Dogs who call GW home: New policy allows staff’s pets in residence halls

Media Credit: Dan Rich | Photo Editor

From left to right: Marcella Wong, an area coordinator, Nancy Ross Tomchik, an area coordinator, and David Marquis, a program coordinator at the Center for Student Engagement pose with their dogs. The housing office allowed staff members who live in residence halls to have dogs for the first time this semester.

Updated: April 18, 2017 at 1:15 p.m.

West Hall’s newest resident, Lola, might also be its most popular.

Students routinely stop her on the street to say hello and gather at her apartment to spend quality time. She has a Facebook page with plenty of friends, where she refers to herself as a feminist.

Although Lola lives in University housing, she doesn’t go to GW. Lola is a mini-goldendoodle puppy belonging to Mark Ralkowski, an associate philosophy professor and a faculty-in-residence at West Hall.

Lola moved into West Hall in February after officials decided for the first time to allow faculty and staff members who live in residence halls to keep dogs in their rooms. Officials and the dog owners said the new policy improves students’ quality of life in University housing.

Tim Miller, the associate dean of students, said since the policy was first implemented in January, the dogs have brightened students’ spirits in residence halls.

“As a dog owner myself I always feel better when I’m hanging out with my dog,” Miller said. “I think the staff seem pretty happy about it. Every student they run into seems pretty happy about it.”

Four faculty and staff members have brought dogs to live with them in their residence hall apartments since the housing department and the Center for Student Engagement began implementing the policy this semester.

Miller and Seth Weinshel, the assistant dean of students and director of housing, said residence advisers and staff frequently asked about allowing pets in residence halls in the past, but officials only recently decided to change the policy after noticing that other universities were allowing animals to stay in university-owned housing.

“Let’s look for how we can create a policy that is reasonable, that regulates it, that can benefit both our staff and our students by having essentially more animals on campus,” Weinshel said about drafting the new policy.

Weinshel said officials noticed how popular Ruffles, University President Steven Knapp’s dog, became among students and wanted to offer them more access to animals.

To keep a dog or other non-exotic pet in University housing, owners must have proof of obedience training, up-to-date veterinary records, renter’s insurance and pay a $250 damage fee, Weinshel said.

The dogs aren’t allowed to roam the halls to protect students who have allergies or are afraid, and facilities staffers were told where the dogs are living so they can give a thorough cleaning to those apartments this summer, Weinshel said.

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Dan Rich | Photo Editor

Mark Ralkowski, an associate philosophy professor and a faculty-in-residence, brought his mini-goldendoodle Lola home to West Hall in February.

Improving mental health
Although officials said mental health wasn’t a primary reason for changing the policy, it has been a major University focus in recent years.

A portion of GW’s tuition increase was set aside for mental health resources in 2015, the first time tuition dollars have ever been allocated to a specific area. The move came after three students on campus died by suicide in the spring 2014 semester.

David Marquis, a program coordinator at the Center for Student Engagement who adopted his labrador mix, Moose, from South Carolina in February, said spending time with dogs reduces anxiety.

“There’s a ton of research that talks about how the interactions that somebody has with a puppy can be a really stress relieving activity, so this was a really great way to do that without having to incur the cost of having a puppy event,” he said.

Marquis said some students in District House don’t know his name, but they recognize Moose. He said students often pull out their phones to share photos of the dog on Snapchat.

Billie Smith, the executive director of the Alliance for Therapy Dogs, said universities in general are increasingly using therapy dogs to address mental health issues.

“There are statistics out there that you can find every day on how a dog relieves stress, anxiety, reduces blood pressure, increases the good vibes,” Smith said.

Smith said her organization receives more requests for teams of therapy dogs to help students unwind during finals every year.

Meet the dogs
Marcella Wong, Thurston Hall’s area coordinator, adopted her dog, a black Labrador mix named Frederick, two weeks ago. She said she has noticed that prospective students are excited to hear that dogs live in residence halls.

“When I brought him for Inside GW, prospective students were like, ‘I want to live in Thurston’ or ‘this is the school for me,’” Wong said. “And these are students that don’t even go here but they are already invested.”

Wong said that because she lives in Thurston Hall, a building that houses more than 1,000 freshmen and is often chaotic, she wanted a calm dog that was past its “puppy phase.” She worked with the staff at Frederick’s rescue organization to find a dog with a temperament suited for Thurston Hall, she said.

“I was being very selective, and the rescue organization that I got him from was very helpful in finding a dog that was the right fit for Thurston, because Thurston is a lot,” Wong said. “I needed a dog that was friendly and that wasn’t very nervous around people.”

Back at West Hall, Ralkowski said that since he brought Lola, he has interacted with far more residents. Attendance at his monthly pancake breakfasts has doubled since Lola moved in, he said.

“I have been faculty in residence for five years now and I always thought one of the easiest ways to connect with people on campus would be to have a dog because a dog is such an easy and effortless way to connect with a person,” Ralkowski said.

Nancy Ross Tomchik, an area coordinator who lives in District House, adopted her dog, Truman, a hound-lab mix, at the end of February. Ross-Tomchik said she loves to see the joy on students’ faces when they interact with him.

“If he can provide a little moment of joy for somebody it makes me feel great, it makes my day better, so if that can be the case for someone else, that’s awesome,” Ross Tomchik said.

Meredith Roaten contributed reporting.

This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly spelt Nancy Ross Tomchik’s name. It is now correct. We regret this error.

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