College pet ownership, adoption up for debate

Zoro, a 7-month-old American kitten, will fly to his new home in Beijing next year when international student Xinger Yang, senior in FAA, graduates. The black and white feline will require a passport, plane ticket and two-month quarantine before he’ll reach Yang’s family home.

“It will be pretty hard to take Zoro back,” said Yang, while strolling through the pet food aisle at the County Market on E. Stoughton. “I made a commitment when I adopted him, though, and I love him and want to take him home.”

The Champaign County Humane Society, 1911 E. Main in Urbana, has had a problem with international students doing just the opposite of Yang — surrendering animals they adopted in the U.S. when it comes time to leave the country. In fact, the shelter recently decided to ban all non-U.S. residents from adopting pets.

“We’re looking for permanent homes for these animals, and it isn’t fair for them to be brought back here in one to four years,” said Michelle McKnight, shelter manager. “It was happening so often with students on visas that we had to do something about it.”

McKnight said she does not know the exact number of animals surrendered by international students, but is confident it was a much higher number than those surrendered by U.S. students.

Yang believes the new ban is discriminatory.

“Most of the international students I know are very responsible,” she said, clearly shocked by news of the ban. “They don’t get animals and then give them away.”

Marcial Guevara, a postdoctoral research and teaching associate in the Department of Animal Sciences, agrees with Yang that the ban is unfair.

Guevara is originally from Barquisimeto, Venezuela, and came to the University in 2006 to earn his M.S. and PhD in animal sciences. While on a temporary study visa, he rescued a parrot and cat. The two animals have become part of his family, which also includes his wife and three sons. He wouldn’t dream of giving them up.

“Can you imagine me not being able to adopt a pet here?” he said, after explaining how he has yet to establish U.S. residency after living here for nearly six years. “This new rule is excluding a lot of good adopters.”

Guevara thinks adoption at the Humane Society should be based on other factors.

According to McKnight, the Humane Society runs a background check on each adopter. Besides being a permanent U.S. resident, all must be at least 21 years old and have no past charges of assault or battery.

McKnight does not recommend students, whether international or not, adopt pets. The 33-year-old explains how she adopted two cats when she was in college and had to give them up soon after.

“I was young and not ready for the responsibility,” she said. “I was moving and just couldn’t deal with them.”

Yang and Guevara agree adopting a pet is a pricey long-term commitment not right for every student.

“I’m an animal lover, so it’s going to sound weird what I’m going to say,” Guevara said, “but I wouldn’t recommend an international student or any student adopt a pet because it is so time consuming.”

Diamond Shaw, senior in Nursing, concurs.

Shaw isn’t an international student, but she does own a two-year-old beagle named Reese.

This past August, Shaw tearfully took Reese to the Humane Society after realizing she hadn’t thought through her initial decision to adopt. She was just too busy with school, two part-time jobs and her boyfriend to give Reese the proper amount of attention.

“It was really hard,” she said, “but he was still young and I was sure a nice family would adopt him.”

When Shaw dropped Reese off at the shelter, pet-shoppers were already checking the pup out. Shaw thought she had finally made the right decision. When she called back three days later to check on him, however, she was told Reese wasn’t adjusting well and was being aggressive. He was on the list to be euthanized.

“I was like, ‘What? After just three days?’” she said. “I went right back and picked him up.”

Shaw loves Reese but says he’s as difficult to take care of as a child. He makes it hard to go places, costs money and just adds stress in general.

Still, Shaw thinks adopting an animal should be the adopter’s decision. She believes the Humane Society should not be stereotyping large groups such as international students and predetermining what type of pet parent they’ll make. After all, as a U.S. citizen, she almost gave up a dog.

Yang acknowledges her situation with Zoro isn’t ideal. She’s a bit nervous to take him to China with her.

She’s concerned the flight will scare him and the quarantine will depress him.

“He has been a good companion to me, so I must be good to him,” she said, explaining how many international students adopt pets in the U.S. because they are lonely so far away from home. “Zoro will be happy when he gets to my house.”