- By Julie Sturgeon
- January 1st, 2008
When it comes to student recruitment, smaller colleges this
decade are finding it valuable to invite along the students’ four-legged,
web-footed, feathery, finned, and slithering friends, too.
Sure, the presence of dogs, cats, ducks, ferrets, birds, and
snakes isn’t traditional, but when Stephens
College president Dr. Wendy Libby came
to this Columbia, MO, campus in 2003, she managed to live
onsite with her husband and their black Lab, Abby, while waiting on the
finishing touches to her home. And what flies for the president can certainly
work for students, she reasoned.
“This way, they always have something they can feel comfortable
with when they are dealing with tough times from being away from home,” pointed
out Michael Robilotto, director of residence life at Eckerd College in St.
Petersburg, FL. Certainly it’s common to see folks romping with their pets on
Eckerd’s beach. At Stephens, the fashion design majors hosted a doggy fashion
show last fall using resident Fidos as models to show off the students’
But the warm and fuzzies don’t let university officials off
the leash when it comes to practicalities, of course. Pets need enough space to
exercise, they can be noisy, and some folks are allergic. A busy class schedule
means some students can’t take the best care of their animals. And there’s the
issue of waste. “People like to sit on the lawns, and it creates issues if you
have random doggie doo-doo lying around,” said Peter van der Have, assistant
vice president for plant operations at the University
of Utah in Salt Lake City. “I have two dogs and I
understand how that works.”
Those are just the obvious challenges. Scratch the surface
and you find that cats will escape to hunt research mice, and service dogs can
feel threatened by free-roaming canines. The physical damage can amount to real
dollars. “I have traveled on occasion with my dogs and stayed in hotels that
allowed them. First off, the room smells like a kennel, and secondly the
furniture was in some state of disrepair. My own dogs climbed into the box
mattress,” said van der Have.
“I obviously don’t know all 4,000+ universities and campuses
in the country, but I’ve dealt with several dozen in the last few years and I
can’t honestly say I’ve heard of one that is allowing animals,” he added.
True, the numbers are small, but count Western State College
of Colorado and State University of New York
at Canton (Ohio) among the pioneers, too.
Here’s how schools are tackling the various negatives.
How Much is That Doggie in the
Officials at Stephens
College started their pet
policy on a very small scale, designating just eight single rooms on the first
floor of Prunty Hall for the pilot. Right off the bat, they minimized noise
issues, since these units don’t have neighbors below listening to the
pitter-patter of restless feet.
“The allergy question we basically left up to the students
to know this is where animals will be present,” said Cendon. Single rooms also
eliminated the possibility of someone getting stuck living with someone else’s
pet. As for maintenance issues, “Our dorm rooms have hardwood floors, so that
is definitely in our favor,” she added.
Then came the list of rules: Pets must weigh less than 40
pounds. Waste is to be taken to specific dumpster sites for disposal; pets must
be exercised in designated areas and owners are responsible for poop-scooping
during these excursions. Finally, all pets must be registered with the
university (dogs and cats need a second set of paperwork with the city of Columbia), and the owner
must pay a $200 refundable deposit on the room.
“We rely on students to be responsible for many things,”
Cendon said. Take, for instance, noise. “We have a rule in place that your pet
cannot be a nuisance. However, we are not there 24 hours a day monitoring
what’s going on. So we trust that students will handle it themselves and speak
up if we need to look into it.” To date, Stephens College
hasn’t experienced any complaints.
Today, the program has grown from the original five students
who registered pets in 2004 to 60 in 2007. Stephens has added an entire
residence hall devoted to the program to accommodate interest, and teamed up
with a local shelter to allow students in the pet dorms to offer foster care
for those animals. “It’s just another pro. We give these animals the
opportunity to be in a home while at the same time allowing our students to
care for an animal that can stay at the shelter when they go home for the
holidays,” she said.
Thanks to the geography of this 50-year-old institution,
students have been sneaking their pets onto Eckerd College’s
campus for years. It was simply time to formalize the process, said Robilotto.
Like Stephens, Eckerd
puts a 40-lb. weight limit on dogs, but it goes a step farther and also
prohibits wolf breeds and pit bulls to reduce aggression possibilities. It also
limits pets to animals that are at least a year old and have been in the family
for more than 10 months — officials require vet records to prove the timeline.
The idea, of course, is to ensure students have a track record of taking care
of their fluffy friends, and as a bonus, the rule keeps puppies out of the
residence halls. “They don’t realize how much of a struggle it is to train a
puppy in the right manner,” he explained. “And to do that as a student trying
to attend classes — it’s very difficult. We want to make sure the pets are
getting enough care.”
Eckerd also distinguishes between animals — domestic animals like hamsters,
guinea pigs, fish, and snakes up to six ft. may live anywhere, and there are no
limits on how many students may bring with them. Pets, also known as cats,
dogs, rabbits, ducks, and ferrets, however, must live with their owners in one
of three designated areas that offer 16 rooms per house for this purpose. Here
it’s perfectly possible that cat and dog owners will be housed in the same
unit. Disputes, accusations, and complaints of any nature are handled through a
Pet Council form.
The campus judicial system also serves as a disciplinary
back up. “Say we have a student that is neglecting or abusing their pet. We can
send them through our judicial system for that, and the fines are very stiff,”
But for all the dire warnings, they, too, have had few
problems, he reports.
Cendon chalks it up in part to the fact that students’ youth
naturally makes them more tolerant of changing conditions. A barking dog? Turn
up the iPod. “And Stephens caters to students who are very creative, people
comfortable with controlled chaos,” she noted. “We have allowed our pet program
to grow because it hasn’t been chaos at all. It’s worked very well”.
Here is a sample of how Eckerd College
tackled divvying up responsibilities for pets on campus:
- Regardless of the circumstances, the pet
owner is ultimately responsible for the actions of the pet.
- All dogs and cats must wear their Eckerd College
identification tag and a current rabies vaccination tag at all times.
- All pets must live with their owners.
- Unless approved by the Pet Council, visiting
pets are not allowed to stay overnight on campus.
- All dogs and cats must be housebroken before
arriving on campus.
- Pets are not allowed inside academic and
administration buildings. All pets must be on a leash except between Dorm Drive and the
seawall, where the pet must be under vocal command. No pet is allowed beyond
the mailroom. Under no circumstances are pets allowed to run around outside
unsupervised. Pets are not permitted in residence hall bathrooms.
- Owners must clean up after their pets.
- Facilities staff may not enter a room to make
repairs or spray for bugs if a pet is inside. Pet owners should call Facilities
Management to make arrangements in this case.
- Abandonment, neglect, or mistreatment of any
pet by any member of Eckerd
College will not be
tolerated. After a warning, continued abuse will result in the pet being taken
away from the owner or measures taken to prevent contact with the person
responsible for the abuse. These actions will be subject to the discretion of
the Pet Council and possible referral to the Student Community Standards Board
(SCSB) for disciplinary action.
- No pet is allowed to become a nuisance to the
members of the Eckerd
College community. A
nuisance is defined as, but not limited to, excessive noise, physical harm to
humans or other animals, and destruction of property, or acts otherwise deemed
by the Pet Council.
- Owner negligence or mistreatment of a pet
will not be tolerated. The Pet Council may refer the case to the Student
Community Standards Board for disciplinary action.
- Pets attacking other animals or
humans will not be tolerated. The Pet Council may refer the case to the Student
Community Standards Board for disciplinary action.