Stephens’ pet-eligible residence halls attract pet lovers nationwide. Students can bring their own pets or foster animals from Columbia Second Chance.
Imagine a CSI database full of suspect criminals. Replace the scowls with smiles and the stubble with fur, and you’ll get a pretty good idea of Stephens College’s pet database.
Stephens has a picture on file of every pet living on campus said Ryan Smith, director of residence life.
This system helps the Stephens staff get to know its four-legged residents.
It’s all part of Stephens’ Pet Central residence halls launched in 2004 by Deb Duren, vice president of student services. The program features eight floors of pet-eligible rooms and has gained national recognition.
The publicity—including a story in The New York Times and a stint on the “Today” show—has promoted the school nationwide and, according to Smith, is a deciding factor for potential students.
“If it’s coming down to a couple schools, especially if [the student is] a big pet person, it plays a major role in their decision,” Smith said.
The demand for pet-friendly living options was part of the program’s initial success.
“I think [Deb] saw an opportunity, a demand, for students to bring a pet to campus,” Smith said. “She decided to try it out for a year, and it just snowballed after that.”
The number of students living in pet-friendly residence halls has grown over the years. Searcy Hall and Prunty Hall are entirely pet-friendly and Towers Hall has one floor of pet-owning residents.
Stephens welcomes animals big and small, furry and scaled… with a few exceptions. Snakes and spiders are barred from residence halls, as are Pit bulls, Rottweilers, German Shepherds, Chows and Akitas. Stephens’ “Pet Floor Program Agreement” cites “insurance and safety reasons” for the exclusions.
The “Pet Floor Program Agreement” spells out the hairy details about becoming a Stephens pet owner. Students must pay a pet deposit, submit vet records, register their pet, and keep their pet groomed, clean and quiet according to school regulations.
Stephens College opens doors to paws and claws
Students say the rules and requirements of pet ownership are worthwhile. Bringing a pet to college is a way to keep a piece of home with them.
“[The program] is a good idea because most of us left animals at home, and if you’ve ever had a dog or a cat you get attached to your animal,” said Stephens freshman Kristin Foley. “It sucks when you have to leave them.”
The Research Shows...
How to become a Stephens fosterer
Source: Ryan Smith, director of residence life
Infograpic: Anne Dankelson
Hover over the steps to find out more.
Through its program with Columbia Second Chance (CSC), a local no-kill shelter, Stephens offers every student a chance at pet ownership. Students can foster pets through CSC until they are adopted.
“It’s basically a process of training them, loving them, taking care of them until they’re ready to get their forever home,” said Stephens freshman Stephanie McHenry.
McHenry thought about bringing her cat from home, but decided to apply for the foster program to help as many animals as possible.
“It’s a great experience,” she said. “I remember I cried when my first dog got adopted because I was like, ‘Oh no, I miss her so much!’ But it gets easier and it’s calming to know that you helped this animal get a permanent home.”
Students can also apply for the Foster Scholarship Program, which supplements the cost of living in the residence halls.
“This year is the pilot so I’m expecting things to change, but right now it’s for incoming freshmen,” Smith said. “They apply, go through an interview process with us and with Columbia Second Chance, and if they’ve been accepted they’ll live on a specific floor and they’re given a percentage of a scholarship.”
CSC requires foster pet owners to maintain their pets and to attend certain adoption events.
“It’s pretty much to get them out there and seen as much as possible,” Foley said. It’s like a rotating door—we get a dog adopted, we get a different one.”
For more information about the Foster Scholarship program, visit the Stephens College website at www.stephens.edu.
Giving Second Chances
Dr. Shari Kist, RN, who completed her dissertation on student-pet interaction at Stephens, was motivated in part by her son and his college friends’ attachment to their pets.
“They would come over and some of them would just lay on the floor and play with the dog, it was kind of a way of connecting to something,” she said. “They would say things like ‘Oh, I miss my dog, I had to leave him at home.’”
In her study Kist compared 25 pet-owning students and 25 students without pets. She measured things like “pet attachment” and “adjustment to college,” which included both academic and social factors.
Kits's results were statistically inconclusive due to a small sample size. She did, however, find that students with pets were better adjusted to college life.
“If you look at it just numerically the students who owned pets did have higher adjustment scores, it just didn’t reach statistical significance,” she said.
Smith’s observations, though not scientific, are similar. Often the more successful Stephens students live in Pet Central residence halls, he said.
“It’s not like you have to have a pet to be successful, but they do have success with the pets for whatever reason,” he said.
The heightened sense of responsibility required in a pet owner may play a key role in this trend, Smith said.
“We have situations where they bring their pet from home and find out just how much their parent helped with that pet,” he said.
For Stephens students with pets, it’s all about the balancing act.
“We try to make it clear to students that as great as it may sound to have a pet you have to understand why you’re here, and that’s for school,” Smith said. “They have to be able to balance that.”