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      Pets Get Warm Welcome At Some Colleges !

      There may be tangible benefits to having a pet a college, where more are being welcomed in dorms than ever before.

      The start of another school year involves some difficult changes for college students, and one of them can center on separation from a beloved pet.

      “If an animal is part of your entire life, and caring for them is a huge part of it, to take that away is pretty dramatic,” said Kimberly Brubaker, a student at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida.

      If it’s a high enough priority, though, students might be able to find a way to stay together, as Brubaker did: She lives in a dorm with her cat, Dino, and ball python, Mars.

      Eckerd isn’t the sole campus in the country that allows pets, but the school might have been they first to do so: The policy has been in effect since the early 1970s.

      In and closer to central Ohio, institutions of higher education — including Ohio State, Ohio and Miami universities — generally allow only service, therapy and emotional support animals in residence halls, according to the schools’ student handbooks. The noted exception: fish (although Ohio State expressly prohibits hazardous fish such as piranhas).

      Even at Eckerd, where pet policies are broadly accepting, there are limits.

      Brubaker is president of a student organization that registers on-campus pets, oversees their well-being and students’ compliance with rules, and adjudicates problems.

      “We do pet checks once a month — we go around and knock on all the doors,” she said.

      The group handles of one or two problem reports a month, she said, but most are minor, such as misunderstandings of the registration procedures.

      The presence of pets on the Eckerd campus might actually be beneficial.

      In a recently published study, students “across the board reported that their pet reduced their levels of stress and had incredibly favorable things to say about living with the animal,” said co-author Miranda Goodman-Wilson, assistant professor of psychology at Eckerd.

      And a majority of students reported that pets had a positive effect on their academic performance.

      “I think that, for many students, having a pet provides a structure that they otherwise lack,” Goodman-Wilson said. “If you have a dog who has to go out to go to the bathroom, that’s a powerful alarm clock right there.”

      The study’s results were mixed when it came to quantifiable mental-health benefits. Pet-owning students didn’t have overall lower levels of stress, depression and anxiety. However, there was an effect when it came to somatic anxiety — the physical effects of stress, such as a racing heart and sweating palms. For students with pets, increased levels of stress didn’t result in increased somatic anxiety.

      “If pets are having some sort of psychological impact, it may be that they are serving as a buffer,” Goodman-Wilson said. “So, yes, I’m still having stress — but by having my animal, that stress is not translating into this sort of anxiety in the same way.”

      Although pets might be good for students, some people might worry whether college life is good for the pet. Last year, Mekenna Hooper, a senior at Johnson & Wales University’s Denver campus, decided to adopt a dog. When she contacted shelter and rescue groups, she recalled, “none of them liked the fact that we lived in a dorm,” even though she was looking for a small, lower-energy senior.

      She eventually adopted Max, a 16-pound Yorkie mix who now is 11 and appears to be living the good life. With Hooper and her roommate on different schedules, he is rarely alone more than a couple of hours at a time, and he gets all the attention and petting he could ever want on campus.

      “Everyone knows his name,” she said. “They know his name better than they know ours.”

      Goodman-Wilson sees potential advantages to pets on campus, where students have flexible schedules and there are lots of eyes on the situation.

      “More so than your typical animal, there are ways for the wellness of the animal to be checked up on,” she said. “And I think students generally are around their animals more than your average working adults.”

      At Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania — where the first pet-friendly housing is open this academic year — the new policy grew out of an increasing number of assistance animals as well as requests to raise service dogs.

      Now, it is seen as having a more general value.

      Said Associate Dean Allison Bridgeman: “We see this as part of creating a vibrant campus community that is attractive and promotes well-being.”

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