Bulldog on college campus
When you thought about your kids leaving home to go to college or to set up their own households, you probably felt a little pang. But did it ever occur to you that they might take Max the dog or Maggie the cat along with them? Suddenly, you’re losing a child and a pet!

It’s not uncommon for young people to want to have a little bit of home with them as they start their new lives, and oftentimes this takes the shape of the family pet. My daughter Mikkel took her Pugs Bruce and Willy when she began living on her own, and I have to admit, the old homestead was quite a bit emptier without their Pugnificent presence.

Whether you’d fight your kids over canine or feline custody or rejoice in an even emptier nest, I have a few tips to share to help smooth the move — for everyone.

Make Your Pet’s New Home a Safe and Happy Place

There’s a lot more to leaving home with a pet than just loading the crate in the car and driving away. A different place may mean different pests, for starters. For instance, fleas can be relatively uncommon in northern Idaho, where I live, but Mikkel was considering college in Seattle and Portland, where fleas thrive in the cool, moist environment. A veterinarian familiar with the area can advise you about the best preventives for your pet in his new home.

Speaking of veterinarians, does your son or daughter have one lined up? Even if your child will be visiting home frequently with the pet, she still needs to have a relationship with a nearby veterinarian for regular care and potential emergencies. The new local vet should also be familiar with any health problems the pet has and be able to consistently administer any medication needed. Help your child bone up beforehand on local pet service providers, so she’ll have a good groomer, boarding kennel, pet supply store or dog walker when she needs one.

While you’re researching vets, update the pet’s ID tag and microchip with accurate contact information, in case the pet wanders off in his new environment. The tag should have at least a couple of phone numbers — your child’s and yours — and the microchip should be registered with current address information for both yourself and your son or daughter, so that anyone who finds the pet has an easy way to get him back home. Everyone on your block might know your dog or cat by sight, but on a college campus or in a new city, everyone is initially a stranger. Proper identification can save your pet’s life if he gets lost near his new home.

Finally, work with your child to make your pet feel at home. In strange digs, with a different schedule and unfamiliar people surrounding him, it’s entirely likely that a pet could develop separation anxiety, accompanied by nuisance barking or destructive behavior. To preempt problems, remind your child to keep his life as similar as possible to his former situation. Schedule meals and walks at the same time every day. Students or young adults who are just starting out need to commit to being home at specific times for their pet, rather than going out with friends.

Help Your Child Take Responsibility for the Pet

If your kid is in college, he has a lot on his plate, but having the family dog or cat with him entails even more responsibility — specifically, financial responsibility. Decide in advance who will cover the cost of veterinary bills, food and other care. Are you able to call in with a credit card number for emergencies, while your child covers normal expenses from a job or savings? Or are you willing to subsidize all of the pet’s care so that your child can focus on school? Decide who pays for what before your child leaves home, so that you can be sure the pet’s needs are always met.

My daughter Mikkel has a good take on this; she has not only been through it herself, but as a dog trainer, she counsels people facing similar situations. “Many times the family ends up with the pet again because the demands of a job, school or friendships made it difficult for the younger person to care for the animal," she told me. "But, if the parents can find ways to help their child out financially with some of the costs for training, doggy daycare, boarding or veterinary visits — or even just help them budget and plan accordingly — the success rate is much higher.”

Once you send your child and your pet on their way, remember that they’re not gone forever. Thanks to all of the great technology we have these days, you can ease the pangs of loss and share giggles and grins with your human and furry children after they’ve flown the nest. Ask your child to email photos and stories or post them on Facebook. Make a regular date to FaceTime or Skype. Because even if we don’t say it too loudly, we parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters miss the dogs and cats as much as we do the kids — maybe even a little more.

It’s an emotional thing to wave goodbye to your child and your pet at the same time. I still choke up just thinking about it. But, with a little planning, this can be a great adventure for your child and your pet.

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