In the library, in classrooms and even in the Retreat—it is common to find not only Vassar professors, but members of the Poughkeepsie community walking their dogs in all different campus locales.
Dogs are the most visible animals in the community, but animals of all stripes and tails can offer multiple benefits for those who own and interact with them. Although many enjoy the just the sight of these animals, some students wish that the policy on pets was more expansive.
Like Matthew Vassar before them with his dog, Tip, today’s faculty and staff bring to campus and live with their own uncaged pets.
Assistant Professor of Education Colette Cann and her daughter Salihah, both reside in Jewett with their dog, Jasmine. A pit bull mix, Jasmine came into Cann’s life after someone pushed her out of a car in front of a restaurant as a puppy. Cann says that Jasmine offers unconditional love and companionship for her family, something that she said is especially welcomed in times of stress. There have been certain challenges to owning a dog, however. Originally from the Bay Area, Jasmine had more freedom, having almost never been on a leash.
“The adjustment to Vassar has been tough since she has to be on leash and she doesn’t swim in the lake,” said Cann. “But students are incredibly friendly to her out on walks, she gets lots of snuggles while waiting for me outside the library and she gets special treats in the Education building, the Dean of Faculty’s office, and at the Retreat.”
In earlier years at Vassar, students regularly brought animals with them, and it was not uncommon to see pets roaming free around campus. This changed in 1979 when the Committee on College Regulations ruled to eliminate student pets, citing that students were not taking proper care of their animals and ignoring basic rules such as leash laws. This revolt against leaches led to many dogs found “frolicking, fighting and fornicating” on campus (“No More Petting at Vassar,” 10.29.79).
Vassar students are allowed to own only small animals that can be kept in cages on campus. The Residential Life website states that “Pets are not permitted in residences, except for those of a size that can be humanely kept in an aquarium/cage not larger than 20 gallons 24 hours a day.” Additionally, pets that produce fur or dander are prohibited on wellness floors. This policy is in place in consideration of the animals themselves and for students with allergies.
For the animals, the restriction of space would be limiting.
Those are not the only stipulations. The Office of Residential Life also requires that all roommates must consent to sharing the space with an animal. The college prohibits the presence of any and all poisonous animals. Finally, students are also barred from bringing visiting pets into their rooms and houses. Some disagree with this policy, believing that since dogs are allowed to pass through campus buildings and can be found anywhere from the Retreat to certain classrooms, students too should be allowed to keep larger animals in their dorm rooms or apartments for the comfort and support that would provide.
Samantha Levy ’16 is one student who wishes she could have a pet on campus. “I would have loved to [have] been able to have one of my dogs here,” said Levy. “She’s small, harmless and sleeps for most of the day. She’s quite cute to have around. It would make me feel more at home to have my dog on campus.” Currently, Levy lives next to the Post-Baccalaureate Henry Chuang who owns a cat named Maxi who has become a welcomed resident of Jewett.
She said, “While I personally prefer dogs, I enjoy being able to go out in the hall and play with Maxi on a daily basis. It makes the dorm feel like a more friendly and homey environment.” Levy said she wishes she could also have her own dogs, but she sees how this might pose a problem. “Seeing animals on campus is no substitute for Macks, Marlo and Cobalt, my dogs at home, but I understand the potential risks of having my own pets here,” she said.
In regards to animals in apartment areas, where there is much more room than in a dorm room, Rich Horowitz, Associate Director of Residential Life, wrote in an emailed statement, “I’m actually going through an adoption process to be able to adopt a rescue dog and—given what they’ve asked us–I’m fairly certain that they’d not allow a student in an apartment to adopt one of their dogs.”
For one, he said he believes that the apartment situation could potentially cause issues with animal supervision and access. For another, he said that the impermanence of living in one of Vassar’s apartment areas creates an unstable environment for the animal.
“One other consideration in this less than exhaustive list of potential concerns is about the welfare of the animal once the student graduates, as many students will move back home or to apartments. Some homes and most apartments don’t allow dogs,” he wrote. “Even if one finds another owner for the dog, I think it can be agreed that such transient dog ownership isn’t good for the animal.”
Residential Life routinely finds students breaking campus regulations and harboring animals in their living areas. Horowitz stated that every year they find one to three pets, typically cats, in violation of college code. Although he agrees with today’s policies against larger pets on campus, he thinks there should be an updated discussion on what animals should be allowed as pets at the college.
“We’ve thus far left things fairly open, but there’s concern that some have taken advantage of this openness at the expense of the welfare of the pet and the comfort of students who aren’t as fond of their pet as they are,” wrote Horowitz.
Cann stated that if having pets on campus is something that students wanted, she would support it. She advises students, however, against pet ownership, saying it is a huge responsibility. College is a time to be free from the many challenges that come with an animal companion, she said.
Wrote Cann, “If students feel like they want that level of responsibility, then I would support it. But, if I had it to do again, I probably would have postponed it until later.”