SMU junior Savannah Louie raced the clock– stuffing catnip in her closet and sliding a litter box under her bed–during a round of surprise room checks in Moore Hall during the spring of her freshman year. After hearing from a friend that her RA was making rounds, she knew she had to move quickly to keep her new kitten, The General, a secret.
“I cleaned up and hid every cat-related item in the room,” said Louie. “Our RA came in right as we had finished hiding all of the stuff, and she didn’t suspect a thing.”
Louie isn’t the only on-campus resident to hide a pet in her dorm room. There was a bunny in Boaz, a hamster in McElvaney and a Maltese puppy in Shuttles in recent years. How many critters have called the SMU residence halls their home? Who knows?
According to the SMU Residence Life Community Standards, SMU’s pet policy allows each student living in the dorms to have one fish in a tank of no more than 10 gallons. Kittens, rodents, puppies, reptiles, birds or any other animal is not permitted.
The Residence Life and Student Housing office offers a number of reasons why they limit pets in student housing, including space, health and sanitation concerns.
“You can imagine all the issues that could arise if there were 100 pets in one building where 260 students live,” said Jennifer Post, the director of residential life at SMU.
SMU sophomore Jack Ruh found that out the hard way after a heat lamp from his pet Iguana’s cage started a fire in Boaz last year.
“I turned on the iguana’s heat lamp, left for class and got a text 20 minutes later that my room was on fire and the fire department was there,” said Ruh.
Luckily, the iguana made it out alive.
Most college campuses around the U.S. have similar rules when it comes to pets in the dorms. Some colleges are more lenient. Duke University and MIT for instance, allow on-campus residents to have cats in feline-friendly dorms. The University of Florida allows small caged animals such as reptiles and rodents.
SMU does have an exception to its pet policy. The Residence Life Community Standards state that any student with disabilities or proper documentation is allowed to have a pet living with them in their residence hall.
But some students who do not fall into this category can’t help themselves when the opportunity to get a pet presents itself.
For Louie, the purchase of a pet was spontaneous. She said that she found an ad on Craigslist for free kittens and drove over an hour to see the litter. Once she arrived, she knew she had to have The General.
SMU junior Emily Heft became a hero for one lucky mouse at Petsmart during her freshman year because she wanted to save its life.
“A worker basically said, ‘Hey do you want this mouse, or we will feed it to our snake,’ so I took it,” said Heft.
Soon she found herself smuggling not only the mouse, but its cage, food and toys up to her room in Moore Hall.
Although having a pet in college can come with more responsibility, a study from 2008 by Ohio State University shows that college pet owners are less likely to feel lonely and depressed. College students are typically stressed during this time and an animal companion can help them through these difficult times.
The Residence Life and Student Housing Office believes, however, that a dorm room is not large enough for a pet. Students living in the dorms may also have pet allergies and could not live comfortably with animals in or near their rooms. The office worries about students not properly caring for animals with fleas and ticks as well. Improper care could potentially lead to the spread of these bugs throughout the residence hall.
Although the office does not allow students to have pets, not all hope is lost for the animal lovers living in the dorms. Post explained a new pet policy for the Faculty in Residence program.
“We learned that faculty who had pets didn’t want to give them up in order to live on-campus,” she said. “Faculty who didn’t have pets at the time of their interviews with us said they would seriously consider owning a pet so students could visit their apartments and enjoy them.”
The Faculty in Residence Program was designed to help students get to know the faculty outside of the classroom. Professors live in residence halls and serve as intellectual leaders in the dorms.
According to an article by The Daily Campus, there are five FiR’s who keep pets with them in the residence halls.
A communication studies professor who participates in the program, Rita Kirk, currently lives in the Armstrong residence hall with her Bichon Frise. The dog enjoys his new neighbors.
“He loves people so he is delighted when someone calls his name,” said Kirk. “He gets more walks, more pats on the head, and since he loves to dress up, he gets more attention.”