"Fire Inspector," boomed the men as they knocked on the door of a young woman with something to hide.
Emily, a senior, hustled her kittens into the bathroom and threw a blanket over the litter box and bags of Purina Friskies in the corner. The fire safety inspectors peeked in and left. Her cats were safe, at least for a few more weeks.
Aside from ubiquitous squirrels and Dean of the College Nancy Malkiel's dog Skipper, the campus is home to a range of animals that secretly inhabit undergraduate dorms. Though housing most types of pets on campus is a violation of University policy — "only fish, in tanks that do not exceed 10 gallons, can be kept in the dormitories," according to the 2007-08 undergraduate living guide — students who defy the rules described their animal pals as a time-consuming and odiferous, yet rewarding, part of their lives.
Two current students were interviewed about their pets; in order to protect them from penalties, one is referred to only by her first name, while the other is referred to by a fake name. One alumna who also kept pets agreed to be interviewed using her full name.
There are certainly drawbacks to keeping critters in a dorm, Emily, who takes care of foster kittens from the Trenton Animal Shelter, acknowledged. "I find it super hard to do work when I have a month-old kitten clamoring for my attention," she said. "Also, if the kitten gets sick, you either have to wake up every few hours to give them medicine, or things start to stink a lot."
Her kitten-keeping started after she developed a close relationship with the animal shelter through the SVC, Emily said, adding that she has taken in kittens on four separate occasions for periods of between a week and a month. She has only been discovered and fined once during a fire safety inspection.
Though Emily said she understands why the University forbids most pets, she argued that the policy "should be more lenient for those of us doing charity work."
While Emily shelters animals on campus for mainly philanthropic reasons, other students have chosen to adopt animals for the pure joy of being pet-owners. "Jack," a sophomore who bought a chinchilla to raise with a group of friends, recalled how a shopping trip led him onto the path of temptation. "We went by the pet store just to look, and the rest is history," he said. "The chinchillas in the little cages at Petsmart were just too cute."
When asked if he has run into any problems for violating University policy, Jack said humor has been his best defense. "Whenever Fire Safety comes," he said, "we pretend our chinchilla is a foreign exchange student from Kazakhstan."
Like Emily, Jack acknowledged that keeping a pet on campus leads to certain difficulties. "If you let [the chinchilla] roam around, it'll poop all over the place," he said. "If you have a single, it makes it more difficult because in such a small space, it starts to smell like a pet store really quickly."
Emily said her kittens have also created odor-related woes, especially when they had digestive infections that caused them to defecate often. A few neighbors complained to her about the resulting smells, she added.
"A little known fact about young kittens [is that] until [they are] about three to four weeks [old], they are incapable of stimulating their own waste-passing," she said. "In order for them to urinate or have a bowel movement, the mother usually licks their rear ends. When they are orphaned, a human has to rub their tushies to get them to go to the bathroom, or they will literally explode because of their own waste. Needless to say, that gets a little gross."
For other students eager to adopt a pet, juggling animal care and academics proved their chief concern, rather than the protection of their olfactory nerves. For this reason, Tiffany Andras '07 waited until she finished her senior thesis to adopt a young Boston Terrier earlier this year.
"You really shouldn't get a puppy if you can't devote a lot of time with it when it is young and learning how to be potty-trained and well-behaved," she said, "and I really didn't have much else to do with my time after my thesis was done."
Fortunately for Andras, she had her last fire inspection the day before she was scheduled to pick up her puppy. She also had friends and neighbors who were eager to help her with caring for her pet.
Andras gushed about the perks her puppy-keeping provided. "I loved having her there, and I wish I had a pet during all four years," she said of the terrier. "In such a stressful environment, being able to play with a puppy would have been great."
Despite the positive pet-related experiences Andras and others have had, the University slaps strict penalties on students discovered flouting its in-dorm animal policy. Violators are fined $25 and are ordered to get rid of their pet immediately, with continuous violations leading to heavier fines and the possible evictions of the offending students themselves.
Assistant Director for Student Housing Lisa DePaul said in an email that the policy exists for a number of reasons, including "consideration for students with allergies, maintaining cleanliness in the dormitories [and] concern for increasing the likelihood of nuisance pests such as bugs or rodents that certain pets might attract or bring with them."
Reader Comments (0)
No comments yet. Be the first to post your opinion on this article.