Going to the dogs
By: David A. Smith
Few things in life are funnier, if you are of a twisted turn of mind, than watching members of the House of Representatives, debating the 1998 ‘reform’ of public housing, taking time to debate the pet rule (24 CFR 960.707).
Pets, you see, are the third most destructive force properties face, with water first and children second.
Thus it was with something akin to astonishment that I read a recent New York Times article about colleges – evidently desperate for students – rolling out the pooper scooper for matriculating freshmen and their dogs:
Columbia, MO — When Allison Frisch goes shopping this summer for furnishings to decorate her freshman dorm room at Stephens College, she will be looking for a comforter for herself — and a matching doggie bed for her roommate.
Searcy Hall, otherwise known as Pet Central
As many people are not rational about dogs, I shall provide my own politics of identity:
I like dogs. Had them as a kid. Tuck and Alvin were my dog; Danger, Suzi, and Brandy were my brothers’ dogs.
I don’t like cats. Never had any use for them.
My sister-in-law and her husband operate a canine aquatic therapy spa, combining their passion with their profession.
That said – water, children, and pets. Introduce them into your rental property at your peril.
That is because Ms. Frisch will be sharing her room with Taffy, her 10-year-old Shetland sheepdog. And Stephens, a women’s college founded here in 1833, says it is glad to have them both.
Stephens is a women’s-only institution, which also makes a difference. I shudder to imagine male students as pet owners.
Allison Frisch said that the acceptance by Stephens of her dog, Taffy, was almost as exciting as her own into the theater program.
The bond runs deep between humans and dogs – and for so many of us, our dog introduced us to death and dying. We all understand instinctively why people living alone want the companionship of a pet – usually a dog – as a source of emotional stability for elderly people, autistic children, and others. Especially those leaving home for the first time:
Ms. Frisch is one of 30 incoming freshmen at Stephens who have asked to bring a family pet to campus when they arrive this fall. That represents an increase of 20 over last year’s freshman class — so many that the college is renovating a dormitory for the students and their companions, most of them dogs and cats. The dorm, dubbed Pet Central, will have a makeshift kennel on the first floor, staffed by work-study students who will offer temporary boarding and perhaps a bath.
Stephens has a sensible set of rules:
1. What pets do you allow?
Dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters, rats, mice, gerbils, sugar gliders, guinea pigs, lizards, birds
Cats and dogs must be registered with the City of Columbia (this can be done in person when you arrive in Columbia). Animals must be current on all vaccinations (vet records required). There is no weight limit. Dogs must be at least 12 months old.
2. What pets aren’t allowed at Stephens?
We do not allow the following dog breeds in the residence halls for insurance reasons: Pit bull, Rottweiler, German Shepherd, Chow, Akita. In addition, snakes and spiders are not allowed.
As a landlord, you must prohibit what you cannot insure against.
You got coverage for that?
4. What does it cost to bring my pet?
A $200 pet deposit is required (it’s refundable if there is no damage to the room).
In effect, the pet is an embodied apartment damage risk.
I know, Brutus, that my wife said the apartment wasn’t big enough for both of you …
… so I’ve rented this one all for you.
7. What should I keep in mind as I make my decision about bringing my pet?
It is important to consider your animal’s temperament in deciding whether he/she would be a good fit in a residence hall environment. Students are responsible for ensuring that the pet they bring to Stephens will not cause a great deal of noise (e.g. barking, howling) that will disturb other residents and their pets. A three-week grace period at the beginning of the semester allows you and your pet to adjust to life in the residence hall. After this time, continued disruption can result in having to find another living arrangement for your pet (e.g. sending the pet home).
For the college, this is a lot of trouble. Why do they do it? It has to be competition for students.
“Colleges will begin to recognize that this is important to students,” said Stephens President Dr. Dianne Lynch, adding that in an increasingly competitive recruiting market for top students, becoming known as pet-friendly is another way for a college to differentiate itself.
Might there be a college bubble – and with it, a bubble in student housing?
Stephens joins a growing number of colleges putting out a welcome mat for pets. They include the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the State University of New York at Canton, which allow cats in some dorm rooms –
Cats, though I despise them, are clean animals. Dogs are not.
You’d never see Fido doing this
– and Eckerd College in South Florida and Washington & Jefferson College in Pennsylvania, which set aside rooms for students with dogs or cats and others who love animals so much they just want to live near them.
Are dogs the modern smokers?
Got to reflect on that …
Certainly many people are allergic to animals, particularly cats; I wonder how the college will deal with the potential health risks.
“I recognize this as being a trend that is tied directly to the whole notion of helicopter parenting,” said Dianne Lynch, who became president of Stephens last year and who is herself the owner of two dogs and two cats. “It’s harder and harder for students to leave home. Bringing this particular piece of home with them may make that separation easier.”
Lynch doesn’t fear helicopter parents
While about a dozen colleges have explicit policies permitting pets of some kind — Eckerd even allows snakes, provided they are “less than six feet long and non-venomous” — Ms. Lynch predicts that that figure will soon rise.
Less than six feet long and non-venomous … describes most people, now that I come to think of it.
We’re all one big happy family
Stephens, which began allowing dogs and cats in designated dormitory wings in 2003, said their owners tended to be especially organized and responsible and do well academically.
Especially given that they are all women.
Though in years past Stephens has barred pets weighing more than 40 pounds, that rule is being relaxed, with the belief that some of the biggest dogs are often the most docile.
While a bigger dog may be no more aggressive, it will produce more output – a size limitation (e.g. 25 pounds or lower) is fairly common.
What was the name of that bitch, anyway?
Unlike their owners, dogs and cats are not subjected to preadmission interviews, but proof of vaccinations is required.
On the Web, no one knows you’re a dog
The military allows pets in military family housing (usually with a substantial pet deposit). Every colonel has his Great Dane, the dogs fully as proud and competitive as the colonels.
In the Army, dogs also work
For Ms. Frisch, 18, who starts at Stephens in the fall, Taffy’s acceptance was almost as exciting as her own into the college’s theater program.
Indeed, Ms. Frisch enjoys being around her dog so much that when she was cast in a community production of “The Wizard of Oz” as the Wicked Witch, she arranged for Taffy to play the role of Toto. (She said her father never shared her passion for Taffy, relegating the pooch to the basement.)
“I took her for a walk on campus the other day,” she said. “I told her, ‘Yeah, Taffy, we’re going to be happy here.’ ”
At Harvard, you can be the big dog on campus