Students’ lovable pet companions: A hassle and a help


Courtesy of Ruth-Riley Collins

Sophomore studio arts major Ruth-Riley Collins poses her dog Rigsby for a photo on a sunny day in Schenley Plaza.

By Emma Maurice and Maggie Medoff

Having a loyal, fluffy companion to call your own seems like every college student’s dream, but the excitement of owning a lovable pet during your four years has both its highs and lows.

For junior applied developmental psychology major Nora Smith, the struggle of finding an apartment with a dog-friendly management company in South Oakland was a bit of a challenge. Faced only with options at McKee Place Apartments and SkyVue Apartments, Smith now lives in a one-bedroom apartment on McKee with her pup Jack Willoughby — an 8-month-old mini goldendoodle.

“I love living alone with him — he’s the best roommate. I am a very schedule-oriented person, so it’s been pretty easy to be the only one to care for him,” Smith said. “On occasion, I’ll have a friend walk him if I’m out for longer periods of time.”

Smith attends classes Monday through Wednesday and works Thursday to Saturday — gone from her apartment about six hours a day.

“I find it difficult to study on campus while having a dog — I feel guilty leaving him when I could just study at home,” Smith said. “It’s also difficult with social engagements. I always have to ask to bring my dog along.”

But when she is home, she spends plenty of time walking Jack and sometimes sets him up on “doggy playdates” or takes trips to the park for additional exercise. When he has extra energy, Jack will end up running laps around the apartment, but because of how frequently Smith walks him, he is usually perfectly fine hanging out at home.

Smith’s apartment is relatively large for a one-bedroom, and she knows Jack loves his home and is well-behaved there — he doesn’t even bark when he hears people passing by outside the unit.

Sophomore studio arts major Ruth-Riley Collins also lives in the dog-friendly McKee Place, alongside her 10-year-old pooch Rigsby, a cavalier spaniel and poodle mix. The McKee apartments were appealing to Collins not only because they are dog-friendly, but because the rooms have hardwood floors instead of carpeting — which dogs can easily ruin.

Unlike most students who choose to get a young puppy sometime during their time at college, Collins is caring for a senior dog, who came into her care after being passed around other family members since he was adopted when Collins was about 10 years old.

“The reason I brought her is because my grandparents take care of her a lot, but they’re getting older, so college seemed a lot more stable and consistent of an environment than where she was before,” Collins said.

Although Rigsby is a senior dog, she still forces Collins to get out of the house and exercise more often during her walks. After living in Tower A her first year without much of a reason to exercise because of how easily accessible everything was, Collins is more than thankful for Rigsby for making her more active.

“She gets my day going because she’s created a routine that I didn’t have before,” Collins said.

While many college students do have dogs, it is just as common for college students to not have these lovable pets — and Collins recognizes this whenever she takes Rigsby out for walks.

“When you’re in a hurry and you’re on a college campus, you get stopped every 10 feet so someone can pet your dog, which can really slow people down, especially if you have a puppy,” Collins said.

Even at night and especially on weekends, Rigsby draws an especially large amount of attention from college students.

“At night and on weekends, you get a crowd of people who are having a good night and want to stop you so you can let them pet your dog,” Collins said.

However, through all the benefits and difficulties of having Rigsby as a sophomore student, Collins appreciates simply having her around. When she comes home at the end of a stressful day, Rigsby is there waiting for her — calm and not barking, and excited to see Collins.

“She kind of grounds me,” said Collins, “and makes me feel like being home is not as isolating.”

Collins is currently trying to get Rigsby certified as a care dog and is going to face new challenges next year in her new apartment in SkyVue — she will be living alone and has to pay a down payment for Rigsby, as dogs can ruin the carpets and other features in the apartment.

“In more ways than I can explain, she truly is an emotional support dog,” Collins said. “But I think dogs in general, it’s cliche, but they are your best friend and I think that whether or not they’re a certified emotional care dog, I think everybody’s is in one way or another.”

Bridget Lazecko, a senior psychology major, also cares for a senior pet — her 11-year-old black-and-white cat named Milky. Lazecko adopted Milky from an animal shelter, leaving her unsure as to what kind of cat he is.

She lives in a small two-bedroom apartment in Squirrel Hill with her cat — the perfect-sized home for her and her roommate to keep track of a sneaky feline like Milky, who loves to hide underneath things.

“I had moved into my apartment before I adopted Milky. However, knowing that my love for animals is everlasting, I did include the ‘Is this apartment pet-friendly?’ question when touring places,” Lazecko said. “Although, I will admit it was not my top priority. Even though my apartment allows pets, other apartments my landlord manages does not. It really is a toss-up finding places.”

Lazecko’s struggle with clinical depression was her main motivation for adopting Milky. Having him around is therapeutic for her — when she is feeling overwhelmed, he calms her down and acts as a constant source of happiness and unconditional support.

“There is nothing like having a cat curl up to you after a long and difficult day,” Lazecko said. “I also knew that having a cat would make the apartment feel more like a home.”

She grew up with cats throughout her childhood — having a lovable pet provided her not only with comfort and therapy, but Milky also gives her a grounding sense of home while she’s at college, far away from where she grew up.

“Having Milky with me is a big pro,” said Lazecko. “He is such a cuddle bug, and having a cat to come home to at the end of a long day makes the stress of student life much more manageable.”