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Man's best friend being phased into dorm life

  • Story Highlights
  • Some universities adding pets to "acceptable" list of dorm possessions
  • Students at MIT can bring cats, according to Boston Globe article
  • Allergens, fleas, mess listed as reasons for concern by one school dean
  • I feel students have too much going on to take care of a pet, student says
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By Sarah Bliss
Tufts Daily
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Editor's Note: Sarah Bliss is a writer for the Tufts Daily, the leading news source for Tufts University. This article was brought to CNN.com by UWIRE, the leading provider of student-generated content. UWIRE aims to identify and promote the brightest young content creators and deliver their work to a larger audience via professional media partners such as CNN.com. Visit UWIRE.com to learn more.

SUNY at Canton in New York has provided a designated "pet wing," home to a variety of animals.

SUNY at Canton in New York has provided a designated "pet wing," home to a variety of animals.

(UWIRE) -- As university residence halls seek to transition into more homey environments -- with additions like full kitchens and single-stall bathrooms -- pet ownership is still forbidden for the majority of dorm residents.

But several universities, including MIT, have now added some pets to the "acceptable" list of dorm possessions.

According to a recent article published by The Boston Globe, students at MIT who reside in four of the school's 11 undergraduate dormitories can bring cats with them to school, thanks to a policy implemented several years ago in an effort to curb students from housing forbidden animals.

Other schools have jumped on the four-footed bandwagon: Stephen's College, a women's college in Columbia, Missouri, allows for many household pets, including dogs, provided that they are vaccinated and under forty pounds.

And the SUNY at Canton in New York has provided a designated "pet wing," home to a variety of small caged animals and cats since 1996.

While animal companionship is largely viewed as a welcome addition to family homes, there are many roadblocks that have deterred Tufts from altering its pet policy.

"We don't have a policy that allows for dogs or cats or ferrets or monkeys -- you name it -- and ... the main reason is so many people have allergic reactions to animal dander," Dean of Student Affairs Bruce Reitman said. "It's one thing in a family, where everyone agrees that this is what they want and no one has an allergic reaction to the animal. But in a residence hall, where there is no such communication or agreement, it's hard and people are affected."

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While Tufts students are currently not permitted to have more than a small fish tank in the dorm setting -- in addition to service animals -- this has not always been the case. During a failed experiment that ended around a decade ago, faculty members, residence directors and graduate teaching assistants were allowed to own pets in an attempt to encourage residence.

"We were trying to entice [people]to come live in the halls, and ... they wouldn't come unless you allowed the pets," Reitman said. "In order to pragmatically get [them] to come in, we said 'Okay, let's do this.' Then people said, 'No, this isn't fair, I can't live here.' Not many students complained, but enough did."

According to Dr. Margaret Higham, medical director of Health Services, the prevalence of allergies and asthma on campus would make a more lenient pet policy problematic. In addition, dorm cleanliness would be noticeably impaired by the allowance of pets, she said.

"Pets need to be taken care of ... Litter boxes need to be cleaned daily," Higham said. "The dorm rooms were not built with the need to ventilate for that type of situation. And what about fleas? Once they are introduced, they would spread rapidly through all of the furniture. I do not see students being able to care for animals adequately in the dorm setting."

Even without canines currently roaming the quad, there has been a modest history of animal neglect that calls into question a student's ability to provide for an animal properly.

"I think some fraternities in recent years did have animals," Reitman said. "There were concerns or complaints when spring break came along, because there is this animal, not cared for ...the animal activists came in here and said, 'That's no way to treat an animal,'" Reitman said. "A residence facility -- be it a sorority, fraternity or residence hall -- is not necessarily a good fit for the animal."

Reitman said he had reservations about allowing pets in designated residence halls, like MIT does.

"If you designate certain buildings as 'pet buildings,' you are taking that building, in essence, from people who don't want to live in that type of environment," Reitman said. "You can't do that with very popular halls that go first in the lottery, because there would be no end to complaints about that. You just get into this equity political-pragmatics issue pretty quickly."

"Developing pet-specific dorms would be a huge logistical struggle," Higham said. "Once pets have been in a specific room, that room is 'contaminated' with pet dander and will be 'allergic' for extended periods."

But a number of studies have been released touting the psychological benefits of owning a pet, arguing that the relationship serves as a daily de-stress mechanism and source of increased happiness.

While Reitman viewed the calming influence of a pet-owner bond as beneficial, he associated the necessity of pet companionship with two distinct groups, neither of which includes college students.

"I'll say the usefulness in ownership and responsibility for the aged and the young jumps off the page to me," Reitman said. "For older folks ... the companionship and presence of the animal is life sustaining in a lot of ways," Reitman said. "For young kids and teenagers, the responsibility of pet ownership is a great model for taking on a commitment. It's clearly needed, but probably a little less so in our middle years."

Sophomore Kara Brown, who suffers from asthma, said it is a bad idea to allow pets in residence halls. "I wouldn't love it if cats were allowed just because being anywhere near them makes me sick ... My breathing tubes start to close," Brown said. "I also feel like people usually have too much going on to really take care of a pet, especially now in college when you are already doing so much that takes a lot of effort."

"I don't think it's fair to other people who are living in the dorms because everybody needs to agree that they want an animal in their dorm," junior Jenny Hong said. "It's not only you and your roommate, but you're sharing a huge space with everyone else. It would also cause a lot of mess and possible destruction to school property."

Still, Hong admitted that she wouldn't rule out the possibility of owning a pet if the policy changed.

"I would consider bringing a pet, but I would only go for small pets -- maybe a hamster or gerbil," she said. "Never a cat, though, or a dog."

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