Pet-friendly dorm makes life pleasant at W&J


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When Leslie Walker applied to Washington & Jefferson College, she remembers checking the mailbox frequently to see whether or not she would be accepted.

Three years later, her English bulldog Gus had a similar experience as he waited for his letter of acceptance to the college located in Washington, Pa.

Gus applied to the college because Ms. Walker wanted him to live with her for her senior year at the pet dorm that Washington & Jefferson established several years earlier. But, as with student applicants, not just any pet is accepted.

"There was all this paperwork. You have to submit veterinarian records and photos from all angles and I think I even wrote a letter that was from Gus," said Ms. Walker, 22, now an accountant with the Naval Audit Service in Washington, D.C.

Eventually Gus got his acceptance letter and he and Ms. Walker spent her senior year living together in Monroe Hall, the dormitory known informally as the "Pet House."

The dorm, and the college's guidelines for bringing and caring for pets on campus, garnered it the No. 3 spot on the "Top 10 Pet-Friendly Colleges of 2010" by the website www.petside.com.

The only other Pennsylvania college to make the list was Lehigh University in Bethlehem, which allows fish tanks in dorm rooms and one dog or cat in each Greek house, according to the petside website.

The No. 1 college on the list was Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla., which has three student pet complexes. In researching the best way to organize the Washington & Jefferson pet dorm, school officials visited Eckerd.

The pet house at Washington & Jefferson was the brainchild of college President Tori Haring-Smith, an animal lover and owner of several cats, who had the chance to have a kitten with her at Swarthmore as a freshman before the school did away with the practice.

Shortly after becoming president in January 2005, Dr. Haring-Smith introduced the idea to her board and the student body.

"This was something that I thought would be a good thing. It was the way I would have wanted to go to college. I knew we would have enough students here who would want that," she said.

Ms. Walker said she enjoyed having Gus around for her senior year and he loved the constant activity on campus and the opportunity to make new friends every day on his walks. Gus even walked across the stage with Ms. Walker at commencement to accept her diploma last spring.

In fact, she said, since he's been back home with her in suburban Maryland, Gus has seemed a bit bored and lonely.

Dr. Haring-Smith said the biggest resistance she got when she first floated the idea of a pet dorm was from the student life department whose members "imagined animal feces everywhere and dogs barking and keeping people awake. But we've had none of that," she said.

A recent visit to Monroe Hall found it quiet and clean. A large lawn around the dorm is where the pets can romp and play, often drawing the attention of students passing by. The pet owners are responsible for cleaning up after their pets.

The dorm is currently home to 17 students, seven cats, five dogs and two guinea pigs.

"We've had some students who've tried it and not wanted it," said James Amato, assistant director of residence life. There are also some students who don't bring their pets to school but enjoy rooming with someone who does, and the roommates often share responsibility for the animal.

That's the situation with Michelle Kelly, a sophomore from Maryland, who brought her 3-year-old Yorkiepoo Lady to campus with her this year.

"I'll come back to my dorm after class and my roommate will be sitting on the floor playing with her," Ms. Kelly said.

Lady loves to play catch with a tennis ball and socialize with other students on the lawn. She has her own bed tucked under the lofted bed of her owner, and her boxes of treats sit on a shelf in between books and other school materials.

Ms. Kelly said Lady was her family's pet, but she was her primary caregiver. She realized when she left for college, Lady was home all day by herself since other family members either worked or were at school and activities.

"Every who meets her really likes Lady," Ms. Kelly said.

In addition to spending time in their owners' dorm rooms, the pets also spend time in a large first floor student lounge equipped with water bowls, a cat tree and some pet toys.

There, Jeremy Baughman, a junior philosophy and English major, was having a bit of trouble coaxing his cat Sutune out of her carrier. Mr. Baughman explained that Sutune is shy and prefers the dorm room to public places, especially when dogs are around.

Sutune scratches at the door and meows when Mr Baughman leaves for class. But he said when he returns she's usually settled in on one of the blankets he places in the room for her.

Melanie Lusnak, a senior, has lived in Monroe Hall for two years with her cat, Peach. Since Ms. Lusnak doesn't have a a roommate, Peach has taken over the second desk in the room and uses it as a perch to look out the window and watch squirrels on a nearby trees.

The students who brought pets to campus have to comply with the college's strict policies.

Eligible pets include cats, dogs less than 40 pounds, small birds, hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, turtles and fish. Other types of animals may be approved on a case-by-case basis. Pit bulls, rottweilers and wolf breeds are not permitted on campus at any time.

While fish are permitted in all residence halls, the other pets are permitted only in Monroe Hall.

Pets must have been in the family for one year prior to them arriving on campus and must be at least 1.5 years old.

Pets are not permitted on campus during the summer, and if students leave for break during the regular school year, they must either take their pets with them or make arrangements for the pet to stay off campus.

For a pet to be considered to live on campus, its owner must provide a record of its current vaccinations and proof that it was spayed or neutered. Dogs and cats must have a ID tag on at all times, listing its name and the name and phone number of the owner.

The registration fee is $50 for cats and dogs and $25 for all other pets.

"It's worked extremely well. I love going down there and especially in the spring you can see the dogs with their bandanas on catching their Frisbees," Dr. Haring-Smith said.


Mary Niederberger: mniederberger@post-gazette.com ; 412-851-1512.


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