Pitt pet owners share advice, love for animal companions


John Blair | Senior Staff Photographer

Delphie Backs, a junior applied developmental psychology major, adopted her cat Olaf, a 2-year-old white short-hair, from the Beaver Humane Society last year.

By Diana Velasquez, Culture Editor

Emma Kappler’s group chat with her roommates is full of cat pictures. She is the proud parent of Archie, a stray cat she found at home under her porch back in Butler. Archie now lives with Emma in her North Oakland apartment.

“Having a pet brings us so much joy, and like half of our text messages are just like pictures of him that we send back and forth,” Kappler, a junior political science and law, criminal justice, and society double major, said. “It makes you very happy because I feel like everybody that has pets when they’re at school, they just think about how much they miss their pets.”

Kappler is one person in the small community of Pitt pet owners. Initially, she wasn’t even supposed to have a cat of her own in Oakland. But her parents already had another cat at home, named Reuben, and didn’t want to take on the responsibility of another one.

“My parents didn’t really want to have to deal with all the responsibilities. They’re over having pets at this point,” Kappler said. “So I was like, ‘Okay if we take this cat in, I’ll take him to school.’ That was the deal.” 

Having a pet can be a huge undertaking, especially as a college student on a budget. Delphie Backs, a junior applied developmental psychology major, adopted her cat Olaf, a two-year-old white short-hair, from the Beaver County Humane Society last year. 

She said she is fully responsible for all of his bills — including food, toys and veterinarian costs. She budgets her paychecks specifically to account for his needs. 

“I pay for him, all by myself, all of his vet bills. So I kind of had to work him into my college budget,” Backs said. “Which is hard but it keeps me motivated to keep working. He’s just so worth the money, easily.”

Olaf is officially registered as an emotional support animal for Backs. Last year, Backs said she struggled mentally and emotionally. She talked to her therapist, who provided her with the certification to get an emotional support animal.

“I had a therapist at the time, and I asked her if she does certifications for emotional support animals. And she did, so she wrote me out a certification,” Backs said. “That allowed me to adopt a cat and keep him pretty much wherever I was living because it’s protected under the Fair Housing Act.” 

Backs said although the benefits far outweigh the challenges of having a pet, there are plenty of obstacles to consider specific to being a college student. For one, when Thanksgiving and winter break comes around, she has to figure out where she’s going to keep Olaf.

“Pretty much everyone I know and all my roommates are going home as well. I’m taking him home with me, so we’re gonna have to drive him to my hometown, just so he doesn’t get too shaken up,” Backs said. “I’m keeping him there until I come back for winter break. So he’ll be living with my parents. I’m gonna miss him over those two or three weeks.”

Owning a dog can be even harder. Marianna Gatti, a junior emergency medicine major, fostered a dog named Maisie in her South Oakland apartment, along with Skates, her 16-year-old family cat.

Maisie was a breeder from a puppy mill. Gatti said the city noise and commotion caused some issues with Maisie, and pet owners should be aware of switching pets from environment to environment.

“She had a big issue with loud noises. Dogs are way more sensitive to noises than cats are. Just be aware of what you’re bringing that animal into, especially depending if it’s your animal from home, and it’s only ever lived in the suburbs,” Gatti said. “And now you bring into a city where there are all these noises.” 

Gatti also encountered issues specific to the South Oakland neighborhood. She said the sidewalks and streets in South Oakland are often littered with trash. Maisie once sustained an injury after she stepped on a discarded Juul pod.

“South O isn’t very clean. So they step on a lot of stuff. You have to be really careful with dogs because obviously, you try walking around South O without shoes on, you just wouldn’t do it,” Gatti said. “She got a Juul pod stuck in her paw.” 

For Olaf, getting exercise is a little easier. Backs takes Olaf out every morning on a leash to let him explore her backyard. It’s part of her daily routine with him, and she makes sure to spend time with Olaf as often as she can. 

“Some of my classes have Zoom options, and I’ll stay home if I didn’t spend a lot of time with him that day,” Backs said. “He really likes going outside on the leash. So I take him outside every morning, kind of like walking a dog but walking my cat.”

Backs said she saw a noticeable shift in Olaf’s personality in the months after she adopted him. Where Olaf was initially more skittish and shy, after spending time with Backs his more cuddly, goofy personality came out. 

“One thing I really love about Olaf is he’s the funniest cat in the world. He is just so silly and strange,” Backs said. “He’s just a lot of fun and he makes me and my roommates really happy.” 

All the joy a pet can bring is worth it to Kappler as well. She said she takes comfort in knowing that Archie will be with her for as long as he lives and, while that might be a scary undertaking, she’ll always have him by her side. 

“It’s that realization of like, ‘This is my pet.’ Until one of us goes it’s going to be us together for the rest of our lives. That is both terrifying because I still have so much of my life with me, but also so reassuring,” Kappler said. “Knowing that ‘Okay, no matter where I go, no matter what changes like, I’ll still have Archie with me.’”