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December 6, 2011 12:01 am

Pets on Campus: Why Not Here? Why Not Now?

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Have you ever wished that you could just go back to your room to forget all your worries and relax for a little while?  Now imagine this, you get back from class – tired maybe stressed – you go back to your room and there is someone waiting for you.  Someone who is always happy to see you, who can’t wait to just be with you.  They rely on you, you take care of them, and they love you unconditionally for it.  If you think that I’m not talking about a person, then you would be absolutely correct.  I’m talking about man’s best friend, dog.

Pet friendly housing should most certainly be an option at a school such as St. Mary’s College of Maryland.  Given our geographic location, with open space in every direction, a dog park could be a simple addition to campus.  One or two of the residence halls could easily be set aside as pet friendly, no additional buildings would be necessary.  Having a pet in college provides many benefits while having few to no negative consequences.  Most of the aspects of pet ownership that would normally be considered negative would, in the case of college students, be lessons in responsibility.

It is often said that College is a place where young adults undergo a period of maturation.  How better to mature than to care for another living being.  A pet is completely dependant on its owner, teaching responsibility, time management, and sacrifice.  Being a pet owner in college would force a student to take complete responsibility for the pet’s wellbeing, meaning feeding, grooming, and health care, among other things.

The student would have to make time to go back to their room to feed their pet, take it out, and play with it.  This is where time management would come into play, with the student needing to manage their schedule to allow them the time to properly take care of their pet.  For the sake of the pet, the student may need to sacrifice time otherwise spent socializing.  Some students would find this to be too taxing for their limited amount of time already spent studying or socializing, and those students would be the ones to forgo the option of living with a pet.

There are quite a few colleges and universities that have pet friendly housing options, and each seems to be very successful.  Eckerd College offers four pet-friendly, air-conditioned dorm “clusters.” Students are allowed to have cats and dogs, as long as they are under 40 pounds, as well as snakes and fish. Students must comply with requirements and can’t leave pets on campus during breaks.

Asides from being a private institution, Eckerd College is very similar to our own college.  It has a little less than two thousand students, and is located on the waterfront with plenty of open areas.  Sound like a school you’ve heard of?  I thought so.  Another similar college to ours with a pet friendly housing policy is Washington and Jefferson College, in Washington, Pennsylvania.  This liberal arts school in the suburbs of Pittsburgh allows students to bring their pets along to school and live in the “Pet House” dorm. There are some breed restrictions, but Washington & Jefferson College permits cats, dogs less than 40 pounds, small birds, hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, turtles and fish. Other animals may be permitted on a case-by-case basis. Pets must be spayed or neutered, and have been owned by the students’ family for at least a year and registered.

As you can see, the infrastructure already exists at other colleges, and there are many others that have pet friendly housing options as well.  There is no need for our college to reinvent the wheel, when a simple change in college policy is almost all it would take.  Yes some students might be allergic to pets of one kind or another, but they wouldn’t have to be housed in the pet friendly dorms.  This kind of housing would be a volunteer opportunity, for those who want to be able to continue to live with a pet, much like SAFE (Substance and Alcohol-Free Environment), Eco (for environmental studies students) and Women in Science houses.

Some students get to college and have trouble making friends and meeting new people.  Pets help to combat loneliness and have been shown to increase their owners’ chances of meeting other people. A study in Hyde Park in London, showed that when accompanied by their dogs, pet owners spoke to more people and had longer conversations than when they walked alone.

The opportunity for such a mutually beneficial relationship, one that could easily be provided by the college, just needs a push from us, the students.  If you feel similarly, write a letter to the Office of Residence Life, or even try talking them in person.  Join me in my fight for pet friendly housing here on campus!

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