The idea of homesickness is not foreign to college freshmen like myself. We are told from the beginning to be prepared to miss our families, friends, beds, and showers. There are some things I miss about home and it is true that the college environment takes some getting used to. However, when I talk to my friends about homesickness, I notice one common theme. My peers don’t talk about missing home-cooked meals or their childhood bedrooms—they miss their pets.
When I sit in the lounge around people cramming for tests, they are complaining about how they miss their dog/cat/bearded dragon and not about how they miss their parents. They vocalize how much they miss coming home to see their dogs instead of an empty dorm room, or how they wish they could smuggle their guinea pigs back to school with them. I even find myself thinking very similar thoughts when I am particularly stressed. So what does a pet provide that people cannot?
I went home this past weekend and got my answer in the form of three cats. Immediately upon my arrival, one furry body greeted me at the door and two others scampered by my feet, as if to welcome me home. I spent the night with one cat curled up by my side and woke up to a another one soaking up the fall sunshine in the window beside my bed. Over the next two days, I was consoled by soft fur, purring bellies and sandpaper tongues on my hands. They sat next to me as I studied in silent companionship, and followed me around the house as I went about my daily routine. As I packed up my things to go home on Sunday evening, I found myself thinking of how I would not experience any of these simple things over the next week. Before I had even left, I was feeling it— an aching in my chest that I can only describe as petsickness.
I believe that this unique form of homesickness deserves its own title because it is just that powerful. The entirety of the following week, I found myself looking at pictures of my cats longingly and wishing I had them with me. I missed little paws following me to the bathroom in the morning and having a furry head trying to poke its way into my cereal bowl. Somehow, I thought, having cats in my dorm would make my upcoming chemistry exam a little more bearable, or keep me sane during a very busy week.
I finally realized, after being apart from mine, that pets provide a specific form of comfort that humans fail to. All they ask is that we care for them, and they supply us with endless affection and amusement. They don’t complain, judge us, argue with us, or stress us out (not on purpose, anyway). Instead, our pets readily shower us with immense amounts of love, and often we take it for granted until we no longer have access to it. Of course, I am able to get through my weeks without whiskers in my face or soft purring lulling me to sleep. Sometimes, though, the absence of my pets is hard to ignore, more so than any other aspect of “home,” and it can help to put a name to the condition.