Dealing with the bias of ‘student’ on a pet adoption form

Bide Awhile Animal Shelter isn’t against students adopting animals, as long as they accept responsibility for the well-being of their new furry friends

King of the Bide Awhile castle. Photo: Angela Crozier

Over the years, students have gained a bad reputation for their role in the abandonment of animals. Maybe they decide they can’t take a pet to their next stop after graduation or they are simply too young for the responsibility.

Darrold Gould has been the executive director of Bide Awhile Animal Shelter for 26 years. He says he does not single out students as the cause of the problem of animal abandonment.

“The reality of it is poor pet owners,” Gould says.

The non-profit shelter saves hundreds of cats a year and is at capacity more often than not. There are rarely fewer than 100 abandoned cats under their care.

Gould doesn’t believe he needs to put students in the hot seat in an adoption application more than any other member of society. But he does make sure they are ready for the responsibility.

“What I ask students is the same I ask to anybody else,” says Gould. “I ask them if they’re staying in the city and what they are going to do in the summertime. Is the pet going back home with them? These are the questions we need to know and the students I’ve dealt with have had the answers for me.”

Gould says he is aware that society places some blame of Halifax’s animal abandonment problem on students and has been told more than once that he should stop allowing students to adopt. He says that he hears about a higher cat population in the city because students leave their animals behind, but doesn’t believe that adds to the problem as much as some may think.

“It’s never factored into my equation of whether I would adopt to someone,” says Gould.

Wide-eyed and waiting for a home. Photo: Angela Crozier

Gould’s office sits kitty-corner from a room full of wandering cats ready for their fur-ever home.

“Look at all those animals in there,” he says. “They’re not from students. They’re from people who got pets and decided they didn’t want to take care of them anymore.”

Courtney Zylstra, fund development office for Nova Scotia SPCA, says that they are similar to Bide Awhile in their adoption process, but they do not have a question specifically for students. She says they are looking for someone who is the best match for the animal rather than who the person is.

“Regardless of whether you’re a student or you’re young or old,” says. “It really just comes down to, do you have a place to live that will allow the animal and do you have the ability to care for the animal’s nutrition and medical needs.”

Vicktorea Brooks, 23, fostered a cat from the SPCA before she decided to formally adopt her.

“That was my idea,” says Brooks. “I wanted to see how having a pet would fit into my lifestyle before making the commitment and it worked out great. I recommend this process to my friends, especially those who are students, because it’s essentially a lifelong commitment.”

She says she does not feel she was treated differently because she is young.

“They were really good to me and provided me with everything needed to take care of her,” says Brooks. “They were very helpful.”

Gould cites several instances when animals have been abandoned in his shelter or left on the street for someone to bring in. He has adopted to people who have children and decided they couldn’t handle a pet anymore. He has adopted to people whose spouses were away and return to a jealous animal who had to be given back. He has received litters of kittens from feral cats who wander the city unspayed or unneutered. Just two weeks ago his shelter found a litter of three-week-old kittens left in a garbage can.

When he started at Bide Awhile, Gould would tell people that animals were for life. He says he now realizes that is unrealistic.

“Life has a lot of changes thrown at you,” says Gould. “What I tell them now is that this animal is your responsibility. The life of this animal is your responsibility.”

This doesn’t mean the shelter will let you take an animal home whenever you want. With their waiting period and pre-adoption form, no one can get an animal in one day. This deters those who may be applying for an animal for the wrong reasons.

He says they can only do their best at the shelter to find a person or family who will love and care for their animals. It is always possible that this person could be a student.

“Nobody is 100 per cent. You do the best you can and try to make sure.”

Stella has some serious cat-titude. Photo: Angela Crozier