Two cats, one orange and one gray-and-white, tear across the tile floor of a small apartment just off-campus. Their owner, Emily Garcia ’05, smiles.
“They didn’t [get along] at first,” she says. “Now they’re just playing.”
Pets are a common sight in this country. In a survey conducted in 2003, the American Pet Association found that of 102.8 million households in America, 33.2 million had at least one cat as a pet and 44.8 million had at least one dog. But Yale, along with many universities, forbids students from keeping pets. The Yale College Regulations empower custodial supervisors to remove discovered pets and send them to the pound. Some students, though, think an animal friend is worth the risk.
Garcia adopted her gray-and-white cat, Spizzy, from the Humane Society while rooming in Jonathan Edwards College her junior year. At the time, she said, she was particularly worried the cat would be discovered.
“We didn’t want to have to abandon her again,” Garcia said.
This year, Garcia decided to live off-campus. And while she said that other factors influenced her decision to move, she acknowledged that “being able to have the cats was part of it.”
Rather than moving off campus, many other students keep pets in their dorms or have done so in the past. Common dorm room pets include anything from rats and cats to the surprisingly popular ball python, so named for its tendency to curl up into a ball with its head at the center when frightened.
Ball pythons are smaller members of the python family, with a green body and yellow-and-black markings. They feed once every two weeks, are not poisonous and do not smell. Two students interviewed, a junior in Calhoun College and a senior who refused to give her college affiliation because she did not want to get her master involved, said they keep them as pets.
The junior in Calhoun, who owns two of the snakes, said that she feels they are among the easiest animals to care for.
“Snakes can live in a tank, and they don’t smell, make noise or need a lot of attention, so they just seemed like the perfect kind of animal to get,” the junior said.
The senior agreed ball pythons are ideal pets.
“People don’t know how domesticable they are,” she said. “They’re really nice, and have very small brains.”
The senior has owned her snake, named Merlin, since her sophomore year. She said Merlin’s presence comforts her.
“Everybody grows up with pets, and so having a pet to take care of, a living thing, is very nice and relaxing,” she said. “He’s a live thing I can snuggle that takes no work at all.”
Most pet owners, whether on or off-campus, said that they actually support the University’s pet regulations.
“I think a lot of college students really don’t have the time to take care of [an animal], so I’m sort of ambivalent on whether they should be allowed to,” said Joanna Becker ’05, who adopted her stray cat Gremlin after moving off campus this year. “I don’t think pets would be very happy in the dorms.”
JE Associate Master Sondra Haller, a self-confessed cat lover and animal advocate, nevertheless said she supports the University’s position for the animals’ sake.
“When I was [university] age, I’m sure I would have wanted a pet,” Haller said. “I’m viewing it from the pets’ point of view.”
Among the potential dangers she cited were animals being left alone over break and the ever-present risk of escape.
“I just think it’s more difficult for students to be responsible pet owners in a dorm setting,” Haller said.
But even pet owners themselves disagree about the regulations. The junior from Calhoun maintained that legalizing dorm pets would improve the pets’ lives.
“By making it illegal to have them, you end up making people less responsible,” she said.
Merlin’s owner, however, said she believes that the ban on pets makes potential owners more responsible, not less.
“I think the regulations about keeping [pet ownership] quiet makes people a little more careful, makes it a little less of a throwaway [decision],” she said. “It makes people much more aware and careful of what they have.”
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