care of a dog.”

Those were the words of my father to me when I was a college sophomore who had just declared that she was going to get a dog.

I have grown up with dogs my entire life. So, as anyone who grew up with or has a dog at home would know, a piece of me felt vacant without the presence of one when coming to college. The dorm pet policy for no animals bigger than fish, reptiles and amphibians wasn’t really to my fancy. Around the end of my freshman year, when moving out of the dorms and into a house that did not have a pet policy, I decided I was going to get a dog.

Fall rolled around, and my anticipation and determination grew. I was on every dog shelter website every day, multiple times a day, searching for a dog to bring home. Then, on Sept. 9, 2017, I brought Willow home from Prairie Paws Animal Shelter. The four-year-old, brindled, Dachshund mix had ears that stuck straight up and were both collectively larger than her head.

I get asked a lot about what it’s like having a dog in college. Many wonder what it’s like having that sort of responsibility and how difficult it is. Each time, I give the same answer — “It was the best decision of my life.”

For anyone who is considering adopting a dog as a student, if you have the means to do so, do it. But, there are some things that you should know before you do.

Dogs take time, care, energy, money and love. I have first-hand witnessed students, who think they are ready for a dog of their own, surrendering their dog back to the shelter. This happens because they could not invest the time, money or energy that it takes to actually have a dog, which in turn is traumatic for the animal.

Dogs take money. Food and vet bills aren’t always cheap, and it is essential to know whether you can support a dog financially before making the jump to adopting one. They take training. You cannot expect to bring home a dog that is perfectly trained. There will be accidents, you will get frustrated, but if the correct amount of time and energy is put into being patient and working with them, they will respond. Although I adopted my dog at the age of four, I had to train her as if she was a puppy.

When you are adopting from a shelter, you rarely know the background of the animal. Some are trained more than others. While the process of training her was incredibly tough at times, especially because she is so stubborn, it was the most rewarding thing to see her grow into the dog she is now.

Having a dog at school with me has entirely changed who I am. She gives me a sense of responsibility that I wasn’t capable of before I adopted her. When you have a dog, there is another life that is dependent on you, and it’s no longer just yourself that you have to worry about.

Willow has gone beyond filling the vacant space in me. She is the reason for me getting up early in the morning and starting my day, for getting me to explore beyond my comfort zone, for getting me out of the house, and most importantly, she has been the best thing to come home to after bombing an exam. So, if you’re ready for a dog but on the fence — I say make the jump. You won’t regret it.

Haley Czuma is a senior from Chicago studying English and dance.