A Student's Quest for Small Mammals on Campus

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    A couple of weeks ago, I was extremely bored on a Saturday night. I had been mulling over the idea for a while of proposing to change the school’s policy on pets to include small mammals, but I had been too busy and/or lazy to actually do anything about it. That night, I walked around Caroline Hall with a legal pad and an idea, and I wound up getting over 50 signatures in favor of changing the policy, with only two refusals due to personal preference.

    Since then, I have met with Director of Residence Life and Associate Dean of Students Joanne Goldwater, President Urgo, Dean of Students Bert Ifill, and several members of the SGA to discuss my ideas. I think that this is an important issue that, if implemented with restrictions and regulations to protect individuals with allergies and fears, is entirely reasonable and doable in time for the 2014-2015 school year.

    So far, the SGA has passed legislation to allow discussion and consideration for this issue, and I am in the process of drafting a specific proposal to be presented before the SGA. I have been circulating the original draft of my proposal around administration, and have been editing it according to their concerns.

    There has been some confusion when I show my proposal, so allow me to define small mammals. My list of “approved” animals is growing and I am absolutely willing to speak with someone who wants to add or remove an animal to/from the list, but so far it has the broad definition of any animal that can be left alone in a (maximum) 3 cubic foot cage for long periods of time and still have a high quality of life. This can include gerbils, hamsters, hedgehogs, ferrets, rabbits, guinea pigs, etc. but unfortunately means that dogs and cats are not included in my proposal.

    Dogs and cats require too much space and attention, and create the additional problems of safety (dogs and cats can cause severe pain with bites and scratches) and noise. I came to the 3 cubic foot rule because of the current rules, which allow non-carnivorous fish and non-venomous reptiles as long as they can be kept in a 20 gallon tank or smaller. 20 gallons is the equivalent of 2.67 cubic feet, which I have rounded to 3 feet because pet stores will not take you seriously if you get that specific, and also my OCD.

    I need to stress that safety of St. Mary’s students is my (and administration’s) number one concern. Many students have severe allergies to animal fur and dander. Even if a student with a hypoallergenic pet were to keep their room extremely clean and ensure that the animal does not come into direct contact with individuals with allergies, the issue of central air comes into play.

    Most rooms on campus with air conditioning use central air, which means that animal dander (which is present even in hypoallergenic animals) can spread from one room or suite to another through the air conditioning units. Not to mention that dander is still present in rooms that no longer have pets up to a year after the pet is removed, even if the room is vigorously cleaned and aired out. To ensure the students’ safety, my proposal designates one or two sections of WC and the Greens as “pet friendly” buildings; both of these locations have isolated buildings that could safely house pets without the risk of contaminating unwilling individuals and their rooms through central air.

    Additionally, I am not taking the pets’ safety lightly either. I recognize that college students can be careless or neglectful, even if it is not on purpose. That is why my proposal includes mandatory registration of all animals on campus, not just mammals, and several accompanying forms to ensure the safety of students, pets, and the school’s property.

    While signing in the beginning of each semester, students with pets must sign a form stating that they have an animal in their room and that they accept all responsibility for the animal’s safety and for the safety of those who come in contact with it. As a part of room checks during breaks, students would have to sign out their pets the same way that they check off that they have lowered the blinds and emptied the trash.

    Along with registration, students would have to supply a vet’s or store’s form showing that the animal has been spayed or neutered and has no fleas, bugs, or contagious diseases (including a rabies shot for ferrets, which are carnivorous). In addition, all housemates and roommates must sign a form that states acknowledgment and permission of the animal’s presence, and all pet owners must sign a form saying that they have read and are aware of current animal abuse laws.

    A $300 “pet deposit” would also be required, and would be given back in part or in full at the cleaning staff’s discretion at the end of the year, based on smells or damages caused by the animal. A $300 fine would also be in place for any animal that is discovered to be unregistered.

    While all this seems to be a lot of trouble for the seemingly simple policy change of expanding the list of allowed pets, it is necessary if the college were to allow fur-bearing (and shedding) animals on campus. I believe that these changes are not only entirely possible, but necessary to allow St. Mary’s to feel more like a home-away-from-home than just an institution of learning.

    Sometimes I forget that technically I no longer live with my family in Bethesda; I spend 8 months of the year at St. Mary’s. I worry that administration forgets this too when they try to sympathize with this cause, saying that they too have pets that they miss at home and would like to take with them to campus. The fact of the matter is that they get to go home at the end of the day. Resident students go to a different part of campus.

    In my experience as a pet owner, animals are a vital part of learning responsibility and becoming mature; the feeling of being completely responsible for another life is a sobering thought and should not be taken lightly. At the same time, having pets is extremely rewarding, not only because having a soft, fuzzy animal to hold and play with is awesome (which it is).

    Pets are extremely comforting and soothing, and I’m sure I do not have to write out just how many studies have been done to show the positive effects animals have on stress and moods, not to mention blood pressure. For me, pets are a reminder of home, and would have absolutely helped my transition to college go more smoothly.

    Obviously this is not the full extent of my proposal (it includes many more boring details about forms and regulations), but I know that my editors will be very angry if I triple my already doubled word limit. I am more than willing to meet or email with anyone who has concerns or suggestions about my proposal, and I would like to encourage discussion about this topic, whether it involves emailing your SGA senator or just casually talking about it with your friends. My email is sllevine@smcm.edu and I will answer any and all questions to the best of my ability.

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