Animal House

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’ talents.

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 Window?

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.


Family Affair

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,” Robilotto said.

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”.

Rules of Conduct

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.