How many times have you thought about running up to pet a dog on campus but stopped yourself because … COVID-19? How about FaceTiming — have you relentlessly yelled your cat’s name over the phone only for her to give the camera a dirty look and walk away? Relatable.
College students always miss their pets, but this year in particular, in-person Tufts students seem to be craving animal interaction. Even students whose families live near Tufts cannot go home and visit their pets as frequently as they may have in previous years because going home for the weekend breaks COVID-19 safety protocols.
Among these local students is Lizzie Goldstein, a sophomore from the Framingham, Mass., area who is currently living on campus.
“Last year, I was able to go home a few times to see [my cat], and I would have already been home like three times by now,” Goldstein said. “But I haven’t been able to go home at all, and especially since I can’t go home for Thanksgiving, I’m really sad that I won’t be able to see her until Christmas break.”
Making matters worse, Animal Aid — a club at Tufts that pairs student volunteers with local dogs to walk once a week — is not operating at its normal capacity. Jason Getzler, a senior and co-coordinator of Animal Aid, described how the club made the decision to not take part in dog walking this semester.
“At the beginning of the semester, we were working with [the Office of Campus Life] and [the Leonard Carmichael Society] to see if it would be possible to run,” Getzler said. “While it might have been possible under very, very strict circumstances, we just deemed, for the safety of our community and for the walkers, that it would just be best to forgo walking this semester.”
Getzler expressed how the inability to walk a dog weekly has impacted him during this unusual semester.
“Animal Aid has always been a distraction and a relaxing thing,” Getzler said. “Not to be able to do that this year when, arguably, I need more distraction and more relaxation — it’s super frustrating because it feels like it’s something that’s missing, something that I can’t use as kind of a method to tune out everything for a minute between the election [and COVID-19.]”
Goldstein also used to walk dogs for Animal Aid, and she expressed a similar sentiment about the club not running normally this semester.
“I really liked interacting with the dogs and having something to look forward to,” Goldstein said. “It also helped me have more structure in my day, which is not something that I really have now with online classes”
Despite the melancholy surrounding the lack of animal interaction, students have been finding creative ways to get their animal fix. Animal Aid, for one, has been sending weekly emails with cute photos and descriptions of dogs. The emails feature dogs from Somerville and Medford which Animal Aid volunteers used to walk, as well as club members’ dogs from home.
“We got an email just the other day saying, ‘Hi, can you add me to the Dog of the Week e-list?’ It must mean that people are talking about it, which I think really just shows that it maybe brings a smile, even if it’s just a quick, fleeting smile, something to distract them for a minute,” Getzler said.
The club also held a virtual “Halloween Pet Pageant.” Students and community members joined the Zoom call to showcase their pets, many of which were decked out in Halloween costumes.
“We had dogs, cats and guinea pigs. Costumes ranging from Baby Yoda to unicorns to a spider corgi. Just really cute, really fun, and smiles all around,” Getzler said.
Deciding virtual animal interaction wasn’t enough, one group of seniors living off campus decided to foster cats this year. Lucy Fan and her six housemates have fostered a total of four cats since August, but not all at the same time. They are fostering through the Medford-based nonprofit organization, Kitty Connection.
“Having cats is kind of fun because all my classes are online this semester, so I’m at home all the time anyway, so just hanging out with the cat while I’m in class is kind of cool,” Fan said.
Fan said the length of time any one cat stays with them is variable.
“So far, it’s been super random. I think especially right now though, adoptions are in really high demand,” Fan said. “For example, the first cat we got, Tiger Shark — he was 13. I thought he was going to stay with us for at least like a month or something … But he got adopted in like three days.”
Currently, Fan and her housemates have one cat named Alice. They previously fostered Alice’s two kittens. Earlier in the semester, all three cats became ill. Fan explained that she was not personally responsible for veterinarian bills. Instead, she just had to take the cats to a specific veterinarian with which Kitty Connection has an arrangement.
Fan said she would recommend fostering cats to other off-campus students, provided their landlord approves it. However, Fan did warn that people considering fostering have to be sure they won’t become too attached to their foster pets.
“I feel like some people could get really attached to the cat, but one thing that the foster organization specifically said, they were like, ‘You can’t adopt a cat that you’re fostering’ because then if you do, you can’t foster more … which is what they don’t want,” Fan said.
Goldstein also has a pet at Tufts this semester, except hers is a guinea pig named Persephone who resides in Goldstein’s on-campus dorm. Such an arrangement is allowed by the university because Persephone is a certified emotional support animal.
“[Persephone] helps me feel emotionally supported because it’s really lonely in the pandemic overall, and not being able to interact with animals has been really tough, so having the guinea pig has really helped me feel better about that,” Goldstein said.
Goldstein said that although having Persephone on campus this semester has been a beneficial experience, the process of getting the guinea pig approved to live in her dorm was exhaustive and involved a large amount of paperwork and waiting.
“A lot of people could benefit [from having a therapy animal] and I think that Tufts makes it very difficult,” Goldstein said. “They should make it a lot [easier], especially since people who need to get a therapy pet don’t always have the time or energy to fill out a lot of forms and go through a long process.”
Not everyone is in a position where they can have pets of their own at Tufts like Goldstein and Fan, but that does not mean there aren’t ways for them to interact with animals this semester. Goldstein and Getzler suggest asking people who are walking dogs on campus if they are comfortable with their dogs being pet, but recommend being mentally prepared for them to say no if they feel doing so is unsafe.
Getzler also said that, at least for him, cute animals videos can help as well.
“Honestly, for me, watching cute animals — it’s not the same as petting a dog, absolutely don’t get me wrong for a second — but just to bring a smile to your face, that has been something that helps me get through it,” Getzler said.
Tufts students are hopeful that next semester will bring more opportunities for animal interaction, but that remains uncertain. Animal Aid, specifically, is doing what it can to plan for next semester.
“We’re in communication with [the Office of Campus Life] and [the Leonard Carmichael Society], but at the moment, we can’t make any decision before plans have been approved by a medical team to make sure there’s limited risk transmission … so lots of steps, but we’re trying,” Getzler said.