Culture //

The nine lives of international pets

The difficulties of International students who own a pet in a foreign country

photo by: Carrie Wen; Lei Yao; Olivia Wang; Carrie Su

I own the most adorable one-year-old cat named Cassie. She’s the warm, trusting, and easygoing angel in my life. She’s always there for me no matter how frustrating my day has been and through whatever stressful situation I’ve put myself through. She can magically heal me, calm me merely by licking my finger and looking into my eyes. After having been through many difficult experiences and countless dark days together, she is more than just a pet to me.

Owning a pet to keep you company is an easily achievable choice for many. These furry friends bring countless joy into your life. They improve your own mental wellbeing, ease feelings of loneliness, and improve your chance of meeting new friends.

For international students living away from home for the first time, owning a pet can be a crucial source of support. In Australia, many international students own cats and dogs to ward off feelings of loneliness and  to lower their stress levels.

However, the decision for an international student to purchase a pet can be a controversial one. Most international students leave the country after years of studying in Australia. When they go back home, their pets often remain here. It is an international student’s responsibility to ensure that this pet is rehomed. In some cases, particularly in the rush to return to their home countries, an international student’s pet is left abandoned.

The process of bringing in a pet outside of Australia is expensive and exhausting.  People are required to meet requirements of pet export regulations in Australia and pet import regulations in their own country at the same time. Different countries have different regulations, which also seem to change very often and can differ by point of entry. For instance, if people wish to bring pets into China, the pets need a rabies vaccination, a microchip, blood test, and a rabies titer test to meet the requirements. The huge amount of paperwork includes health certificates, China pet passports and more. People who apply will have to pay all of the fees themselves and prepare all the documents over the course of a few months. Moreover, bigger dogs and 41 specific breeds that are deemed violent are banned from China.

The RSPCA, an animal welfare organisation, refuses to allow international students to adopt pets because they do not believe that international students can “provide for the needs of the animal during their lifetime.” This guideline partially stems from widespread public incidents like one in 2016, when footage of a stray dog, later confirmed to have been abandoned by a Chinese international student, went viral. In that same year, many Australians demanded a ban preventing foreign students and others with temporary visas from owning pets.

This story is an isolated incident, however. Most students willing to adopt pets ensure that they are rehomed or are attempting to have them flown to their home country when they leave.

Olivia Wang, a third year arts student at Usyd, owns a one-year-old Japanese Spitz named Milky. She enjoys Milky’s company and treats her like a member of her own family. Milky has provided Olivia with the support and comfort sought by many international students. “I’ll try everything to bring her back to China, we are inseparable,” she said.

Iris Yao, another pet owner, is a second year arts student. She has a ten-month-old Blue British Shorthair named Inno. She rehomed Inno two weeks ago to a lovely local couple. “As an international student, my life is changing constantly. My future is still undecided. I am busy with study, work and building networks while I am here,” she said. “I gave Inno to other people. It was a tough choice to make but I believe they can give Inno a better life.” Fortunately, Iris has a good relationship with the family looking after Inno, and frequently visits them. Yao says she treated Inno as a “son” rather than just a cute animal. “Inno is a symbolic sentimental object for me to maintain a good state of mind, and meanwhile relieve myself of feelings of loneliness.”

Due to the unavailability of pet adoption services for international students in Australia, and a steadily increasing demand for these pets, access to pet purchasing services are very limited and the price of purchasing a pet is incredibly high. Both Iris  and Olivia spent more than 2000 dollars on purchasing their pet.

Wang told Honi that she has spent thousands of dollars on Milky since purchasing her last year.

“She vomited a lot for no reason, I brought her more than ten times to the veterinary clinic but they still couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her.” She didn’t believe there was anything wrong with the online pet shop where she brought Milky.

“We don’t really have much information about local pet shops and we aren’t allowed to adopt one. So, we normally purchase pets from online pet shops that we find through WeChat. But the price of these online pet shops are very expensive and many of them sell ill animals,” Wang said.

Although International students often face doubt from the Australian community on whether they have the time and energy to take care of their pets, the love and care they provide to them cannot be denied.

As for me, Cassie is a beam of light and she will always make me happy no matter what  happens. She is home to me when I am far away from my own home. Most other international students who own a pet in a foreign country feel the same way as me. I believe international students will do everything they can to give their pet a new home before they leave, as they understand those same hard feelings of being alone.