- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 10, 2015

DOYLESTOWN, Pa. (AP) - Last summer, Posh was just another stray cat, living out his days at Quakertown’s “Last Chance Ranch.” Now, the chunky feline with deep green eyes has a home in a Delaware Valley College dorm.

Posh playfully crawled last week across an organic chemistry notebook left open on the dorm-room desk.

“No one’s real favorite, except for, I guess, his,” observed Russell Desmond, a West Chester sophomore and aspiring veterinarian who with his roommate, Nate Borger, shares custody of the cat.

A couple of doors down, Sarah Boughton clutched Isla, a white rabbit that loves to hop around the room but that never scales the baby gate barring the doorway.

Nearby, Nick Annese palmed Randall, a sedate-looking gecko named after the lizardy villain from Monsters Inc. Annese had already given Vinnie, his chinchilla, some afternoon caressing.

This year, for the first time, Delaware Valley is letting students have pets in their rooms. The owners and their menagerie - three chinchillas, two cats, three geckos, three snakes, two rabbits, and five hamsters/gerbils - share the second floor of Samuel Hall on the college’s Doylestown campus.

This was no casual undertaking: A dorm room was converted into a “pet resource room,” with frozen mice - tasty snake morsels - cage litter, spare cages, and a deep sink for bathing. Desmond and two hallmates serve as “pet proctors,” conducting biweekly inspections and offering guidance in emergencies, such as when a gerbil came down with pinkeye. A “pet council” governs the floor.

But, really, students and college officials say, there’s been nary an issue, except for some hot days when the chinchillas were a bit uncomfortable in the un-air-conditioned hall.

No foul smells.

No noise. No bites.

No dastardly escapes.

“They’re really good stewards with their animals,” said Derek Smith, director of residence life operations.

Delaware Valley is unusual. The vast majority of U.S. colleges prohibit dorm pets, with the exception of trained service dogs for the impaired, medically prescribed “therapy” animals, and fish. A local survey turned up Moore College of Art and Design, which welcomes small reptiles and fish. Haverford College allows small birds, reptiles, and fish.

“There are just a lot of logistical issues involved,” said Emily Glenn of the Association of College and University Housing Officers International, such as students with allergies, the close quarters of dorm living, noise, damage, and liability.

Washington and Jefferson College, a small liberal arts school about 25 miles south of Pittsburgh, has found a way to make pets work. With one of the most permissive policies, the school allows dogs under 40 pounds in addition to cats and other small critters. The pets, introduced seven years ago, have become such a part of campus life that two dogs walked the stage with their owners at graduation last year and received their own diplomas, said Eva Chatterjee-Sutton, vice president and dean of student life.

For Delaware Valley, founded in 1896 as the National Farm School and still rich in agricultural and animal life programs, pets seemed a natural fit.

“Students at Del Val just love animals,” said April Vari, vice president for student affairs. “There’s that very strong connection.”

Before this year, the college had never allowed any animals other than fish. A committee of students and staff set guidelines: Nothing illegal. Nothing venomous. Nothing big. No snake longer than three feet.

Basically, they decided, only small caged animals for the first year.

Posh was added as a test case at the last minute. Since then, a resident assistant has moved in her feline, too.

Students don’t have to pay extra, but they are liable for damage “just as if the student put a hole in the wall,” Smith said. Freshmen can’t partake; only upperclassmen.

Pets must be properly vaccinated and restricted to their respective rooms.

“They aren’t fraternizing in the hall,” Smith said.

But they have become a major part of hall life.

“You would think the animals are (just) more students who live on the floor,” said Ken Peifer, a staffer who lives in the dorm.

Mugs of the pets hang on dorm doors and animal facts line the hall walls: “Owning a cat reduces the risk of having a heart attack by one-third,” says one. “The world’s oldest rabbit lived to 16 years,” another informs.

A picture of a gerbil is captioned: “Wish my human went to Del Val.”

Boughton, a sophomore education and biology major from Wayne, N.J., says Isla the rabbit reads her moods.

“If I’m having a tough day, if class doesn’t go well, she’ll just sit on my lap,” she said.

Annese, a sophomore conservation and wildlife major from Montvale, N.J., said he’d learned a lot caring for his gecko and chinchilla.

“It kind of teaches you responsibility a lot more, and how to manage my time,” he said. “You have to give each of them attention and give them food.”

His mother was a little worried at first when she learned he’d applied to live on the pet floor: “She said, ‘Don’t bring home a snake.’ “

Brandon Eckerd, a sophomore zoo science major from Allentown, did: an 18-incher named Buddy.

A cartoon of Buddy hangs over his tank. In it, he sports beefy arms, shoes, a sword, dumbbells, and a mustache: “Buddy the snake, very manly, gets all the ladies,” the caption says.

Things have gone so well that for next year, Delaware Valley is considering an entire cat floor. Birds may get a nod, too. Maybe even tarantulas.

But Lassie and the like will have to wait.

“Dogs need to go outside,” Smith said. “They need to exercise. They need places to go to the bathroom… . What does a dog do in a small room during the day if a student is in class?

Eckerd, who has a dog at home, understands.

“Snakes are easy. Dogs are dogs.”

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1CdWdz3

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Information from: The Philadelphia Inquirer, https://www.inquirer.com


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