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Pet Bans Take Hold of Dorms

Bexley, Random Hall To Become Pet-free

By Anna K. Benefiel

and Mike Hall
STAFF REPORTERS

The Institute’s recent steps to enforce a long-standing ban on pet ownership in dormitories campus-wide have drawn criticism from members of the MIT community.

On December 8th, following an increase in the number of cats living at Random Hall, House Manager Derrick Barnes announced to Random residents that the Institute would begin enforcement of its policy banning pets from living in Institute housing. The enforcement came shortly after contractors renovating Random’s restrooms refused to work, complaining of problems caused by roaming cats, some largely unsupervised. Residents were told in an email from Barnes, “When you go home over Christmas, please take your cat with you and leave it there.”

DormCon acts to address issue

Following the Institute’s announcements, members of the Dormitory Council accelerated discussion on the DormCon pet policy proposal. While DormCon conceded in the first draft of its proposal that “the presence of these pets creates several problems [for students and staff],” it advocated compromise between students and the Institute on pet ownership, suggesting that portions of dormitories be set aside for pet owners with “physical barriers separating [pet-friendly zones] from the majority of the residence hall.”

“Many students own pets as a source of companionship and stress relief,” stated DormCon in its draft, “something every student at MIT needs help with.”

Regardless of the Institute’s reasoning, many students are still bitter over the enforcement of the pet ban. Random Hall resident Liana F. Lareau ’00 mourned the loss of Random’s pets, stating that the hall’s cats “really made our floor a fun place to live.”

“Besides,” Lareau said, “[the cats] killed more mice than the mousetraps did.”

“Since the removal of the cats,” Conwell added, “Random has experienced a major mouse infestation. We’ve always had a mouse or two, but it’s gotten far worse. Certain parts of the dorm have so many mice that they have been compared to scenes from ‘The Nutcracker Suite’... cats were much cheaper and more effective rodent control.”

Rachel A. Sharp ’02, a hall chair at East Campus, also suggests that her hall would face a rodent problem of epidemic proportions if the cats were to be removed. Sharp advocates student self-policing to promote responsible pet ownership. “Third east takes a vote ... each time a new cat is desired by one of the residents,” said Sharp. “We also put conditions on the ownership of cats. Cats must be fixed when they are old enough, so as not to offend the other cats, and must have all their shots.”

Students react to enforcement

Residents of Bexley and Random decried the Institute’s enforcement of the pet ban.

“We knew that cats were technically illegal, but the rule had been ignored for many years, longer than any of us had been at MIT. We were also upset that we were given only two weeks’ warning to find alternate situations for our pets.” said Random resident Erin R. Conwell ’03.

“My cat is my best friend at MIT,” stated Bexley resident Victoria Y. Chen ’00, owner of Peter, a black-and-white domestic longhair. Chen stressed that most pet owners at MIT responsibly maintain their pets and select dormmates that consent to their ownership.

The timing of MIT’s announcement also angered Chen. “Where else am I supposed to put him [before the holidays]? I can’t take him back to the shelter and I won’t put him on the street.”

“We would put down a deposit [with MIT] to have our pet,” stated Jennifer D. Navarro ’00, co-owner with Analeah O’Neill ’00 of Blackie, described by Navarro as “a fat black cat.” Both joined in Chen’s criticism of MIT’s sudden announcement, with O’Neill complaining that the roommates “were told after we had left [for the holidays] that we had to take her away.”

Navarro raised concern of a double standard, stating, “If we lose our pet, what about the tutors? Do they lose their pets?” Technically, only the House Masters at MIT are allowed pets, due to their status as “permanent residents” of Institute housing, said Nilsson.

Policy to spread to other dorms

In his mail to Random Hall Barnes also said, “The issue is not just one for Random Hall. All dorms will have to comply with the same policy.”

Bexley Hall, also managed by Barnes, was notified on December 17th that the no pet policy would be enforced upon students’ return from Winter Break.

Barnes, described by one resident as a “good guy who genuinely likes students,” explained the timing as necessary due to the “desperate last minute preparations” students were making for care of their pets. “I was extremely concerned that some of the pets would be left throughout the buildings with no one to care for them,” he said.

“The no pet policy is a long-standing policy. I have been working with students, along with the housemaster and tutors, since the fall to find other homes for their pets.”

Pets kept at MIT over the summer brought the issue to a head. Incoming residents “felt many of the rooms previously occupied by residents pets were uninhabitable. Students were extremely reluctant to absorb the cost of cleaning and carpet replacement.” said Barnes.

Enforcement of the policy at Random and Bexley is the first step in plans of the office of Residential Life and Student Life Programs to address enforcement of Institute pet policy campus-wide, according to RLSLP Associate Director of Operations Karen A. Nilsson.

Nilsson explained that in previous years “perhaps the issue of pets wasn’t at the forefront” of administrative concern, but the pet issue is now one whose time has come. The pet ban provides for the “welfare of the community” she said. “Because pets cause problems even for a few people, we would be discriminating against the few with pet allergies” in allowing pets on campus.

When students sign a Housing Contract, Nilsson said, they agree to abide by the policies set out in MIT’s “Standards and Procedures for Students.” The Housing Section of this document clarifies the official Institute policy on pets: “no pets may be kept by residents or guests in an Institute House.”

RLSLP will not seek out pets

RLSLP is not going to search for “illegal pets” on campus, according to Nilsson, who said, “we do not want to be the pet police ... we’re not going to have a pet search.” However, occasionally “someone brings to our attention that there is an unauthorized pet on campus. Usually these people are the ones affected by the pet- other students, or workers with allergies,” or people who notice pet-related facility damage.

With that information, “we have an obligation to talk to the [pet-owning] student and make arrangements to have the pet removed.” said Nilsson. But, “As far as I know,” she said, “no one has ever been removed [from MIT housing] for having a pet.”

“We’re not trying to throw people out because they have a pet. We’d like to find a better place than a residential hall for these pets.” Nilsson said.

Nothing in Cambridge Housing Law explicity disallows pets in apartments or temporary housing. Instead, the decision about pets is left to the landlord. In the case of Residential Halls, the landlord is MIT.