In dorm life, roommates can be a source of social anguish or cost students valuable study time.
But for some students, different kinds of roommates – pets – provide relaxation and are constant sources of support.
One City Hall resident said she is comforted by the very manageable fish she keeps in her room, though she chooses to ignore GW rules against having pets in residence hall rooms. A 20-gallon tank in the student’s bedroom, which houses two catfish and other fishes, is cluttered with algae that give the aquarium a green hue. The fish are named after reality show characters such as “Jacquese,” from MTV’s “Real World,” and Omarosa, of “The Apprentice” fame.
“I missed being around animals, and I had always grown up with animals, so it didn’t feel right to be living somewhere and not have a pet,” said the student, a former Hall on Virginia Avenue resident.
“If the room was available, I’d have as many pets as space would allow,” she added. “But it’s just not possible when you live in a double in HOVA or even a triple in City Hall.”
One student said she and her roommates kept a cat in their quad last year.
“It was a kitten when we got it, so it was small and easy to manage, and it seemed like it would be something exciting, and something we all had together, a room pet,” said the student, who asked to remain anonymous to avert questioning by GW officials.
Keeping another living creature can pose its problems, but the student said her cat never caused any difficulties.
“I mean, we considered the consequences, but we really didn’t think anything would happen, and throughout the year we never had a single problem,” she said. “It was a cat, so it didn’t have to go outside much, but when it did we would just take it inside and outside in a small carrier. It was never a big deal.”
The former fish owner said she considered the responsibilities of having a pet – before buying her newest pet, she was worried about the University finding out about the animal. GW policy states that students cannot keep pets in their residence halls.
“If (Student Judicial Services) learned that a student had a pet in his room, SJS would direct the student to remove it,” SJS Director Tara Woolfson said. “If the student failed to comply with this directive, he would be charged with non-compliance and receive an appropriate sanction.” SJS does not comment about specific sanctions, which are doled out on a case-by-case basis.
Having pets in residence halls poses a threat to students’ health and safety, possibly making rooms unsanitary and aggravating the allergies of other residents, Woolfson said.
“Allowing pets in the residence halls would significantly increase the cost of maintenance by furthering the pace of normal depreciation and by creating more instances when special maintenance is required,” she added.
But officials at Stephens College in Missouri said they have experienced no severe maintenance problems in an experimental project that allows students and pets to coexist in one dormitory.
“Stephens strives as a student-centered college to meet the needs and wants of our students,” said Deb Duren, vice president for Student Services at Stephens. “One of the main reasons students provide for moving off campus is that pets are not allowed in on-campus living environments.”
Duren added that as far as she knows, the Missouri college is one of only a few in the country that allow students to bring pets to school with them. Despite threats of sanctions and room inspections, the fish-owning student reported no problems evading GW’s no-pet policy last year.
“I thought I was going to have to come up with some elaborate plan to get a 20-gallon tank through the door and past the security guard, but I just walked right on in and no one said anything,” she said. “I really wasn’t worried about the consequences.”
She added that even her community facilitator was supportive of the pet.
“At the end of the year,” she said, “I used her car to move my fish tank to another location.”
-Erin Shea contributed to this report.