Creature comfort: Lock Haven in Pa. opens dorm to pets, helping students de-stress

Lock Haven University will launch a pilot pet-friendly program in January when the spring semester begins. (Courtesy of Lock Haven University)

Lock Haven University will launch a pilot pet-friendly program in January when the spring semester begins. (Courtesy of Lock Haven University)

Lock Haven University’s residence halls will be more crowded in January — not with more students, but with their four-legged companions.

The university in Clinton County will be the first pet-friendly school in Pennsylvania’s state system and one of only about 25 nationwide.

One Lock Haven dorm will soon be filled with the sounds of cats and dogs. Rabbits, hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs and fish will be allowed as well.

The pilot program is meant to help students de-stress, said Emmy Borst, the residence hall director who spearheaded the pet-friendly initiative.

“Your everyday student who’s dealing with, ‘I just got done with a test, and now I need a little bit of a break’ or ‘I’m starting to get stressed out’ …

“So just being able to allow students to feel more at home and feel more relaxed,” she said. “We found that a lot of students when they are experiencing homesickness or just missing home, are missing their family pet.”

It’s also part of an effort to get more students to live on campus, said Borst, noting that a number of juniors have moved off campus to have a pet.

“That gives them the opportunity to stay on campus where we know and the research shows … students that live on campus are more successful than those that don’t. Now, they have the opportunity to have both,” Borst said.

A student must first apply to bring a family pet to live in North Hall, which has more than 200 units available.

“My main goal in being an advocate for this policy is to allows students to have a better experience here at Lock Haven University,” she said. “They already have a great experience, but why not make it better?”

Three private colleges already have pet-friendly student housing in the commonwealth — Delaware Valley University in Bucks County, Washington & Jefferson College in Washington County and Elizabethtown College in Lancaster County.

Delaware Valley has had pet-friendly student housing since 2015. Derek Smith, director of student affairs operations, helped get it started.

Before that, he said, the school often had issues with students majoring in wildlife preservation, equine studies and zoo science bringing animals on campus.

“Students are very much in love with their animals,” Smith said. “So rather than policing them more strongly, we decided to work with the students to determine if we could allow some animals to live on-campus under guidance and limitations.”

The school allows the same small pets that Lock Haven does, as well as rats, mice, chinchillas, snakes and turtles. Cats and dogs are not allowed.

The university in Doylestown has two floors in two separate residence halls that make up its pet-friendly housing. Smith said 40 to 50 animals live on those floors.

“This actually seems to be a fairly important part of some of these people’s identity — to have their animals with them,” Smith said.

Service and emotional support animals have been allowed on Pennsylvania college campuses, but this will be the first time pets will be allowed to live at a public university in the state.

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