If you are an animal lover, then chances are you may feel a bit animal deprived when you are studying at university. Landlord rules, university hall guidelines and hectic schedules mean that we struggle to spend time in the company of animals. However, St Andrews is full of animals of all shapes and sizes and there are many ways that you can get some quality time with animals in the Bubble.
You do not need to go far to see animals in St Andrews. A short walk along Market Street and you will see dogs of every breed and the odd cat tentatively making their way across the street. East Sands is a very popular location with dog walkers and you could easily spend hours sitting with a cup of coffee and a cheese toastie watching all of the dogs enjoy their walks along the beach. However, St Andrews is also home to lots of smaller animals. A short trip to the Lade Braes will give you a chance to feed some ducks, spot some squirrels and, if you are lucky, catch sight of a heron fishing for its dinner.
If you are willing to travel a bit further afield than St Andrews, you could go puffin watching on the Isle of May. You can join a boat trip to the Isle of May from Anstruther and, in the summer, you will most likely see puffins enjoying their summer. Puffins are a small species of seabird which are well-known for their colourful beaks, but they are rare to spot in many parts of the country, so you should take advantage of being so close to the Isle of May where they are often found nesting.
No matter where you are in the world, you can even see the cats and dogs of St Andrews from the comfort of your own home. The “Dogs of St Andrews” Instagram page has over 300 posts of dogs from around the town with a brief note of what the dog’s personality was like and what their name is. The page always brightened my day during those dark lockdown winter days when trips outside of my flat were rare and the chance to see some smiling dogs was most welcome.
If you are keen to get involved with The Dogs of St Andrews Instagram page, they are “completely open to submissions to go up on our IG story! We just need a shot of the dog (in St Andrews), and the Instagram handle of the person submitting so that we can give them credit!” If you want to get more involved, however, the page takes on team members yearly, so keep your eyes peeled for information in September about this.
If you are more of a cat person, then there is the St Catdrews page on Facebook. The page is a space not only for people to share images of cats they have encountered in town but also for them to voice their concerns for any cats they are concerned about, meaning that there is an entire community looking out for our feline friends. Cats around town can be extremely friendly and many will quite literally try to follow you into your home if they think that there is a chance of being fed. If your accommodation allows pets, then a cat can be the ideal student companion as they do not require as much exercise as dogs but can be great company. Obviously, in these cases you cannot get up close and personal with these animals (although many dog parents will happily let you pet their dog if you ask nicely), so how can you get more involved with animals during your time as a student?
Firstly, you could look into joining the Dog Walking Society. The society organises mass dog walks for students to participate in twice a week. Not only does this give you a chance to get up close to some lovely dogs but gives you the chance to get outside and socialise with others – something that would benefit many of us with deadlines and exams fast approaching. Dog walking is also something that you could consider doing as a part-time job whilst you are studying at university; however, you should make sure that you have adequate insurance in place to make sure you are protected in case of any accidents or emergencies. But there are plenty of dogs in St Andrews that are bound to appreciate some extra walks during the week.
You could also look into volunteering for local cat and dog shelters. Unfortunately, animal shelters need our help now more than ever. During lockdown, pet sales boomed with people buying puppies to keep them busy whilst they were not working. When lockdown was lifted, many people realised that a pet just was not compatible with their lifestyle. DogsTrust have estimated that up to 40,000 dogs could be abandoned across the UK as a result of Covid-19. As a result, animal shelters are at breaking point and are struggling to take in all of the animals that require their assistance. You could look into volunteering for a few hours each week with these shelters. You will not only be helping a valuable cause but also getting a chance to spend time with a range of cats and dogs, helping an animal regain their confidence and making them feel valued and loved. Sadly, many animals that are abandoned suffer emotionally afterwards, and anyone who has ever rescued a dog or cat will know how much work it takes to rebuild that animal’s trust in humans, so helping an animal in its time of need can be one of the best uses of your time as an animal lover.
Getting more animals with animals can be extremely beneficial to students, particularly for their mental health. Cats and dogs are great at reducing stress in humans and making us feel more relaxed in stressful situations. Playing with an animal can increase your levels of serotonin and dopamine, helping you to relax and they can ease feelings of loneliness and anxiety. If you cannot have a pet due to circumstances, then making the effort to go for a dog walk, or spend some time at the duck ponds up at David Russell Apartments, can be a good break away from studying and give you the chance to relax.
If you do not have the time to commit to walking a dog, you can still encourage animals to come near you if you have a garden. If you want to encourage birds and squirrels to come to your garden, you should buy some nuts and seeds to feed them. You can also encourage hedgehogs into your garden by making them a small den to sleep in during the cold winter evenings, and by leaving them out meat-based cat or dog food. Just being able to witness nature taking place outside of your window can bring a little bit of joy to your day and, if the same animals keep reappearing in your garden, you will begin to learn about them and their individual habits.
If you have not already, you should make a trip down to the local aquarium. The aquarium in town is host to a vast range of sea life and even has meerkats and reptiles, too. You could even book a space on their feeding experiences where you can feed the meerkats or penguins. If you do not agree with the concept of aquariums and zoos, you should head along to the Fife Coastal Path. Along this walk you can see a range of seabirds and marine life, as well as the occasional rabbit or vole.
Many of us have grown up surrounded by animals and, when we leave for university, they can leave a big hole in our hearts. So, if you left a pet behind back at home, it may help to keep photographs of your beloved pet around your room and to say hi to them on camera when you FaceTime or Skype your family. But until you can be with them again, you should take advantage of all of the amazing animals that St Andrews has to offer and spend some time with them before you graduate.
Illustration: Marios Diakourtis