More and more colleges are beginning to allow pets in select dormitories. Stressed-out students may benefit from the blood pressure reducing benefits of stroking a pet or watching fish in a tank. In addition, some students delay college or skip it altogether because they can’t face leaving a pet behind; those potential students can now choose from several colleges with pet-friendly dorms. However, are pets in dorms really a good idea? Is a dorm environment really appropriate for a pet, and can most students care adequately for pets in addition to adjusting to the college lifestyle? Let’s consider the benefits and drawbacks.
Benefits of Pet-Friendly College Dorms
As I mentioned above, stroking a pet or watching fish can reduce stress levels and lower blood pressure. As I also mentioned in the first paragraph, pet-friendly dorms mean students don’t have to choose between being separated from a beloved pet and continuing their education. Additional benefits include helping students develop responsibility and an increased sense of community among dorm residents.
If one or two residents in a dorm have pets, they tend to become like residence hall mascots, facilitating friendship and socialization between students. If most of the residents have pets, the pets can become a reason to schedule social activities like group visits to a dog park or lectures on dog training from a local expert.
Having to be home in time to walk a dog or feed a pet can also encourage students to make responsible choices like leaving a party early instead of binge-drinking and staying the night. Pets may provide both a reason for the student to behave more responsibly and an excuse to give when peers pressure students to make poor choices. Pets are fairly universally liked (at least, among people choosing to live in pet-friendly dorms!) and needing to be home to care for one’s pets is a socially acceptable way to bow out of an activity without looking like a stick in the mud.
The Downside of Pet-Friendly Dorms
Unfortunately, keeping pets in a dorm situation isn’t always a good choice for the pet, even if it has benefits for the owner. To start with, most dorm rooms are very small. It’s not fair to an energetic dog of any size to keep it in a housing situation where it can’t run around and play. The busy schedules of students often allow little time for walks with a dog or petting and play with a cat. Granted, most adult pet owners are equally busy, but college students are just starting out on their own and learning skills like time management that allow older adults to balance pet ownership with work, family life, and socializing.
In addition to concerns about time and commitment to pet care, there are many common hazards associated with dorm life that can be toxic to pets. Older pet owners worry about holiday party hazards for pets, but in dorms, there are parties nearly every night and definitely every weekend. Some common hazards include:
- Alcoholic beverages
- Broken glass
- Other drugs (prescription and non-prescription)
- Toxic houseplants
- Snack foods not kept out of pets’ reach
- Laboratory supplies including toxic chemicals
Overall, while I feel some students have the time and sense of responsibility needed to keep a pet in a dorm, I don’t think it’s a good option for all or even most college freshmen. This is an issue on which parents and college or high school advisors should take leadership by encouraging those students capable of giving a pet proper care in a dorm to apply to colleges that allow pets in some dorms, while discouraging less responsible students from bringing pets to college immediately.