Students, staff adopt furry companions

The first few months of a new student’s life at college are often filled with longings for things like mom’s cooking, a bigger-than-cot-sized bed and access to a car.

While some of these longings may become easier to deal with over time, there is one comfort of home that turns into a perpetual void for many.

Leaving beloved pets behind can be a difficult prospect to face, but is an inescapable step in moving from home and into a residence building at Gannon University.

According to Denise Bakerink, Director of Student Living since July, Gannon’s policy on animals in residence halls states that students may only keep pets that can live within an aquarium but not outside of one.

She said that this basically only allows fish or other underwater creatures, because pets such as snakes or reptiles, while they may reside in a tank most of the time, can survive outside of one.

Bakerink said that this part of the policy came into play when a small snake escaped from its owner in Harborview Apartments and found its way into the apartment of unsuspecting and startled tenants.

Matt Ward, resident director of Finegan Hall, said that he had been notified of the escaped snake, which managed to make its way from the second floor all the way to the sixth.

“I guess he went and pressed the elevator button and went up, I don’t know,” Ward said.

Ward and Bakerink both said that this was not the first time a student had been caught smuggling a pet into his or her room.

Bakerink, who worked in student living at other schools prior to coming to Gannon, said it has been an issue in every position she has held in the past. She noted students’ tendency to help abandoned pets as a major contributor to this.

“People are goodhearted,” she said, “especially if they see one that’s outside and abandoned that they want to rescue.”

Ward said that he has seen everything from 50-gallon saltwater fish tanks – 10-gallon tanks are the largest ones allowed by Gannon’s policy, and they must be freshwater – to cats, to reptiles.

“I’ve seen some really weird amphibian creatures that look like they’re test subjects for some kind of sci-fi project,” he said.

Bakerink said that the reasoning behind Gannon’s policy has to do with the sacrifices that are necessary to living in a community with other individuals.

“The biggest thing is the cleanliness issue,” she said. “Because you are living in a confined space with other people, you’ll have people with allergies, people who are afraid of dogs.”

Though they both acknowledged what they believe to be the impossibility of maintaining a more open pet policy in Gannon’s residence halls, both Bakerink and Ward are animal lovers. Bakerink has two cats, and Ward has his adopted 8-year-old dachshund, Vito, living with him in Finegan, as resident directors are allowed pets.

Ward said he got the dog from a friend, who, at the time, had two dogs, a cat and a baby on the way.

“He had way too much going on,” he said. “He kind of fell in my lap. He’s an old man; we’re just living life together.”

Ward said that Vito has been good about becoming acclimated to his new environment ever since the two were united in July. Being that he was already 8 years old, Ward said he did not have to worry about housebreaking or other training required with a new puppy.

“He’s in my apartment on the first floor, so hearing people upstairs would really startle him at first,” he said. “But he’s getting used to me, getting used to people being around all the time.

As with caring for any pet, Ward said there have been some day-to-day challenges with finding creative ways to get back to his apartment and let Vito out.

“He is a cage dog, so I do give him that peace, but I also don’t like keeping him in there all day,” he said.

Though Ward said he has tried to leave Vito out of the cage for extended periods of time, it has typically resulted in mischief-making.

“He’ll knock over garbage cans and do all kinds of bad stuff,” he said. “He ate my advent chocolate calendar, that wasn’t good.”

While Vito has been making a name for himself among the freshman residents of Finegan, there are many students living off campus who have adopted pets of their own, as well.

Senior early childhood and special education major Laura Haldeman and senior nursing major Megan Herold have each taken in a furry companion, with the permission of their respective landlords, of course.

Haldeman has had her cat since October of 2011 when she rescued her from the streets of Erie.

“My friend found her outside of the APD house one Saturday,” she said.

The appeal of getting a free cat was, according to Haldeman, a better alternative than buying one, something she had been thinking about earlier the same day.

“I thought I had cheated the system, but then I took her to the vet,” she said. “She had fleas and ear mites and worms. She was a disgusting little ball of fur.”

While Haldeman said she had been interested in getting a cat for a while, Herold said her decision to get a rabbit was a spontaneous choice made during an impromptu visit to the Millcreek mall to play with puppies.

“James stood out because he was the only gray one,” she said. “I asked the guy at the pet store if he bites, he said no, and two minutes later I was walking to my car with him.”

Her quick decision, she said, did lead to some initial doubts.

“I panicked because he was such an impulse buy, I didn’t think of looking up how to care for them,” she said. “I tried feeding him carrots – apparently not all bunnies like carrots.”

Though both Haldeman and Herold had some unexpected struggles in the beginning stages of getting their new pets acclimated, they both agreed that having their pets around has been worth it.

“Having a cat de-stresses me,” Haldeman said. “Freshman year I would call home all the time, and now my mom jokes that I only call home for real problems.”

Herold said that James has also been a comforting presence in her daily life.

“If I’m having a bad day he really makes me feel better,” she said. “He is just so soft and even just picking him up makes me happier.”

Haldeman’s black cat, Chicago, and Herold’s gray rabbit, James, have both made appearances around Gannon’s campus with their devoted owners. While Chicago has been to the annual Blessing of the Animals and Greek Week, James has cozied up with Herold in Nash Library.

“I hope I don’t get in trouble saying that,” she said. “It was so funny though, I studied and he hopped in circles around my feet. I’d give him a note card to chew on – he is pretty easy to keep entertained.”

Haldeman said that she agrees with Gannon’s pet policy, but Herold said she thinks caged animals that are well maintained should not be “a big deal.”

“I just don’t think you get the same pet therapy from a fish that you can get from animals with fur,” she said.

Despite the joy and comfort he believes pets bring to their owners, Ward said he would be very leery about seeing a change in Gannon’s policy.

“It’s definitely a morale booster, I just don’t know how you would police it,” he said.

Bakerink had a similar feeling.

“It does make things feel homier, and some kids really miss their pets a lot,” she said. “I’m an animal lover myself, I completely understand the desire to have one, but it’s just not something that can happen when you live with hundreds of other people.”

When students ask Ward why he is allowed to have his dog but they can’t enjoy a similar privilege, he said his explanation usually makes sense to them.

“This is my home,” he said. “I tell you this is your home, and it is to a certain extent, but you’re gone after your two semesters to your house where you live and you can have pets – well, this is my home, this is where I live.

“You can have some fish though.”



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