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.
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.”
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.
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Words in This Story
dramatic – adj. greatly affecting people's emotions
dormitory – n. a building on a school campus that has rooms where students can live
campus – n. 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
stress – n. a state of mental tension and worry caused by problems in your life and work
otherwise – adv. in a different way or manner
alarm clock – n. a clock that can be set to sound an alarm at any desired time
buffer – n. something that gives protection by separating things
translating into – p.v. leading to something as a result
adopt – v. 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
breed – n. a particular kind of dog, cat, horse or other animal