Thursday, October 18th, 2018

Could animals on campus lessen student stress?

Patrick Higgins

Posted on April 19, 2016 in Community
By USM Free Press

Raquel Miller, Free Press Staff

In the spirit of springtime, the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland brought bunnies to USM’s Gorham campus this past Thursday. Arrow and Boulder, two California rabbits, were available in Lower Brooks to students and families, in groups of four, for gentle petting and playing. The two are only four-months-old, weighing around five pounds, and will grow in size and to a weight around eleven pounds.  While Arrow lounged around, opting to let people approach her, Boulder hopped around the room energetically, preferring to be chased.

Volunteers awaited students and families at a table with a simple release form, and were then allowed into a room where the bunnies played.  Four people at a time were allowed in in order to not overwhelm the two furry guests.  Volunteers weren’t expecting as many people as they did, and around 5:00, they had to print out more release forms, adding to their already printed fifty.  

While commuter students can return home after a day of classes and be greeted by their pet, resident students don’t have that option.  Coordinator of Student Activities, Samantha Elliot, commented, “We regularly hear students share how much they miss having a family pet around and this makes any event with animals a real hit with students.”  From 4 p.m. until 6 p.m., students had the ability to visit with the furry friends.  

One can find members of the Portland and Gorham community walking their dogs along campus sidewalks or making use of the greens to play outside of Luther Bonney and Payson Smith, but USM currently does not allow pets in residence halls.  Small non-walking aquarium fish are allowed, as well as service and assistance animals with approval by the Disabilities Services Center.  

Some may think allowing animals in residence halls is a great, yet unlikely idea, but several schools around the United States have been allowing students to bring pets for over ten years.  Universities have varying pet policies, but Eckerd College in Florida is known for being one of the nation’s most pet-friendly colleges in the country.  In 1973, the school began welcoming animals onto their campus.  Allowing animals on a university campus and into residence halls comes with a number of reasonable, but important requirements.

All animals must be registered with the University pet life staff at Eckerd College, but the variety of animals allowed ranges from cats and dogs under 40 pounds, to large birds, and to small pets such as fish, guinea pigs, hamsters, and reptiles.  Small pets are allowed in all residence halls, while larger animals like dogs, cats, ferrets, chinchillasand large birds and ducks must reside in assigned buildings.  The animal must be at least one-year-old and have lived with the student and family for at least ten months.  Vaccinations are required, as well as cats and dogs being spayed or neutered.  Students are allowed one animal, or two small pets on campus.  

The list of requirements is longer than listed above, but they are reasonable and to be expected in order to ensure a happy community of students and animals on campus.  

It would be an ideal experience for students to be allowed animals in residence halls at USM, but space, waste management, veterinary care, and budgetary factors must be considered. Even events such as “Hopping into Spring with Bunnies” must meet insurance, accommodation, and safety requirements according to Elliot.  

There are a number of studies associated with a decrease in stress levels and interactions with animals.  Interactions with animals have proven to improve quality of life in the elderly and chronically ill, and students are not exempt from those benefits. 

College students, especially those transitioning into college life, could benefit from having a pet.  Many students find that their animals can help them get through difficult and stressful times, which college has proven to be for many.  On the other hand, having a pet can provide emotional support for some students, while being an added stressor for others when finances, cleanup and responsibility become involved.  

USM’s community can anticipate upcoming partnerships with the Pixel Fund and Therapy Dogs International for some stress relieving animal interaction, without any added stress when it comes to the responsibility of pet ownership.

Elliot informed, “the Gorham Campus Activities board has partnered with the Pixel Fund, a dog rescue, fostering and adoption non-profit, for stress relief events.”  As well as their partnership with the Pixel fund, they are partnering with Therapy Dogs International for a spring stress relief event.  

Whether it be visiting Arrow and Boulder, finding the time to visit their family pet on the weekends, or opting to volunteer at shelters or the Animal Refuge League, interacting with animals can have a positive effect on student stress levels.  

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