UT students adopt 4-legged friends to keep them company, improve mental health

Morgan-Taylor Thomas

Even when the world feels upside down, some students can count on their four-legged friends to make them feel better.

Sustainability studies junior Vincent Dominguez said his 4-month-old kitten Mitski started out as a foster cat, but when someone else wanted to adopt her only three days later, he couldn’t let her go. He immediately started the adoption process and finalized it Tuesday.

“I feel like she’s my biggest fan because wherever I go in the apartment, she just follows me,” Dominguez said. 

Some students who made the choice to adopt pets during quarantine said their pets have become their support system, workout buddies and best friends. 

Dominguez said he adopted Mitski from Austin Pets Alive!. Mistki has tested positive for the feline leukemia virus, which weakens cats’ immune systems and shortens their lifespans, according to the Austin Pets Alive! website. 

With a new kitten, Dominguez said he wouldn’t want to leave for more than three to four hours at a time. He said because he doesn’t have to attend in-person classes every day, he has plenty of time to spend with Mitski.

“She’s a motivator to just wake up in the morning and get the day started,” Dominguez said. “It’s also good to take care of an animal and also (for) her (to) just kind of take care of me.”

Advertising graduate student Andrea Lloyd said she met Titan, a boxer blue heeler mix, after dogsitting for a friend. When her friend said they couldn’t keep Titan in their small apartment anymore, Lloyd said she was more than happy to take care of him. 

“He really flourished in my apartment, and I ended up loving him even more,” Lloyd said. “I wanted to keep him because I’d grown very attached to him, but also, he had grown very attached to me.”

Lloyd said some of her favorite things to do with Titan are riding in the car, running, going on walks and baking dog treats. 

Lloyd said Titan has also become a companion for her while she deals with mental health difficulties and depression.

“There's times where Titan will hide under the bed. I'm like, ‘Hey, you OK? Just checking in on you,’” Lloyd said. “And other times where I'm just laying on the bed kind of spacing out … he'll come and lick my face like, ‘Hey, I'm just checking. Are you doing OK?’”

Aerospace engineering senior Nic Saenz said his 8-month-old chihuahua Ely, who’s named after his grandmother, has also helped him mentally this semester.

“She’s been a great companion for getting sleep or even just to take a walk,” Saenz said. “When she just sits on my lap and takes a nap, that just brings my stress levels way down.”

Saenz said Ely was born the runt of her litter on Valentine’s Day in his grandmother’s backyard. He said when he saw the pictures of Ely’s tiny body, he immediately fell in love. 

“She could fit in one hand, and that’s what suckered me in,” Saenz said. “Since she’s so small, I just take her to a park … and she starts doing that prancing, bouncing around thing, and it’s great. She’s so cute and has taught me about commitment on a different level.