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So you want a dog at college? Here’s what I’ve learned from a semester with my beagle

Trixie, Chloe Southard's ESA, is a delightful treat. But, a dog is a bigger responsibility than most people realize.
Trixie, Chloe Southard's ESA, is a delightful treat. But, a dog is a bigger responsibility than most people realize.

If you ever see me around campus, chances are I’m being accompanied by the cutest beagle puppy.

That puppy would be Trixie, my emotional support animal (ESA). During my first two years here at Miami University, my mental health was quite a mess. After talking with my parents, doctor and adviser at Student Disability Services (SDS), I decided an ESA would benefit me immensely.

I’ve grown up around dogs my entire life, so it was difficult to adjust to the lack of companionship and unconditional love that a dog provided. I felt extremely alone. I needed something to care for, something that would give me a routine.

Last fall, I began to research different breeds of dog that would suit my college lifestyle. I have a Great Dane at home, but there’s no way she could ever live in a college apartment. Plus, she’s attached to my family, and they’re attached to her.

Eventually, I decided on a beagle. I was already very familiar with the breed, and due to its friendly, devoted nature and small size, I thought it’d be a perfect fit. I searched for reputable breeders near my hometown so I could get the puppy shortly after I moved home for summer break.

After many hurdles and a lot of frustration, I finally found a great breeder who was about two hours from me. My best friend and I made the trip and picked up my new puppy.

I spent my entire summer training Trixie and preparing her for the move to Oxford. We’d spend at least an hour a day working on commands and basic obedience.

We’ve been in Oxford since August; it’s been a major adjustment for Trixie, but she’s made so much progress and continues to do so every day. Having her here with me has seriously helped my mental health — but if you want a dog with you on campus, you have to put in the work.

Whenever I take Trixie on a walk I almost always hear a passerby say to their friends, “I want a dog so bad.”

I get it. Dogs are the best, and most of those comments are simply wishful thinking. But to those who actually are considering getting an ESA: let me tell you what it’s like.

Obviously, having a dog is fun. You have a friend all the time, get dog snuggles, etc. But it’s also a major responsibility that not all college students can commit to.

First, you have to make sure you’re able to provide for the dog. Can you afford to feed it? What about poop bags, treats, collars, harnesses and other necessities? What about potential trips to the vet?

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You can’t make frivolous spending decisions when you have a responsibility like a dog. Its needs come before your own. So that means you can no longer casually shop online, constantly buy takeout or make weekly visits to Brick Street Bar.

Speaking of Brick, you’ll be going out a lot less. You’ll have another living thing to tend to — leaving it alone all the time isn’t fair, especially since you’ll be attending classes during the week. You may no longer be able to join in on spontaneous plans with friends or stay out late.

Also, are you willing to provide your dog with exercise and mental stimulation? Because your dog will be residing in a small area like a dorm or apartment, exercise is a must. I take Trixie on two or three long walks a day.

Depending on the breed, dogs need various levels of stimulation. Trixie is a beagle, a breed that was initially used to hunt, so she requires a considerable amount of stimulation. I provide this to her through sniff walks, teaching her new commands and play time both in and outdoors.

If you aren’t providing your dog with enough stimulation, it will get bored, which can result in destructive or depressed behavior. This means you’ll have to manage your time in order to provide your dog with the enrichment and attention it needs.

Finally, don’t forget about travel. If you’re an out-of-state student, will you be able to fly or drive with your dog? Is it small enough to ride in a pet carrier on a plane?

If you are seriously considering an ESA and feel like you can handle the responsibility that comes with a dog, don’t let these things scare you. It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it. Having Trixie at school has helped me more than I can describe.

It’s important to remember that your dog relies on you too. You’re its entire world. If you’re willing to put in the work and devotion, you’ll be rewarded with a loving companion and a healthy routine that will get you outside.

Chloe Southard is a junior english literature and journalism major with a minor in film studies from Elkland, Pennsylvania. She is the assistant entertainment editor at The Student and a music director and radio DJ at WMSR RedHawk Radio.