Furry, feathered creatures bring home back to Yale

April opens her window and makes a clicking noise with her tongue. Ten meters outside the Yale residential college, a plump female squirrel named Lucky perks her ears and scampers over to the third-floor window.

Lucky, whose hazelnut coat is shaggy from recently giving birth, climbs a nearby tree and expertly crosses a bathrobe belt that April — whose name has been changed to protect her privacy — connected from her window to the branches. Standing on the windowsill, Lucky nervously scans the single bedroom, neatly furnished with sheepskin rugs, a plush sofa and potted yucca trees.

Lucky, one of the many squirrels who makes her home on the Yale campus, climbs up a Yale sophomore's leg. Lucky often spends time in her bedroom and suite.
Pete Martin
Lucky, one of the many squirrels who makes her home on the Yale campus, climbs up a Yale sophomore's leg. Lucky often spends time in her bedroom and suite.

“I don’t understand why people are scared of squirrels,” April said as she cracks an almond in her hand. Lucky — now closer — eagerly steps across the room and climbs her leg. “They’re just little creatures like bunnies.” Lucky sniffs at the treat, settles down on April’s lap and allows her tail to be stroked as she chews loudly.

Although April’s particular affection for urban squirrels is unusual, to say the least, her desire for companionship, affection and a general “home-sweet-home” feeling at school is not.

Especially at a place like Yale.

Pets, students say, can help balance the frenetic pace of life at the University.

“It’s such a pressure cooker,” agreed Carrie Toole ’08, who owns two cats. “It’s a positive feedback loop when you’re stressed out all the time and interacting with stressed people all the time.”

But Toole said she keeps herself sane by spending time with her cats.

“Instead of pausing from reading to check e-mail or some stupid Web site, I’ll go dangle a string in front of my cat,” she said. “Having a funny little cat walk around and do stilly things makes me laugh all the time.”

Toole said she specifically looked for off-campus housing and cat-friendly apartment mates so she could bring her cats to school with her.

Psychology professor Margaret Clark said research has shown that pets do indeed serve a positive psychological function.

“I am aware that there is quite a bit of research suggesting that, in fact, having pets is good for you,” she wrote in the e-mail. “My own understanding is that pets really do serve to calm people down or keep them calm.”

‘Worth the risk’

Some Yale students — who all asked to remain anonymous because of University policy banning pets from the dorms — have taken the need for “an anchor” a step further, bringing pets into their residential colleges.

“It’s worth the risk,” said one freshman girl, who owns an African pygmy hedgehog (named Nevsky after the Russian Saint Alexander Nevsky). While the African pygmy hedgehog is illegal in certain American states — albeit not Connecticut — she said the animal was very popular in Russia.

A shy, prickly little creature, Nevsky mostly naps in a cage above the freshman’s bed in her single room. She received the pet as an 18th birthday present before college, she said.

“I wanted myself to have this responsibility,” she said. “I can fall apart sometimes, but if I have this thing that is dependent on me for care, it can be like an anchor.”

But the freshman admitted that hedgehogs are not social characters and they sleep for most of the day, doing “their own thing.”

“He’s not a pastime,” she said. “I think of him as a roommate.” And given that the typical lifetime of an average hedgehog is four to five years, she may just have a permanent roommate for the entirety of her undergraduate years at Yale.

The “Yale College Undergraduate Regulations 2007-2008,” though, places Pets fourth in a list of prohibited dormitory possessions and behaviors — after Noise, Firecrackers and Fireworks, and Firearms and Weapons, in that order.

The manual states that pets are not permitted in dormitory rooms and “the custodial supervisor has the authority to remove and to send to the pound any animal found in the dormitories.” In fact, Davenport College Master Richard Schottenfeld ’71 MED ’76 said animals have been removed from dorms two or three times in the past seven years.

The inspections occur at regular times, Schottenfeld said, but the no-pets rule is basically a “blanket rule.”

“I absolutely love the idea of fellows having dogs and cats,” Schottenfeld added as he watched Wally, Resident Fellow Erin Lavik’s Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, run around the Davenport courtyard. Even though Schottenfeld is allergic to dogs, he said it is important for people to have “pet lives” — that is, one-on-one time with dogs. “I do like having somebody in the college own a dog,” he said.

Still, Schottenfeld emphasized there are no exceptions to the pet in dormitories rule. “Resident fellows don’t have undergraduate regulations,” he said.

Lavik, who has lived in Davenport with Wally for three years, said her dog loves being on a college campus. “This is pretty much what dog heaven looks like,” she said.

Making Yale ‘more permanent’

But even the grandest of courtyards may not be heavenly to a pet kept in secret.

JD, for example, a cat owned by four sophomore girls paces through limited territory: two bedrooms, a bathroom and a common room. She looks out the window into a courtyard she cannot enter, and an outdoors she only experiences during school holidays.

But cats are happy in dorm rooms, insists one of her owners since, in general, they are nocturnal and kept indoors. They also adapt well to the schedules of four, busy girls.

“They’re self-sufficient but also affectionate,” she said.

JD became part of their suite last September, when the girls bought a kitten together at a Dixwell Avenue animal shelter in the name of “suite bonding.”

“She makes our suite homier,” she said. “It seems more permanent because we have something to take care of.”

Between jumping from tabletop to the door frame, the cat makes her rounds visiting each of the suitemates, softly purring for attention.

“She likes cuddling and napping with all of us,” another suite member said. “If she sees you fall asleep, she’ll come and sleep next to you.”

Sharing Facebook photos of JD as a young kitten, both suite members excitedly agreed, “getting JD was one of the best decisions we’ve made.”

April, too, has three albums of her squirrels on her Facebook profile, titled “The joy of my life,” “It Happened” and “More Fluff.” In these photos, she captures moments of the squirrels playing in her bed, sitting on her shoulder and happily munching on hazelnuts and almonds.

As an international student from St. Petersburg, Russia, she said she has no family in the United States. The squirrels, she said, help her to feel more at home at Yale by providing a sense of comfort.

“In this country, this is my home,” she said, “and the squirrels are like pets to me.”

Comments

  • Anonymous

    Nice story (and I don't really like squirrels that much.) Residential colleges are nearly dog heaven, but I can tell you from my friend's dog's experience, dog heaven on earth must be Old Campus. So much space, so many people to say hi to (nearly every other student has a story of their dog back home.)
    Plus, the squirrels (shot of diseases) seem an ideal dorm pet. Are the authorities going to send the squirrels to the pound?
    KT

  • Anonymous

    that picture is disgusting

  • K '94

    The reason why colleges don't allow pets is to prevent situations where that cat, currently owned by four students, what happens to him when they graduate? Who will keep him? What if their new lives/apartments don't allow for a pet? I am okay with this sharing only if it's clear before the adoption - and thank you for adopting - that one person will be responsible for the cat for the rest of his life. Cats and dogs can live for 15-20 years and people who are adopting need be sure they realize what they are getting into - including financially (please buy pet health insurance!) Re: the squirrel, she has now been taught not to be afraid of people - kind or NOT kind, and what happens when she encounters someone who is not kind? Also, if she relies on humans for food, she will not forage. I too am an animal lover - I just to make sure people realize what they are committing to with a pet, and educate themselves about why it's best to leave wild animals alone. Thank you.

  • Anonymous

    One of us lives nearby and takes the cat on all holidays and her family (especially her 8 year old sister) plans on keeping it after we graduate if we let them. We didn't think through this decision lightly. Most of us have had cats before, so we knew it was a major commmitment.

  • Anonymous

    I think the no animals policy might reflect a concern about noise, allergies, messes, and potential bites. Having had hockey player suitemates and basketball players in the room above, dogs might have been a welcome relief on all those scores.
    I suspect many Yale students are as responsible about their pets as the women with the cat above, or at least I hope they are.
    My worry, for example with the squirrels is that they get too used to being in dorm rooms, and next year, or some year in the future, the new occupants of the room call Campus custodial services to have the creatures removed perhaps by killing them. I hope not.

  • K '94

    Thank you, responsible cat owners, I should have expected nothing less from Yale students! I work for an animal welfare organization and I thank you :) Re: "fear they might have squirrels removed" posting, you're right - maybe they should look into steps now that can be taken to try to prevent this, or at least ensure the word is passed down… or maybe start weaning the squirrel off the attention now. Thank you for caring.

  • Anonymous

    Wonderful article.

  • Anonymous

    squirrels are RODENTS. um, hello????

  • Rugger

    I wonder if the squirrels have ID cards to get into Old Campus?

  • Get a Clue Squirrel Haters

    Get a Clue Squirrel Haters Or Just Go Home

    The problem with a Squirrel Hater is that he/she is not a squirrel-pet.

    We would not dare to call into question the talents or qualifications of dogs, cats or guinea pigs simply because we have faith in Yale pet admissions standards and admit to knowing nothing about what it takes to be successful in these fields. One thing we have learned in our time at Yale is that sometimes the most important lessons are outside of the cage. The most unlikely animals and the most unexpected circumstances often are the best teachers. Squirrel haters, here is your opportunity to learn a lesson.

    * * *
    Given the current campus climate toward offensive speech (and rocks thrown at rodents), it is surprising that Squirrel Haters ignorantly buy into generalizations about squirrel-pets. We doubt that groundskeepers at numerous New Haven and Yale trees would call us “disrespectful” or “disruptive.” Rather, the hundreds of squirrel volunteers at these trees are (nut-)roll models.

    While Squirrel Haters consider our non-scholarship status as indicative of mediocrity, the stunning successes of Yale’s squirrels presents an entirely different picture. In our four years at Yale, we have seen 12 squirrels become All Ivy League Nut Collectors. Currently, Bulldog squirrel rosters are filled with squirrel/pet All-Americans, national champion nut gathers, Olympic chattering qualifiers and potential professional squirrels as pets, as well as many squirrels who turned down giant nut hoards to attend Yale on their own …nut.

    To call us mediocre is to insult each and every squirrel-pet who has gathered nuts from Yale. These alumni are leaders in squirrel-society and continue to foster and uphold the great traditions of this University's most Bush-y Tailed squirrels.

    Consider a few dumb squirrels who were once “barely surviving gut nut-gathering classes” as student-pet squirrels at Yale: Rocky ’71, soaring team/track Yale long-jump record holder, 4 time all-American tree climber, half of famous "moose and squirrel" team; Screwball "Screwy" Squirrel ’44, nut-toss captain; star of Happy-Go-Nutty; Slappy Squirrel '78, gymnast, Animaniacs; Secret Squirrel ’77, gymnastics; "Agent 000"; Benno C. Schmidt, Jr., hockey, onetime President of Yale.

    Yale is a place filled with extraordinary rodents who are characterized by a multitude of talents and skills and furry coats, bright eyes and bushy tails. Rather than waste time focusing on our differences or divisions, let us unite and channel our nervous squirrel energy toward solving the larger issues in the local trees and around the globe. We are all privileged to be Yalie squirrels. We should disregard any differences that might exist and celebrate our gifts and achievements and dens and big front teeth and nuts together.

    Stephen Squirrelhofer and David Silbersquirrel are squirreleniors in Jonathan Edwards' and Ezra Stiles' Courtyard trees, respectively. They are members of the Yale furball team.

  • woods

    wow

  • Fur Lover

    I 'm not much into squirels but I am very fond of Beavers!
    Come on Old Campus, show us your beavers!

  • Anonymous

    I live in the same dorm as this girl and the squirrels get confused. They've started to come in all of the windows. They chew my clothes, eat my food, and run around the room at night. I'm afraid they'll start nesting in my hair while I'm asleep. I can't close the window because there's no air conditioning and it's really hot. It's very irresponsible to feed squirrels in a communal dorm. Private homes are a different matter. The squirrels have started creating a problem and I'm afraid people will start putting out poison to control what they see as "pests." Do the squirrels a favor and let them find their own nuts in trees where they are happy.

  • N. 5

    N. 13 -- that's what I was worried about in April. Maybe over the summer, with students not around, the squirrels will "unlearn" bad habits. The story made it sound as if the they needed that "bathrobe belt" to get in the window from the trees -- can that be removed. I have not heard of people other than those in the Dean's or Master's house getting to live in residential colleges over the summer (with a/c), but, you yourself might want to think about asking if there are screens for your window if for nothing else, to keep the bugs out.

  • Anonymous

    I KNOW! i worry about this all the time. these squirrels are OUT OF CONTROL. there are all over. every where i love. crouching in every crevice. scurrying in every corner. and where is the university when you actually need them on a relevant issue - ? predictably silent.

  • JMcH.

    Thank you for the associated vision & magnonimity that will facilitate more worthy Americans (as well as worthy international students, of course) to participate within your storied institution's educational experience………Eli would be proud.
    Note: In the interest of full disclosure, our own daughter, arguably an 'on-the-bubble' future applicant may (hopefully) directly benefit from such a noble undertaking.

  • N

    There can only be one rational reason for expanding the college - that there were many alumni that wanted to have their names on a building, perhaps coupled with the fact that many of their children may not have otherwise qualified for Yale.

  • Y'11

    Levin's email sure sugarcoats this move. I don't think our school is obligated to educate as many people as possible or as many people as are deserving. With fierce competition from H and P and others, who is to say the new admits are going to take their spots anyway? If not, we keep going down the line until we start letting in students substandard to the current caliber. That said, the Harkness legacy is one worth continuing and I don't think the "Yale Community" will be at all ruined by this. The residential college system is fantastic and does its job. It'll take more than a few hundred kids to ruin Yale's intimacy.

  • Recent Alum

    Congratulations to Levin and the Yale Corporation for ensuring that Harvard will remain #1 for the next 80 years (at a time when Yale's endowment is surging and Yale would otherwise finally have had a very serious chance of replacing Harvard as the nation's best university). It baffles me that anyone thinks that making Yale less selective is a good idea for Yale.

  • Ken McKenna

    While fussing over names, don't overlook the other pseudo-issue raised by this decision: architectural style! Gothic (expensive if done right)? Georgian (a little suburban and "done"? Apparently, not modern.

    How about considering some updated …

    Richardsonian Romanesque [http://search.yahoo.com/search?p=richardsonian+romanesque&fr=yfp-t-501-s&toggle=1&cop=mss&ei=UTF-8]

    or

    Charles Rennie Mackintosh Scottish Art Neauveau [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Rennie_Mackintosh]

    or

    Greene and Greene Arts & Craft
    [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greene_and_Greene]

    That's just to get the ball rolling. There's lots more to think and fuss about. Remember to be vicious, because there's so little at stake!

  • Appropriate

    University can take action to discipline this guy, but the criminal justice system handled him appropriately as a first time offender. What he did was morally reprehensible, and the young woman should sue him.

  • Candace JE'03

    Oh. Such fond memories of the squirrels at Yale. They were absolutely insane and brazen!!! One day my sophomore year, I came home to my dorm to find a note on my TV left by an architect who had come to take some measurements for changes to be made to my dorm during the summer. The note informed me that the architect had to chase a squirrel out of my room who had been eating my Quaker Oatmeal. It also informed me that I should throw away said oatmeal that I found spread all over my carpet.
    I remember my friends and I always being afraid of the squirrels who always came a little too close those days we decided to study outside. In the JE courtyard, the picnic tables were off limits--they were squirrel territory.

  • Anonymous

    Well, at least we can rest easy in the knowledge that the squirrels try to eat healthy (Quaker Oatmeal) when they can. But with only a note how can we eliminate the possibility this "architect" was perhaps a bit bright eyed and bushy-tailed, perhaps with buck teeth, so that it might have been architect rather than squirrel, who spilled the oatmeal, only to try to scape-rodent an unsuspecting Yale squirrel population.

  • Chris

    Informative article, nice work YDN.

    Equally as important is the fact that "April" apparently has quite the figure. An athlete? No offense, April, trying to make a polite compliment without being sketchy.

    Vy ochen milaya!

  • Anonymous

    Figure, #18?!?!

    Are you talking about the same photo above depicting a thin person with a squirrel mounting her leg?