By Brielle Bryan
Duck, a five-pound chihuahua, happily wags her tail as students line up in Alumni Grove to pet her. She sits patiently, smiling at her owner.
Duck’s owner is Sophie Guss, a junior psychology major. Guss registered with the College’s Disability Support Services and provided a doctor’s note so she could get permission for Duck to live with her on campus.
“Dogs are natural therapy,” Guss said. “They have unconditional love. I always say that it is almost impossible to be sad when you have a dog that loves you so much and is so happy just to be with you. My dog has completely changed my life for the better.”
Duck is one of many four-legged friends to join the campus community. Students and faculty are starting to bring their dogs with them to class and into the office for mental health benefits.
Emotional support animals provide comfort and support through affection and companionship for individuals suffering from mental illnesses such as anxiety or depression, according to the United States Dog Registry.
Service dogs are different from emotional support animals, and are required to perform a specific task for someone with a disability, such as helping a person with vision loss navigate their surroundings or informing a diabetic when their blood sugar gets too high.
Residential Education and Housing dictates that in order for a student to own a dog on campus, the pet must be registered as either an emotional support dog or service dog, and the student must provide a doctor’s note.
Some students at the College have registered emotional support dogs, or simply dogs as pets, who recognize the emotional and physical benefit of growing close to an animal.
Chelsea Jorgensen, a senior finance major, lives with her boyfriend and his dog Maggie, a 3-year-old goldendoodle, in an off-campus house.
“I definitely feel like sometimes in the winter I can get really depressed and not want to go outside, and (Maggie’s) always pushing me to do things,” Jorgensen said. “It brightens my day when she wakes me up and kisses me.”
Professors also find value in bringing their pet with them to work.
Lina Richardson, a professor in the department of early childhood education, brings Natasha, her 3-month-old Labrador-shepherd mix, with her to the office.
“I definitely feel myself being more productive, because she can’t stay in the office all day,” Richardson said. “I have to get up every hour and just kind of get her walking, so it definitely forces me to be very focused and get up, stretch myself out and get some fresh air — it’s mutually beneficial.”
Bringing a dog to campus not only makes the owner happy, but also makes other members of the campus community smile.
“When I walk around campus with Duck, she always puts a smile on others’ faces,” Guss said. “In a school environment, where everything is serious and you have to be oriented towards your work, having a dog just puts a happy, lighthearted spin on the day for myself, my friends and any students who see her.”
Jorgensen also stressed how much joy Maggie brings to every person that meets her.
“She loves going on campus,” Jorgensen said. “She lights up around people. Whenever people come into the house, she always interacts with them. She doesn’t ignore anyone. She’s always there.”
About 40 percent of all households in the U.S. have dogs, according to the ASPCA. Many students who have a dog at home miss their pet while they are away at school.
“Some people are kind of isolated from things or really can’t express themselves to other people, and they need an animal,” Jorgensen said. “They’ve always been around animals and then they come to college and they’re taken away from that, and it kind of sucks.”
Having a dog on campus reminds students with dogs at home of their furry friends, and brings delight to their stressful daily routines. There is currently no policy that specifically addresses bringing dogs on campus, into the classroom or inside other buildings. However, Jacqueline Taylor, the College’s provost and vice president for Academic Affairs, believes this may soon change.
“We are about to issue a charge asking the appropriate committee to consider whether we need a policy on pets,” Taylor said.
Not every member of the campus community feels the same way about having animals in classrooms and residence halls, and Taylor believes these concerns must be considered as pets become more prevalent on campus.
“I hope we won’t get so prescriptive that there’s no place for animals on campus, but we have to be respectful of people who have allergies and people who are afraid of animals,” Taylor said. “We also have to think about the possibility of having owners of pets who don’t take the responsibility to train them and make sure they’re not creating a nuisance.”
Taylor personally understands some students’ desire to have their pets live and go to class with them; she started bringing Trudy, her 2-year-old pembroke welsh corgi, with her to her office in Green Hall when Trudy was only 3 months old.
“(Having Trudy around) raises the comfort level of the office and makes us laugh,” Taylor said.
Some students feel that pets should be allowed to come with them to class if the animal is trained to behave in a manner that does not disturb other students.
“I think (emotional support dogs) should be allowed in the classroom because they are trained to be calm and quiet, so they would not cause a distraction or disturbance,” said Lindsey Davidson, a sophomore marketing major.
Guss occasionally brings Duck to class with her and believes her peers haven’t had any issues with it.
“My dog is very quiet and tiny and just sits on my lap and sleeps all class without making a noise,” Guss said. “She puts a smile on other students’ faces at the beginning, but does not distract throughout the class time. I think she actually enhances my own learning because if I am having a rough day and am really stressed, she calms me down and enables me to focus on my school work.”
Other students believe that having a dog in the classroom might not be the best idea.
“I’ve seen (emotional support dogs) on campus, and I think they’re nice to see every now and then because I love dogs,” said Ben Schulman, a junior finance major. “I’m probably against having them in the classroom because it might get a bit distracting.”
If the College does decide to establish a policy allowing animals to be brought to class, the owner would be responsible for making sure that the animal does not interfere with anyone’s work, according to Taylor.
While having dogs on campus brightens the days of both students and employees at the College, it is still held in question whether allowing animals in the office and classroom environment is a practical idea.