Students heading to Pfeiffer University can bring a piece of home with them through a pet-friendly residence hall.
This fall, five students are keeping their pet dogs with them in Plyler Hall, which was redesigned to have only single occupancy rooms where students will have space to keep their pets. Up to 30 pets can stay in the dorm of 50 rooms.
Pets are traditionally not allowed to live in dorm rooms. Most animals on college campuses are service animals or emotional support animals, but Pfeiffer, a private university in Misenheimer, is opening the dorm to pets that don’t meet that standard.
The Americans with Disabilities Act protects service animals – a dog or small horse who performs a task helpful to its owner with disabilities – in all public areas.
Emotional support animals have a broader definition under the Fair Housing Act as an animal belonging to someone who is emotionally or psychologically disabled. This category can include a variety of species, such as rabbits and pigs.
Campus housing must allow both service animals and emotional support animals under the Fair Housing Act as long as students have the appropriate documentation.
It’s up to each individual university to design a policy on whether other pets are allowed to live on campus, which is what Pfeiffer University did over the past year. They are part of a growing trend of colleges allowing students to bring their pets to college, following places like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Northern Colorado.
Regina Simmons, the director of residence life for Pfeiffer University, said there are breed and weight restrictions on which dogs can stay on campus, but mostly they are looking for how the dog interacts with other animals and if students have care plans for their pets. The Pet Council reviews applications and vet documents, then meets the dog before deciding if the pet can stay in Plyler Hall.
Sam Hanlon, a rising junior at Pfeiffer University, will be a resident assistant in Plyler Hall this upcoming year and plans to keep her pointer and dalmatian mix Carter with her.
“I’ve been waiting a year and a half for her to be on campus with me,” Hanlon said.
Hanlon was a part of the group that helped pitch and design the policies for the pet-friendly dorm. She said that at other universities, they saw how students benefited from having an animal to pet and play with after a long day, but there were other factors to consider, such as people not cleaning up after pets or dog barking disturbing others.
In the end, the policy laid out requirements for bathing and cleaning up after dogs. Students must have the dog for over a year before it can come live with them, and the dog has to respond to verbal commands.
Simmons said they didn’t want to put too many requirements in the policy because they wanted students to think for themselves about how to care for their pet, such as checking on them during the day or if they want to travel over the weekend.
“You are asking for that responsibility, you have to think that through,” she said.
Plyler Hall is only the start of the university’s efforts to become a pet-friendly campus. Simmons said they are considering adding a dog park and allowing students to bring pets to class with professor approval.
Grayson Harris, a rising senior, helped design the policy and will be keeping her Great Dane puppy Isabella with her in Pfeiffer’s apartment-style dorm this semester to test out how dogs do in a different type of on-campus housing.
“I’m excited to see how less stressful life can be,” Harris said.
Harris said their research showed students with pets on campus were happier and more able to cope with stress. Students reported a constant source of positivity from having their dog.
“It is not just good for humans to get to relieve stress and play with a dog, it’s good for the dog, too,” Harris said.
Davidson College allowed emotional support animals in all dorms last August for students with documented disabilities. In 2011, Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk became a pet-friendly college where faculty could bring their pets to work and students could keep pets with them in select dorms. Some universities don’t allow dogs to live on campus but bring them in during finals time to help with student stress.
The University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Queens University of Charlotte and Johnson C. Smith University all only allow service animals to live on campus.
Simmons said there has been an increase in demand for emotional support animals and pets on college campuses.
“We’ve seen a huge uptick across the country,” Simmons said.
Jamie Gwaltney: 704-358-5612, @jamielgwaltney