Some US Colleges Let Students Bring Animals to School

21 July, 2018

Leaving home to attend a college or university often leads to big changes for a student. One of them can be leaving behind a pet cat, dog or other beloved animal.

Kimberly Brubaker says she feels emotionally connected to her two pets: a cat named Dino, and a snake named Mars.

"If an animal is part of your entire life, and caring for them is a huge part of it, to take that away is pretty dramatic," she told the Associated Press.

So when Brubaker left home to attend Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida, she brought her pets with her. And college officials gave her permission to live with them in a school-owned dormitory.

In the United States, Eckerd is not the only school to accept pets in student housing, but it may have been one of the first to do so. Since the early 1970s, the college has accepted many kinds of animals.

Brubaker heads a student organization that registers on-campus pets. It makes sure the animals are well taken care of and that students follow Eckerd's pet policies. And it tries to solve any disputes.

"We do pet checks once a month — we go around and knock on all the doors," Brubaker said. The student group receives an average of one or two reports of a problem every month. But most issues are minor, such as misunderstandings of the rules governing pet registration.

Law students Josh Richey, right, and Lindsay Stewart play with Hooch, a 19-month-old golden retriever and Stanley, a 4-month-old golden retriever, in between final exams at Emory University in Atlanta.
Law students Josh Richey, right, and Lindsay Stewart play with Hooch, a 19-month-old golden retriever and Stanley, a 4-month-old golden retriever, in between final exams at Emory University in Atlanta.

Not only are the pets staying on Eckerd's college campus mostly problem-free. They may actually be helpful to their owners and other people.

Miranda Goodman-Wilson is an assistant professor of psychology at Eckerd. She recently helped write a study on the effect pets have on students.

Goodman-Wilson noted students reported their pets "reduced their levels of stress, and had incredibly favorable things to say about living with the animal." Also, a majority of students claimed that animals were a good influence on their educational performance.

"I think that for many students, having a pet provides a structure that they otherwise lack," Goodman-Wilson noted. "If you have a dog who has to go out to the bathroom, that's a powerful alarm clock right there."

The results of her study were mixed when it came to measuring exactly how helpful pets were for the students' mental health. She found that pet-owning students did not have overall lower levels of stress, depression and anxiety, or nervousness.

But there was an effect when it came to somatic anxiety — the physical effects of stress, such as a sudden increase in heart rate. Among the pet owners, increased levels of stress did not result in increased somatic anxiety.

"It may be that they are serving as a buffer," said Goodman-Winslow. "So yes, I'm still having stress, but by having my animal, that stress is not translating into this sort of anxiety in the same way."

Law student Amelia Myers, 25, is reflected in a book case in the law library as she plays with Hooch, a 19-month-old golden retriever, between final exams at Emory University in Atlanta.
Law student Amelia Myers, 25, is reflected in a book case in the law library as she plays with Hooch, a 19-month-old golden retriever, between final exams at Emory University in Atlanta.

But while pets might be good for students, some might worry whether college life is good for the animal. Last year, Mekenna Hooper decided to adopt a dog. Hooper remembers she wanted a small, older dog. A low-energy pet made sense so she could direct more attention on her studies at Johnson & Wales University in Denver, Colorado.

Hooper remembers that when she contacted different pet adoption organizations, "none of them liked the fact that we lived in a dorm." She eventually adopted Max, a seven-kilogram dog who is now 11 years-old. It appears that he is living a good life. Hooper and the person with whom she shares a living space attend classes at different times and have different work schedules. So Max is rarely alone more than a few of hours at a time. He also gets all the attention he could ever want in student housing.

"Everyone knows his name," Hooper noted. "They know his name better than they know ours."

Goodman-Wilson believes that there can actually be good reasons for bringing your pet to school. The activities of college students can often change from one day to the next, and there are lots of people around them to look in on the pet.

"More so than your typical animal, there are ways for the wellness of the animal to be checked up on," she said. "And I think students generally are around their animals more than your average working adults."

If you are looking for an animal-friendly college or university, know that each school has different rules. There are more schools that accept animals kept in small containers than ones that permit dogs or cats. And where dogs are permitted, school officials may set limits on a dog's breed or size.

Some colleges and universities limit pets to students who have been at the school for more than a year. Even Eckerd only accepts pets that lived with students before they started taking classes.

Goodman-Wilson expects the number of pet-friendly schools to grow, partly because of the increase in emotional support animals in the United States. Their owners are required to carry a doctor's note stating that the person needs the animal to help them deal with a mental health condition.

Once policies are in place for emotional support animals in student housing, this can open the door to permitting pets on school grounds, in general.

In a few weeks, Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania will open its first pet-friendly housing. The college's new policy grew out of increasing numbers of assistance animals, and because of requests to raise service dogs.

Allison Bridgeman is an administrator with Elizabethtown College. She says that on-campus animals are now seen to have a more general value.

"We see this as part of creating a ... campus community that ... promotes well-being," she said.

But it also seems clear that there will be more pet-friendly college campuses as long as students have anything to say about it.

"I answer emails all that time that say, "Hey, I'm trying to start a pet policy on campus, what are the first steps?'" Kimberly Brubaker of Eckerd College said. "I probably get at least one email a week from students at other colleges asking about our program."

I'm ­Pete Musto. And I'm Dorothy Gundy.

Linda Lombardi first reported this story for the Associated Press. Pete Musto adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

We want to hear from you. Do you think pets should be permitted on college and university campuses? Why or why not? Write to us in the Comments Section or on 51VOA.COM.


Words in This Story

dramaticadj. greatly affecting people's emotions

dormitoryn. a building on a school campus that has rooms where students can live

campusn. the area and buildings around a university, college, or school

check(s) – n. the act or process of looking at or examining something to find out information or see if there is anything wrong with it

stressn. a state of mental tension and worry caused by problems in your life and work

otherwiseadv. in a different way or manner

alarm clockn. a clock that can be set to sound an alarm at any desired time

buffern. something that gives protection by separating things

translating intop.v. something that gives protection by separating things

adoptv. to take an animal legally as your own pet

schedule(s) – n. a plan of things that will be done and the times when they will be done

breedn. a particular kind of dog, cat, horse or other animal