Big Dog on Campus: Owning a dog as a college student

McKenna Wierman

At around 7:30 a.m., Samara Shabel wakes up with 45 pounds stomping on her chest. When she opens her eyes, she sees one brown and one crystal blue eye staring right back at her. After a light struggle, she manages to push the slobbering mess of hair, teeth and claws off of herself, sits up, and pets her living, breathing alarm clock.

“The girl I got him from said he was a Catahoula-Lab mix, but we think he has other stuff in him too,” said Shabel. “He’s basically a mutt, but mostly Catahoula.”

Grizzly, her 10-month-old constant companion has lived with Shabel since Sept. 3 of 2014. She found Grizzly though an ad on and drove out of town with a friend after class one day to go and pick him up.

He was nothing but a brownish little critter back then, covered with fleas and in need of a good meal. Now, he’s almost fully grown with a healthy, famous Catahoula blue-grey coat and endless energy.

“Usually, he wakes up at 7:30 a.m., then he eats, goes outside and goes for a walk,” Shabel said. “Then, it’s just non-stop puppy.”

Grizz is usually pretty good in the mornings, according to Shabel, and watches her patiently as she gets ready for her day. He’s on a regular feeding schedule, eating dinner at 5 p.m. almost every night, and at around 6 or 7 p.m., he gets a little rowdy.

“He’s started this new thing where he barks for extended periods of time,” said Shabel. “Then he sleeps. During the day, he likes to go for walks in the park or on the trail.”

Grizzly especially loves Whirlpool Trails, where he can go off his leash and run around. Sometimes, Shabel said, he scares bikers and runners because he likes to chase. But since he was a puppy, Grizzly has been very well socialized, and generally just wants to make friends.

“I brought him everywhere with me from the time he was six weeks old, so he knows my friends apartments, as well as mine,” she said.  “I took him to the Grove as a baby, and he loved it. He likes everyone but bikes.”

For Shabel, it wasn’t difficult to make the decision to get a dog. As a student at the university, she did worry that having Grizzly to take care of might overwhelm her on top of classes, her social life and all the other stresses of college life. Ultimately, she felt getting a dog would add something to her college experience she knew she wouldn’t find anywhere else.

“I’ve always had dogs,” said Shabel. “I’ve got four dogs at home, one of them is mine that my mom takes care of when I’m here, and I don’t know, I think just having a dog gives you a lot of structure in your life – plus you get a cute puppy.”

Her roommate, Andrew Hopkins, was on board from the start, and believes that living with Grizzly has done Shabel a lot of good.

“I like living with the dog, because even though sometimes he barks a lot, and is annoying, and scratches, and bites everything, and chews up stuff, and is loud, it’s out weighted by how awesome he is,” said Hopkins. “He loves Samara, and I can see how much Samara just loves that dog. They are just good for each other. I think she is better off with Grizzly.”

Shabel’s friends were also excited about the idea of having a puppy around.

“Everyone thought it was cool,” he said. “Grizz was a total lady killer at the Grove. Everyone just loved him.”

Her family, however, was initially skeptical about having a dog in college. Shabel said they were mainly concerned with the responsibility it requires to keep an animal, which she said many people do not fully understand.

“It’s a lot of responsibility,” she said. “Like if I stay over somewhere, I can’t sleep in until like 12. I have to be here at 7:30 p.m. to feed the dog and walk the dog. And I think a lot of college kids can’t really focus on anything outside of taking care of themselves. It adds another thing that depends on you.”

Shabel also pointed out that dogs are expensive to maintain, and require a lot of financial responsibility. Veterinary visits, food, toys, boarding and grooming can cost anywhere from a few hundred to thousands of dollars per year. Not to mention, though college only lasts about four years, the average lifespan of a dog is about 12 years.

What many young pet-lovers fail to recognize is the extent of commitment required to adopt an animal. Puppies only stay puppies for a little while before they grow up, and for many young adults, the college years are a time of great transition and unpredictable change.

Shabel said she is lucky to have friends who will watch Grizz when she has to be away for longer than a few hours and parents who are supportive and helpful, but she still takes full responsibility for her dog.

“Having a dog means having someone who relies on you,” Shabel said. “I can’t just fly home for the weekend because I have to think about where is Grizzly going. I can’t go to the beach for spring break because I have to think where Grizz is going to go.”

But for Shabel, the advantages of being a dog-owner in college overshadow the challenges. According to Shabel, getting a dog means always having a friend.

“He’s never complaining about going for a walk, he rides in the car with me everywhere, so even if I go get coffee in the morning, Grizzly comes. It’s nice to have company. You know you’re away from your family, and you have your friends, but a dog is just unconditional love.”

Now at the end of her sophomore year, Shabel looks back on living with Grizzly and encourages anyone thinking about adopting a dog to carefully consider both sides of being a college pet-owner.

“I would recommend it to a certain kind of person,” she said. “I think that if you have a living situation where dogs are conducive – if you go out a lot, if you go outside and do activities a lot, dogs are awesome.

“If you’re someone who is really committed to having a dog being a huge part of your life, then I think you should totally get a dog. But I wouldn’t recommend it someone who isn’t really sure about where they are going to be in a year.

“I’ve had friends who got a dogs and decided they were leaving, and their parents didn’t want the dog – if you’re not committed to taking care of another living thing then you shouldn’t.”

Hopkins, who will not be living with Shabel next semester, said he is going to miss sharing an apartment with Grizzly, especially after seeing him grow up for the past year.

“I’ll miss seeing him when he’s just lying there passed out not making any noise,” said Hopkins. “And when he pounces around. Sometimes he pounces around like deer, and knocks into stuff, and it’s fun to watch.”

But there are some things Hopkins isn’t sorry to say good-bye to.

“The barking,” he said. “He’s so loud for such a small dog.”

Shabel and Grizzly

Shabel and Grizzly

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