By Irina Rusanova
While more colleges and universities in Pennsylvania are opening up their campuses to various pets, Saint Vincent continues to stick by its principles of allowing only non-carnivorous fish in a single ten-gallon tank or service dogs in dorms. Does SVC have a chance of becoming more open to different household pets, such as small rodents or reptiles?
Caitlin Machuta, freshman math and physics double major, Becca Livingston, freshman psychology major, and Alexis Cobbin, freshman engineering major, all addressed the possible benefits and consequences that may come with increased allowance of pets on campus.
Possible issues which may come with more open policies regarding the keeping of pets on campus include student neglect of pets because of schoolwork, students’ allergies to certain animals, and regulation of cleanliness on campus.
When faced with the possibility of reserving a separate dorm building for people who want to keep pets on campus, Machuta explained a few of the consequences which may come with such a vision.
“I know that some people have really bad allergies,” she said. “[…] I have allergies; I’m allergic to my animals, yet I can still be around them, pet them, cuddle them.”
Machuta added, however, that some people’s allergies are stronger than hers and that some of these people may have more objections to more liberal pet policies.
“It just depends on the person and how [he or she] can react [to different regulations],” she said.
Livingston addressed another consequence, that animals, just like humans, make mistakes.
“We make a mess! We break stuff! They also do the same thing.”
Cobbin, in turn, spoke about pets’ spacial needs.
“They’d also need a place to stay,” Cobbin said. “If you’re a human being cooped up in a room all day, that kind of sucks. So, an animal would need space to run around, too.”
If a separate building for animals wouldn’t be a possibility at Saint Vincent, they suggested allowing smaller animals who oftentimes dwell inside buildings their whole lives, such as ferrets and hamsters.
“I think that should be allowed, because […] fish can be small, they’re easy to take care of, yet they’re not as therapeutic as other animals,” said Machuta. “You can’t hold fish, you’re gonna kill them.”
“Yeah, you can’t pet them,” Livingston said. “People like to pet things to calm […] down.”
“[Regarding a fish,] it’s just like keeping a hamster. You have to clean its cage and keep it active,” Machuta continued. “Yes, it may take more work [to keep a hamster], but it also helps people more [therapeutically].”
In short, the students believe that allowing a greater variety of pets in the dorms could be a positive change
“[Keeping pets on campus] would help people,” Machuta said. “[Pets] help with mental well-being.”
The National Center for Health Research finds that over 62 percent of American families own pets and consider these pets to be members of their family.
“Some research studies have found that people who have a pet have healthier hearts, stay home sick less often, make fewer visits to the doctor, get more exercise, and are less depressed,” Dana Casciotti, PhD, and Diana Zuckerman, PhD, of the National Center for Health Research write. “Pets may also have a significant impact on allergies, asthma, social support, and social interactions with other people.”
Some people who have to leave their animals back home could benefit from being allowed to bring their pets with them to college, Machuta said. If the dorms in which animals were allowed had accident-wary surroundings, such as tiled floors and rolling curtains, and if students were held accountable for neglect and damage, keeping pets other than fish could easily become a possibility at Saint Vincent.
Machuta stated that, as adults, students should be able to determine whether or not they will be able to balance their study time and taking care of an animal. All three students agreed that regulations would have to be properly overseen and that students would have to be aware of the high level of responsibility which comes with properly taking care of an animal in order for policymakers at Saint Vincent to consider pet policy changes.
Alongside the benefits which on-campus pets may bring students, the girls introduced areas in which the college could also profit from more open domestic animal policies such as, in the future, opening a pet store, a clinic, or an animal nursing home on campus, or even holding classes involving animal medical care. In addition, they proposed that broader inclusion of pets on campus could also be a useful asset for the college in attracting incoming students.
In the event that pet policies do not have a foreseeable future of being amended, Machuta presented an idea about how to improve the campus animal regulations.
“Instead of [waiting for policies to change], I would rather have different therapy animals, not just dogs, because I am personally a cat person […] [though I still like dogs],” she said.