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Cat and Gown

Pennsylvania college lets students matriculate with pets

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Alex and See-More graduate - PHOTO COURTESY OF WASHINGTON AND JEFFERSON COLLEGE
  • Photo courtesy of Washington and Jefferson College
  • Alex and See-More graduate
Moving to college for the first time involves a staggering number of goodbyes. To family, home, high school friends, home-cooked meals and clean showers. Washington and Jefferson College, however, has removed one particularly challenging goodbye from the list.

Thanks to a program that began in the school’s Monroe Hall, students at the Washington, Pa. institution no longer have to bid farewell to Fido as they adjust to college life.

After taking over as president in 2005, Tori Haring-Smith introduced an initiative to establish a pet-friendly residence hall at W&J. A lover of animals and an avid animal-rights supporter, Haring-Smith experienced undergraduate life in the company of her cat and wanted to give her students the opportunity to being the family pet to college.

Despite initial concerns from the student-life staff, the initiative to create a pet-friendly residence hall was met with enthusiasm from the student body and administration. With about 25 student pet-owners currently living in Monroe, this year marks the program’s 10th anniversary.
“Students see this program as a privilege and so they are very responsible,” says Karen Oosterhous, director of communications at W&J.

Students wishing to bring a pet to campus must meet a number of requirements. For example, students may only bring pets that have been in the family for at least a year. Animals must also have up-to-date vaccinations and proper pet licensing.

“These requirements emphasize responsible pet ownership,” Oosterhous explains.

Additionally, the program is arranged to provide support to pet-owners. Students that do not own pets or were not able to bring their pets to school may elect to live in Monroe Hall. Those choosing to live in the community with pets and their student owners offer help and support to their pet-owning peers, as the rigor of the academic year may pose challenges for student pet-owners.

But the program does more than foster community on campus. Oosterhous believes the pet program bolsters the morale of W&J students. Other students love to visit Monroe, walk the dogs and even pet-sit.

“Having a pet at school is a source of unconditional support as students face the different challenges college can bring,” says Oosterhous. “The campus’ dogs and cats are like rock stars.”

A specific group of students benefits from this privilege in a unique way. W&J boasts a strong pre-veterinary program. A substantial percentage of students in this field elect to bring their pets to campus.

“This allows them to integrate the academic, the emotional and the social. It’s a terrific way to serve the whole student,” says Oosterhous.

Recent graduate Alex Norris says her cat See-More aided in her unique transition to college.

“As a transfer student, I didn’t make friends with the incoming freshmen, like all the others did,” Norris says. “I would be able to say things like, ‘I brought my cat with me.’ He helped me to make friends.”

For the residents of Monroe Hall, graduation marks a conclusion for student pet-owners and the pets themselves. To commemorate this ending, well-behaved pets may participate in commencement activities and cross the graduation stage with their student owners.

Graduating pets, donning tiny caps and tiny gowns, receive a treat and a little diploma to honor their commitment to bringing their student owners a small slice of home.

“[See-More] went to school with me for three years,” says Norris. “We joked that he earned it just as much as the rest of us.” 

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