Ezra Stiles College has gotten a little noisier lately.
Since Master Stephen Pitti brought home a 13-month-old black Labrador named Aqua, the college courtyard often echoes with the yips of the rambunctious puppy playing in the grass. While students are banned from having animals on campus, the pets of college masters and deans fill the college with playful energy, not just noise. In the case of Aqua, who is especially popular with Stilesians, the need for time with man’s best friend apparently has a strong pull among students.
“People can’t get enough of her,” Stiles master’s aide T.J. Smith ’10 said. “We’re thinking of organizing a study break just with her.”
Pitti said he is glad to have Aqua, who joins his five-year-old Boston terrier named Henry. Pets, he said, make the college environment feel less alien.
“When I was at Yale, I found it strange that there were very few young people, very few old people that weren’t lecturing to you, and very few dogs,” Pitti said.
While the experience of having a pet can be positive for students, it also has advantages for the pet as well, said Calhoun College Dean Leslie Woodard, who has a four-year-old Shetland sheepdog named Jimmy Dean. While Jimmy Dean was initially shy and kept to himself, his time with students has brought him out of his shell. With his outgoing personality, however, comes a tendency to bark quite a bit, she added.
“We’ll be working on his barking this summer,” Woodard said.
Still, some tendencies are just part of the dog’s nature. As a sheepdog, Jimmy Dean has a habit of herding students and the master’s children, Woodard said. He is able to keep calm at home under the supervision of her two cats.
Although many administrators lead hectic lives, those interviewed said balancing their schedules with their pets was not an issue. Aqua has been much more manageable than Pitti expected, he said.
Yale College Dean and former Saybrook College Master Mary Miller agreed, saying her cat, Rainbow, has gone into “retirement” and sleeps most of the day. But, as many Saybrugians know too well, Rainbow has inspired many an awkward moment. One of the cat’s most memorable foibles occurred during a Master’s Tea several years ago, Miller recalled, when Rainbow sauntered into the Tea through the open patio doors with a nearly dead animal in her jaws.
Most of the time, however, pets do not cause disturbances.
“Aqua mostly chews on things and pees on things — standard puppy stuff,” Pitti said.
Despite the generally puppy-friendly atmosphere, though, Pitti said he is wary of bringing Aqua to many public places since some people are uncomfortable with animals. Pitti said he was anxious when Aqua ran into the Stiles dining hall earlier this year, afraid that people would be alarmed.
Students interviewed said they were not alarmed by Aqua’s presence and are becoming more accustomed to seeing Aqua around the college. Instead, it was Aqua who was alarmed at a recent petting zoo held in Stiles.
“When she met the pony, that really freaked her out,” Pitti said.
Still, given the relative dearth of pets on campus, some pets have forged connections where they can. Rabbi Lina Zerbarini said her Springer Spaniel Maggie made friends with University Chaplain Sharon Kugler’s dog while they were in the office with their owners.
When Zerbarini bought her third dog, a puppy named Izzy, she said visitors to her office “may well end up with a puppy in their lap,” and she added that some students visit her office to see the dogs.
Students agreed: “It can seem pretty strange at college sometimes,” said David Edwards ’12. “Dogs make this place a little more homey.”