When it was announced that the University was going online for the rest of the Winter 2020 semester, I remember exactly where I was. I was laying on my stomach playing Apex Legends when my housemate, Maggie, practically busted down my door. Her eyes were wide as she pushed her phone out to show me the email. The only thing I could say back was:
I couldn’t believe what I was reading. The concept of the world temporarily shutting down was surreal to me. For the rest of the day, I aimlessly wandered around my room, dragging my feet along the blue carpet below me just to feel a little something. The next couple of days seemed to blur together, from my classes moving online to most of my friends leaving Ann Arbor to go back home. My friends that would relax in my room were now nowhere to be seen, and there was a notable emptiness.
There had been a buzz in my theatre department class group chat about our entire situation. People expressed their shared loneliness, fears of the world and a prospect that stuck out to me most: cat adoptions. My entire class was slowly but surely making plans to adopt cats.
I told myself I would never get a pet in college because it was irresponsible, but the timing just seemed right. To have a furry little friend that naps most of the time and plays with yarn seemed to be the perfect solution to pandemic-induced depression. I called my friend Sophia to confirm that we were on the same page.
“Should we… get a kitty for our house?”
“UH, FUCK YEAH. LET’S GET A LITTLE COVID KITTY!”
We didn’t get a Covid Kitty(™) immediately, but it stayed on my mind throughout the sweaty months of June and July. As the beginning of August rolled around, we made our way to the Humane Society of Huron Valley to pick out a furry little friend for us to raise. The one we found was a tiny grey and white kitten with the biggest green eyes I had ever seen.
“That one — like, of course that one,” my housemate and I exclaimed unanimously.
We proceeded to go through the paperwork while the lady at the front desk explained to us that the kitten was feral, meaning he was incredibly shy and unsocialized. I acknowledged this with a brief head nod and verbal grunt, but she was unsatisfied with my response.
“Are you sure you feel comfortable being able to take care of this cat?” she pressed. “How many students live in this house with you?”
The answer was seven: seven queer theatre students trying to keep both toilets from clogging in a World-War-II-era house. I understood why she was questioning me. I was a tired college student wearing elephant-print sweatpants and a ripped up ‘My Hero Academia’ t-shirt.
It was a big task to take care of an animal, but I knew that I was capable and responsible enough. I explained how I had worked with a couple animal shelters in the past and knew how to coexist with underdeveloped and ‘difficult’ animals. Our cat would be taken care of, we assured her.
After the extensive and slightly-tense dialogue between us and the inquisitive front desk lady, we were finally able to adopt our new little mister — we named him “Espurr” after the Pokemon. But the lady’s questioning did leave me feeling worried about the adoption experience. I was fearful that I was being selfish about adopting an animal, that Espurr would be better off back at the Humane Society.
I arrived home and was hit with this feeling of fear even harder. As soon as I let my new friend out of his carrier, Espurr bit my hand and hid, obviously not acclimated to human interaction. That first night I cried on the same blue carpet, petrified of the thought of a cat who didn’t like me at all. For the next month, he would hide under a huge blanket, hissing at any person who walked by. Sophia and I had to forcibly wrap him in a towel before petting him for twenty minute intervals in order to acclimate him to human touch. Through all of this he would yowl and cry, leaving me to wonder whether or not I was even helping him.
Espurr eventually came around to love me, but I became curious of the other experiences the lady at the front desk had had with college-aged adopters, and why exactly there were so many college students adopting a pet, specifically a cat, during this time of crisis.
A speedy Google search affirmed my suspicion that my roommate and I were not the only burnt-out but well-intentioned college students seeking a furry feline to keep them company mid-quarantine.
In a study published by the Frontiers in Veterinary Science, researchers determined that since 2019, the web searches for pet adoptions have highly increased: “the RSV (relative search value) ratio (2020/2019) for both dog and cat adoption increased by up to 250%.” I also found an NPR interview where Cornell University’s Elizabeth Berliner claims: “There’s some statistics that represent that 1 in 5 pet owning homes adopted a new pet during the pandemic. And so we do have concerns about what this adoption season will look like in 2021.”
Moreover, the effect of everyone being confined to quarantine has created a new ‘generation’ of pets: a group of pets who have spent most of their time inside with their humans. While this wave of new quarantine companions has provided much-needed comfort, some worry about how these recent adoptees will adapt to post-pandemic pet life.
Researchers state that: “There is a concern for separation anxiety and possible abandonment of these newly adopted pets when the owners leave their homes for work in the future.” This sudden change in routine results in either a miserable pet, a miserable owner, or both.
If this were the case, I wondered, were there an abundance of pets being returned after owners realized they were in over their heads? While exact rates of adoption returns vary from region to region, there did appear to be an overall increase in returns at the start of the pandemic. The Animal Care Centers of NYC “saw 1,393 animals brought to them last month (June 2021), more than twice the number of dogs and cats surrendered in February.” In the Dallas area, cats and their kittens were being left in bags on doorsteps in this same timeframe.
With this horrifying information in mind, I decided to ask people my own age, those of the infamous ‘College Student Who Bought Cat In Pandemic’ demographic, to see what their experiences were like, fiscally and emotionally, throughout the adoption and post-adoption processes. Had they, too, found themselves guilty of a rash and unsuccessful mid-pandemic pet adoption?
I scheduled an interview with University of Hartford senior Lily Quint, who had adopted her cat during June 2020 amid the pandemic. As soon as we entered the Zoom call, we immediately gushed about our respective feline pals. Quint’s cat was playing above their head while we spoke, making for a fitting framework for the interview. And Espurr was at the edge of my bed making little biscuits and staring out the window. I started off by asking why the pandemic had prompted her to adopt a cat as opposed to a dog or another animal.
“I very much see myself as a cat person, as someone who enjoys them, but also just like the vibe and the energy. Because I’m like a slightly more reserved person or like, slightly more introverted,” they said.
We soon began to share our mutual, pleasant experiences of reading a book or taking a nap with a feline friend who can sit in peaceful silence with you. As much as we loved our ‘Covid Kitties,’ we also agreed that adopting an animal at our age posed many difficulties.
“I was looking at a lot of them; they were private animal shelters and also like public animal shelters, but a lot of the emails and calls and inquiries that I sent in were denied because I was under 21. I was a college student, I lived in rented housing, I did not have a salaried career job,” Quint said.
It seemed there were precautions being taken in animal shelters to ensure that reckless college students did not irresponsibly adopt these poor kitties, accounting for those pet owners who weren’t wholly devoted to their cats as Quint and I were. I asked Quint if she had any other thoughts on the matter. They took a moment to think:
“I just think there’s a bit of a cat Renaissance happening,” they observed with a hearty laugh.
“But especially since, like, I feel like our generation… we are not right out of college getting a job, getting a house and getting married, which is something that you more associate with, like two kids and a dog kind of. We’re living more in apartments or rented housing moving city to city finding work. And it’s a little more of ‘cat energy.’”
I sat in bed after this interview and stared at the ceiling, soaking in what Quint said. The thought of a “cat renaissance” made me laugh out loud. It puzzled me, because at that point I had heard an equal amount of positive and negative experiences in regard to college students owning cats. I was googling and interviewing in order to find more answers, yet I felt as though I only had more questions.
Quint was probably right about our generation, Gen Z, being a “cat generation.” After all, we seem to have a lot in common with the introverted, furry creature with propensities for hissing at strangers and lounging around inside all day. My friends often joke that Espurr is the miniature version of me, especially when he is passed out on the couch taking up too much room. They’re probably right. My housemates will try to sit next to him and he will immediately swat at them before running away.
As I reflected, I realized I had forgotten to feed the ownerless, outdoor cat that waited patiently outside of our backdoor every afternoon for food. I ran downstairs, grabbing the container of food and opening my back door to a meowing, pawing cat. The kitty had bright green eyes and greasy fur, twinkling from the damp snow. I poured the food into the bowl, and they ate it immediately. Petting the creature from their head to their back in long strokes, I looked up at the sky with Quint’s words still on my mind.
I didn’t know whether or not the guilt from when I first adopted Espurr was still present, but I knew I was trying my best. I bought a cat because I was lonely in the pandemic, along with many other college students here at the University. Espurr was also probably lonely.
The kitty in front of me, I think, felt lonely too. I gave the cat a kiss on the head, and they darted under a car and out of my sight.
They might do well with a college student, I thought.
Statement Correspondent Drake George can be reached at email@example.com.