The first thing you see when you walk into UT junior Siarra Sherako’s apartment down S Boulevard is a flight of steep stairs and her kitten, Cobain, moseying down to greet whoever comes through the door. More often than not, Cobain is accompanied by his best friend Stella, a 3-year-old dog owned by Stevi Hemingway, sophomore at UT. The relationship between Cobain, a smaller sized cat with twirls of gray and black fur with one white patch on his back, and Stella, a lab mix with bright orange hair and a pink nose, is a perfect contradiction as they get along wonderfully without barking or hissing at each other.
Both Sherako and Hemingway live off campus for the same reason: UT has no pet-friendly dorms, and they wanted to live with their animals.
With more buzz than ever, UT students feel their need for animal companionship is more and more important as the number of students who move off campus in order to have a pet grows.
Sherako said, “My friend Meg B. moved off campus last semester to have her two dogs with her. Noah J. also has two dogs and moved off campus to have them come stay this semester, and Brenna M. moved off campus to get a cat, too. It’s really something that a lot of my friends are doing right now.”
Colin Souza, sophomore at UT, said, “This semester I moved off campus so I could have my dog, Marley with me. She’s four months old and she makes me so happy. Sometimes I feel like I am taking care of a child, but I like the extra responsibility. Because I am in charge of someone else’s well being, I am a lot more attentive than I would be to something nonliving.”
Although pets are not allowed to live with students on campus, people have gotten away with it.
Sherako said, “My old roommate had a cat on campus and never got caught, then she moved off campus this semester, also. I had a leopard gecko two years ago and I never got caught. It was an easy pet and did not take up much space.”
Souza added, “My old roommate’s ex girlfriend had a dog she would always bring around. When she had to go to class, my roommate would watch the dog. When he had class, he’d leave the dog with me or one of his friends. Sometimes she brought her dog to class because he was that well trained not to make any noise when he was in her purse. It was ridiculous. I couldn’t believe she got away with living with that dog in her dorm room for an entire semester. She was never bothered or asked about it.”
Students may get away with hiding a pet, but if you are caught, Amanda Adas, area coordinator for the office of Res Life, said, “If a student does not abide by the University of Tampa’s pet policy, the student will be asked to remove the pet and sign a pet contract for the first violation. If further violations occur, the student may be in jeopardy of losing his or her housing and may be asked to move off campus.”
Souza said, “There is not much risk in hiding an animal in your dorm. You get a warning the first time if you ever get caught. All you need to do is have a well trained, quiet pet.”
Hemingway said she likes the extra responsibility that her dog Stella adds to her life. She has matured as a result of having someone other than herself to watch out for. Hemingway is a waitress and a nanny when she is not in school, making enough money to live comfortably with her pooch. To be able to take care of herself and her dog, Hemingway has to buckle down to make sure her schoolwork does not pile up and that she doesn’t neglect Stella. Hemingway said, “When I got Stella three summers ago, she lived at home in Vermont with my family until I was able to bring her down here to live with me. I missed her terribly. There were a couple nights when I woke up in my dorm in Vaughn and started crying because I would seriously think Stella was there cuddling up next to me. In my classes I would daydream about her all the time and how much fun we have. I was beyond happy when I had saved enough (money) to have her come down here and stay with me. I am a lot more focused on what I am doing in my classes because I don’t have to think about Stella being over 1500 miles away from me. Knowing that she’s at home waiting for me puts my mind at rest and really calms my thoughts. I’m not a crazy dog lady, but I love talking to Stella. She gives the best advice.”
Students at UT have expressed more need for their animals to live with them at school.
Sherako said, “Everyone wants independence and to be off campus, but more than that, aside from a roommate, people want animal companionship. Maybe it’s because animals can’t talk back and they always love you no matter what. Bottom line, animals make people feel good.”
Talks of a pet-friendly dorm at UT have not been discussed according to Adas. She said for that process to begin, interested students would have to draw up a proposal and present their case formally. She has not been aware of students increasingly wanting to have pets in their dorms or wanting to move off campus to have pets, but from the buzz, students disagree.
25 random UT students were asked if they’d prefer to have a pet living in their dorm room with them. The survey produced results that only four people did not care for a pet due to allergies. All 21 other people said they would love to bring their dog, cat, snake, chinchilla, hamster, etc. to live with them.
With more and more students having pets, it’s hard to tell whether they smuggle the animals into their rooms or take them home off campus. Walking around campus, you see a bunch of dogs more than any other animal and more than you’ve seen them in past semesters. As UT is growing, so is its pet population.
Sherako said, “There should absolutely be a pet-friendly dorm. It would make it easier for students to transition into college because a pet keeps you company and keeps you from feeling lonely which, in my experience, leads to not so good grades. I’ve been living on campus since freshman year so for four semesters I was living on campus. I had a fish my first semester, then it died and I was pet-less for a semester. I had geckos after and noticed a jump in my grades. After thinking about it I compared my grades from my first three semesters at college.
The semesters I had a pet, my grades were significantly higher than the one I didn’t have a companion. It sounds weird but I would talk to my geckos and my fish telling them all about my stress. In response I got bubbles and head nods from my animals. You would think that living off campus, working and having a pet would complicate your life, but just because I get to talk to Cobain, a cat that shows a lot more emotion than a fish or gecko, I am a much less stressed person than I was without an animal.”
Adas said in an email, “While a pet certainly provides companionship, the safety concerns involved outweigh any advantages of having a pet in the residential communities outside of registered service animals.” She continued, “Many students have severe allergies to pet dander. In order to accommodate all students who choose to live in campus housing, we have found that it is best to eliminate any potential sources of the pet dander within the residence halls, in any building on the University of Tampa campus and in the pool area on the main campus. Each student has the right to a comfortable environment that is conducive to living and learning.”
Sherako said, “Obviously some people are allergic to pet dander and specific animals. Those people should not be ignored, but having a dorm that is labeled pet-friendly gives students the best of both worlds. There could be a little area for dogs to do their business outside and the owners would be held accountable for all the cleaning up and health aspects of dealing with animals.”
Hemingway added, “If I could have Stella on campus with me, I would. It’s closer to everything. Animals make people passionate about others in general because they make people more responsible and caring. Animal friendly dorms, if regulated, are a great idea for stressed out college students. There was an exam week where the school brought animals on campus to play with students because animals are stress relievers.”
In an article published in May 2012, “For Stressed College Students, a Doggone Good Way to Relax,” the Associated Press set a similar scene. “Stanley [a golden retriever puppy] rolls around on the floor,” the story said, “and chews on a squeaky toy while zombie-like law students wander in, a giant grin breaking out on their weary faces when they see the cuddly pup. Puppy therapy — just in time for finals week.”
Researcher Loise Francisco-Anderson said in that same article, “You can release some of the emotions to a pet that you can’t to a human. A pet keeps it confidential.”
That is the bond many college students are looking for: a way to vent and not be judged.
Hemingway said, “Stella is my pride and joy. She makes me very happy when I am angry or stressed. I can always expect my Stella to jump on my lap when I sit on the couch. She keeps me company when I do my homework. Stella is relaxed when I am relaxed and uppity when I take her out to play. She’s something to look forward to when I get home other than homework and an empty house.”
Souza added, “I don’t know how I lived without Marley. She makes me so happy. All my friends have been over just to play with her. More students should have pets, whether it be a cat, dog, snake or a bunny. They are so beneficial to your mood, your work ethic and how you make decisions.”
Anna Westerholm can be reached at email@example.com