Last spring, the College took a critical look at the pet policy on campus and decided that residence halls would no longer allow new pets starting this semester. The new policy states that although no new pets will be permitted on campus, students who have owned a pet since last spring can keep them on campus until they graduate. The policy change applies only to non-disability pets. By law, new disability animals will still be allowed to reside with their owners in residence halls.
Prior to the policy change, students were permitted to bring small pets other than dogs, cats and reptiles to campus as long as the student’s floor unanimously approved the pet and the building’s Residential Life staff member approved and documented it. After a steady decline in the number of student pet owners, as well as allergy issues and improper care of pets on campus, the College decided to revise its policy.
Kris Niendorf, assistant dean of students and director of residential and campus life, said that when she arrived at Wellesley almost 15 years ago, there were pets living in almost every residential building on campus. Over the years, that number has significantly decreased.
“Less and less students have had pets, first of all. We were down to less than a dozen people having a pet on campus,” Niendorf said.
The handful of student pet owners remaining at the end of last spring were able to have their pets “grandfathered in,” so they will be allowed to keep their pets until they graduate. Of the seven pets remaining on campus, only one is owned by a sophomore.
Niendorf stated that the second reason for the change is the prevalence of allergies on campus. In the past few years, the College has had to designate pet-free buildings due to student allergies. At the start of the fall 2014 semester, student pet owners were moved into buildings designated pet-friendly so as to not induce students’ allergies on campus.
The third cause of the change that Niendorf cited are the instances in which pets have been improperly cared for by students. Niendorf said that while the remaining student pet owners continue to be responsible and committed, there have been many occasions in which students have neglected to properly care for their pets.
“People leave their bunnies and go away for Wintersession, and they just leave a pile of food or a bag of food in the corner of the cage or let it roam free in their room. We’ve had to call animal control several times to get the animals because we don’t have a place to put them. It’s just sad,” Niendorf stated.
Properly caring for a pet in college, including knowing how to take care of smell, noise and litter, can be difficult for students.
“It’s hard on students. I think it’s hard to keep care of a pet while you’re doing the rigorous work that you’re doing. So I think that was the other reason — we weren’t finding that the animals were actually very well cared for,” Niendorf said.
Associate Director of Residential Life Don Leach stated that the new pet policy, which aims to address these three issues, will have a limited effect on current student pet owners.
“If they are grandfathered in, they still get to have them. I don’t think there will be a huge impact on students generally. Students who have pets will be able to still have pets. Students who don’t have pets will just have the expectation that they can’t have pets, should they wish to have one,” Leach said.
Student opinion is divided on the recent change in pet policy. Tavishi Malaviya ’17 agrees with the action that the College has taken on the issues surrounding pets in residence halls.
“I think if the administration feels that there shouldn’t be pets, then there shouldn’t be pets,” Malaviya stated.
Conversely, Jamie Yip ’18 sees the changes in pet policy as excessive and disadvantageous to students.
“I feel that’s a little contradictory, if you’re still allowed to vote whether you want pets on your floor. But I feel like there’s a lot of ambiguity about what the actual pet policy is in the house. If a pet helps a student enjoy their time here a little more, I think it’s not a bad thing. If it’s a quiet pet or if it’s a small pet that doesn’t disturb anyone, then I think it’s completely fine,” Yip said.
In a similar way, students such as Margaret Calmer ’18 see the changes as merely unnecessary.
“I don’t really mind pets on campus as long as it’s one dorm-specific, as long as if you want to have a pet it’s one place where you’re designated to be allowed to have pets, just so that it’s not scattered throughout. And if someone doesn’t want to be around animals or has an allergy or something, then they can opt to be in a different dorm,” Calmer stated.
The new pet policy remains separate from laws surrounding disability animals on campus, with which the College fully complies. Niendorf stated that under the Americans with Disabilities Act Section 504, which protects disabled individuals, there are two ways in which a disabled student might have an animal. First, a student might require a service animal, such as a seeing-eye or guide dog. Currently, there are no service animals on campus. Second, students can obtain an assistance animal. Niendorf explained that these animals, of which there are three on campus, are smaller and not necessarily trained. The therapy of the student, however, is based upon the student’s personalized training of the animal.
“Prescription for part of the healing of the person is to have an assistance animal,” Niendorf stated.
Students with disability animals will continue to fill out an accommodation form through Disability Services, which is different from the documentation and approval that a student would require to retain their pet through Residential Life.
This law is important for students like Carly Bresee ’16, who has an assistance animal, a puppy named Bailey. Bresee explained that that when it comes to disability animals, they are by law different from pets.
“There is common misconception, when it comes to the correct terminology. [Bailey] is here as an assistance animal. The pet policy and the disability accommodations are two separate entities,” Bresee said.
Bresee’s dog helps her cope with her depression.
“I have an invisible illness, as they call it. A lot of times people are confused as to why I do have a dog, how I got a dog, and all of that. But Bailey is fantastic in helping me through my hard times,” Bresee said.
Bresee, who will continue to apply for the disability accommodation, decided after the end of last semester that training a puppy and bringing it to Wellesley would help her to manage her mental illness in a stressful environment.
“With Bailey, it’s like not only do I have to take care of myself, but I have to take care of somebody else. It’s that give-and-take relationship of needing to take care of her but then also getting so much unconditional love from her as well,” Bresee stated.
Living with a puppy in college, however, is not without its particular challenges. Earlier this year, Bresee was forced to move from Shafer to Beebe because of the amount of noise that her puppy was making.
“I don’t want my accommodation to be a negative experience for anybody else. But ultimately it was the right thing to do to move,” Bresee said.
Bresee also stated that Wellesley is currently developing plans to make residents more aware when a student with a disability animal will be moving to their residence halls and educate students on the necessity of these animals, so that negative reactions and discrepancies do not occur among residents.
“For people who medically need pets, I think they definitely need them there. And I know of people who have used medically-allowed pets, and they do help them,” Mollee Jain ’16 said.
Historically, Niendorf noted, Wellesley is among the very few number of colleges that have allowed students to bring pets to campus. Pet policy at nearby MIT allows for no pets in residence halls, with the exception of cats for upperclass students in select locations. Williams College has a strict no pets policy with the exception of fish, and students are fined if they continue to own a pet on campus. Smith College’s pet policy states that no pets are permitted in campus buildings or residence halls and has a multi-step violation policy.
Due to the new pet policy, the College anticipates that there will be no non-disability pets on campus as of fall 2017.
Photo by Soojin Jeong ’17, Photography Editor