Going to college can be bittersweet for even the most academically driven teen: Leaving behind the comforts of home, the familiarity of high school, and the companionship of childhood friends is tough. But some colleges have made it possible for their students to say one less goodbye come summer after senior year.
From Boston’s Massachusetts Institute of Technology to Florida’s Eckard College to the University of Texas, schools are embracing the beneficial qualities of animals by establishing a pet-friendly housing option. Animal-loving students welcome the chance to share their dorm space with their furry pal from home. Allowed animals vary by school policies, but cats, small dogs, birds, bunnies, and caged rodents are familiar occupants in approved areas.
“Bringing their pets is like allowing them to bring a little bit of home with them. It can make the transition to college a little easier,” says Janese Silvery of Stephens College, in Columbia, Missouri, which introduced their pet-friendly housing in 2004. In addition to being a comforting, familiar presence during those first days in a strange environment, animals make perfect icebreakers among the students who are eager to make new connections. At Stephens, pets been catalyst for fun events, such as a pet parade or costume contest. And as the pressures of college life begin to build, their stress-relieving qualities are a welcome antidote.
“Our students often tell us it’s just nice to know they can come home to their BFF at the end of a long day,” Silvery says.
“We believe those with pets are some of the most responsible students on campus. Students are really good about pet sitting for one another,” says Silvery, adding that the school also has a doggie daycare on campus. That not only gives busy students another option for care, but helps students develop the planning skills necessary as a caretaker. The student body has not only welcomed the chance to bring their own pets, they’ve reached out to pets in the community around them. After Stephens partnered with Second Chance, a nearby no-kill shelter, the college launched a fostering program. Approved students can foster a homeless cat in their dorm. This allows both kitty and student to swap some love and companionship, and gives the feline a valuable opportunity to brush up on social skills.
While the program offers a scholarship incentive, Silvery is proud to add that many students do it without receiving the scholarship; they just want to help change the lives of the homeless animals.
In Washington, Pennsylvania, Washington & Jefferson College created a pet-friendly dorm in 2009, and strong interest has keep that housing option full. “Some pets have become familiar on campus. We had two small dogs who lived on campus for several years, then participated in commencement along with their student owners,” says Eva Chatterjee-Sutton, vice president and dean of student life.
Chatterjee-Sutton says the experience has been positive for all students. “For students who reside in the house, it provides a way to experience college life with (their) pet companion. Other students also appreciate the ability to have the presence of pets on campus,” she says.
Dubbed the Pet House, the residence hall is home to an assortment of cats, dogs (under 40 pounds), small birds, hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, turtles, and fish. But if the family back home isn’t ready to give up both their teen and their pet all at once, registered pets are welcome to make regular appearances as daytime visitors to the dorm. Bunking up with a pet can also serve to supplement the learning experience. At the State University of New York at Canton — popular for it’s four-year vet tech program — the pet-friendly dorm is largely populated with students engaged in veterinary studies.
Other colleges with pet-friendly dorms include University of Illinois, University of Northern Colorado, and Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. Many schools require that the pet has lived with the family for a period of time before the animal heads off to college, ensuring that the dog or cat isn’t acquired as a college whim but has a permanent home.
To the students, knowing that their animal sibling is by their side can be just what they need to ease their new journey to independence.
What do you think of college students having pets on campus? Let me know in the comments.
Read more about cats and education on Catster:
About the author: Debbie Swanson is a freelance writer lives with her family in a sleepy town north of Boston. She enjoys writing about pets and currently has two dogs.