Pet column: Pets follow kids to college |

Pet column: Pets follow kids to college

Dawn Armstrong
Special to the Tribune

Ahead of its time, Eckerd College in Florida has provided pet-friendly student housing since 1972. At least two institutions make available equine housing for students who provide their own daily care for their horses. In 1998, Sara Staats, lead author and professor emeritus of psychology at Ohio State’s Newark Campus, conducted a study to determine if pets would help students make the transition from home to independence. Published in the journal “Society and Animals,” results indicated that college students felt pets helped them get through difficult times and positively affected overall health.

Staats’ study was one of the first to suggest that animal companions help those younger than 30 years of age. In an interview posted on the university website, she stated “There hasn’t been much recognition of that fact that young, healthy college students also derive benefits from pet ownership such as hedge against loneliness and improved ability to cope. A lot of freshman and sophomores are in an early transition from living at home to living in dorms or off-campus. College is a very stressful environment for them and sometimes they can feel isolated or overwhelmed with the change. We found that a lot of young adults are choosing to have an animal companion for important reasons.”

In a 2010 New York Times article on the subject, pet friendly Stephens College president Dianne Lynch stated “I recognize this as being a trend that is tied directly to the whole notion of helicopter parenting. It’s harder and harder for students to leave home. Bringing this particular piece of home with them may make that separation easier.” Observing that pets allowed campuses are on the increase, Lynch feels “Colleges will begin to recognize that this is important to students.” The Stephens experience, which began in 2003, so far shows that students with pets are organized, responsible, and do well academically.

College pet programs include strict rules, pet councils, and specify the types and sometimes the weights of pets allowed. One school requires proof that the pet has been a true family member in the student’s home for at least one year prior to coming into a pet-friendly dorm. Some schools require that the student complete his or her first academic year before bringing a pet on campus. This way the student can deal with the rigors and newness of the university environment without the distraction and demands of responsible pet keeping.

In the past, animal shelters near colleges were inundated with abandoned pets, especially cats, at the end of each semester. Typically these pets were obtained on impulse or lured with regular feeding as porch pets. Formal programs however seem to engender responsible pet ownership. As an alternative, one school offers a pet fostering program in support of a local rescue organization and allows students to take in an adoptable pet temporarily.

The cons of taking Fido or Kitty to college include the challenges of handling a full class load while providing regular pet care with exercise, stimulation, and the ability to take the time and afford the expense of unexpected veterinary needs. Pet owning students need a back up plan and family agreement to return the pet home if finances or academic schedules prevent the campus animal companion from having a full, healthy life.

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The pets on campus programs make sense since it is scientifically proven that both the young and mature adults benefit from the unconditional love and calming effect of a companion animal. Pets also can help promote social adjustments and activities rather than isolate students as some mental health counselors previously feared. A recent variation on pets reducing student stress occurred in early December when trained comfort dogs were used to help students get through finals at Dalhousie University in British Columbia. Students were invited to drop into the designated “Puppy Room” when they needed a break. It is yet to be determined if the canine play time interaction helped and if grades will be higher with temporary canine stress relievers.-

A list of the Top Ten Pet Friendly Colleges 2012 and links to their programs can be found on the internet at

– Provided by the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to help “Keep Tahoe Kind”. Dawn Armstrong is the executive director.

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