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The Case for Critters: Small Animal Policies on Campus

While some may argue that Stephens policies are too lax on cats and dogs, the population of small pets remains caged by strict policies on their campus residency.

When I transferred from Eckerd College to Stephens in Fall of 2012, I was disappointed to learn that, though Stephens claims to be one of the most pet-friendly campuses, if I wanted to bring my guinea pig I would be limited in the dorms I could live in and I’d have to fork out a $200 pet deposit. At my previous school, also a pet-friendly college, I was able to have my guinea pig in a non-pet dorm and didn’t have to pay the pet deposit, I was just required to register her with pet council and my RA.  This has been their policy since they began their pet program in 1970, and according to records, they have never reported an issue with small pets.

The current Stephens pet policy says that to have a small caged pet on campus, such as a guinea pig or hamster, a student must live in a pet dorm or on a pet floor and pay the pet deposit of $200.  This refundable deposit is established as an insurance against room damages incurred by pets, and it makes sense for dogs and cats, as they have the size and freedom of range in a room to potentially incur damages, such as dogs scratching up doors or cats pulling down blinds. However, I don’t see how the administration can justify putting the same fees on smaller pets that live in cages when it would be nearly impossible for an animal as small as a guinea pig to cause any damage to a room, let alone $200 worth.  

Last semester, I raised the issue to college President Dianne Lynch at a student forum, and she agreed “that’d be a heck of a guinea pig to cause that much damage.”  She said she would talk to administration about it, and as of last week she said they were “getting close” to making changes to the pet policy as it pertains to small pets.  There’s no word yet on what those changes will be, but here is what I, as a small pet owner, am hoping for:

  1. Allow small caged pets in every dorm.  Small pets that live in cages don’t need to be confined to pet dorms, as they don’t produce airborne allergens, like cats and dogs, and they don’t have the same capacity for creating stink or noise issues.

  2. Do away with the pet deposit for small pets, or at least reduce it significantly. The point is to protect against damages to the room, but since caged pets live in the own self-contained spaces within the room, the chance of them causing damage is slim to none.  The cost is unfair to those who want to bring small pets and can’t produce the deposit up front.

Aside from appeasing people who want to bring small pets to campus, changing the policy has potential to lead to other positives for the campus. For instance, if it were easier to bring a small pet to campus, more students may elect to have a smaller pet rather than a larger one, like a dog, thereby reducing the number of issues and complaints filed for dogs on campus.  Small caged pets are also less work to take care of, thereby reducing stress on their owners and leading to fewer potential issues with students not caring for their pets well.  Finally, to put some science into it, a 2008 University of Ohio study concluded that students who had a pet while in college, regardless of whether it’s a big dog or a caged critter, were less stressed, more friendly, and performed better academically.  Overall, making it easier to have small pets on campus is a smart move for “America’s most pet-friendly campus”…and I’m not just saying that because I miss my guinea pig.



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