SMU’s ‘Pets-in-Residence’ provide comfort, alleviate homesickness

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Over a year ago, Dr. Ann Batenburg, clinical assistant professor in the Simmons School of Education and Faculty in Residence (FIR) for Virginia Snyder Commons, was walking around Dallas Hall Lawn when she saw a man playing with his mini Australian shepherd.

“I remember thinking, ‘Wow, this would be a great dog to have on campus,’” said Batenburg. “And then I did nothing about it.”

The dog slipped her mind until she found her way back to her apartment and saw that the man was still there playing with his dog. Batenburg approached the man and received breeder information from him. Within a few days, Batenburg got in contact with the breeder, and soon enough, she had two 3-month-old Australian shepherds in her new FIR apartment.

Batenburg is just one of numerous faculty members who have housed a pet on campus, providing much needed dog time to those residents who miss their pets from home. Other Commons with dogs include Loyd, Kathy Crow, Armstrong, Crum, Cockrell-McIntosh and Mary Hay/Peyton/Shuttles.

These “Pets-in-Residence,” however, are limited to just cat and dogs, according to Jennifer Post, director of Residence Life. According to the Faculty in Residence FAQ’s on the Resident Life and Student Housing website, these animals are restricted to less than 25 pounds and faculty members are only technically permitted to have one pet.

“I think the decision to allow pets is one of the single best we made in terms of the success of the Residential Commons program,” said Post. “Being able to spend time with the FIR or RCD’s (Residential Community Director) pets helps alleviate some homesickness.”

Many of the faculty members who currently have pets in the Commons can attest to this observation.

Dr. Beth Wheaton, senior lecturer for economics and FIR of Cockrell-McIntosh, welcomed her whippet Lone Star to campus in the fall of 2014.

“Last year for the first Tuesday Salon, the Turners came, and Lone Star was the first pet they had to meet,” said Wheaton. “He was the ambassador for pets.”

Lone Star enjoys chasing squirrels around campus, and being part of the greyhound racer breed, he can outrun them, causing Wheaton to keep a close eye on him to save the squirrels. Wheaton described Lone Star as being inquisitive with a sense of knowing when a resident is having a difficult day.

In addition to Cockrell-McIntosh’s furry friend, Dr. Rita Kirk, director of the Maguire Center for Ethics and Armstrong FIR, houses Sir Emerson of Eaton, or more commonly known as Emmie. The 12-year-old bichon friese, which is a common breed used to calm patients in hospitals, has a whole closet full of costumes, including a Santa outfit, Sherlock Holmes outfit and a crown. Kirk described Emmie as “all heart.”

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“People relax around Emmie,” said Kirk. “Dogs make us human.”

Across the Quad from the tiny Sir Emmie lives the larger Gjøvie in the RCD of Crum’s apartment. Sam Gavic, RCD of Crum, brought Gjøvie to her new home last spring when she was only 8 weeks old. Gavic, then, dealt with the responsibility of raising her on campus.

“Crate training her was a struggle,” wrote Gavic in an email message. “There is a classroom next to where her crate is, and I remember having to talk with the faculty member who taught there asking if it was disrupting the class.”

Despite the barking, Gjøvie has become part of the Crum family.

“At home, I always wanted a dog and never had one,” said first year Crum resident Luke Yeom. “Gjøvie is like everyone’s dog.”

Tiffany Richardson and Will Powers in Kathy Crow as well as Professor Mark Fontenot in Loyd house dogs as well.

“At every Sunday event in the FIR’s apartment, Goldie is out and about, and we get to play with him,” said Kathy Crow first year Neha Husein.

Fontenot also brings his dogs Buster and Winston to several Commons events. In fact, Loyd features FIRFO fun at 8 p.m. on Sundays, time in Fontenot’s apartment devoted specifically for socializing and playing with the furry duo.

Campus-wide, these pets add to the ideals and goals of the Commons and stick in the hearts of residents and their owners. The dogs, however, can serve therapeutic roles as well.

“I know for sure that at least two residents who have had lives saved by my dogs,” said Batenburg. She paused for a second, hesitant to speak more. “Humans can judge you while dogs just listen.”

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