IV. Companion Animals in Residential Buildings

Article excerpt

A number of studies have considered the impact of companion animals on human health. (191) Some research has established that physical contact with companion animals has a calming effect on people. (192) Other studies have found no correlation between pet ownership and health benefits. (193) There appears to be greater support for the theory that pet ownership may have health benefits for particular demographic groups, such as young children, the elderly or people suffering from particular illnesses or loneliness. (194)

Regardless of whether any demonstrable proof of measureable health benefits relating to pet ownership exists, studies show it is a widely held belief. (195) Pet owners report that they believe pets relieve stress and are good for their health and the health of other human family members. (196) One study posits that "the belief that a pet improves one's health is a coping mechanism of note and that this belief, per se, may convey health benefits." (197) In addition, for the general population and for persons with disabilities, "animals seem to improve social interactions and promote social happiness and harmony." (198)

"[T]here has been limited research concerning the reasons ... adults choose to own pets." (199) The most popular pets are dogs and cats. (200) Pet ownership is highest among persons who are married, followed by persons who are divorced, widowed, and never married. (201) The type of housing an individual lives in also relates to pet ownership. Persons who own a home are more likely to own a pet than those who rent. (202) Of course it is impossible to know whether persons who rent would own animals if allowed to do so. One study found that thirty-five percent of people without a pet would keep a pet if their rental housing allowed animals. (203) Financial constraints also limit the ability of persons renting to have a pet. (204)

Although "traditional" college students who are young, single, and have limited incomes do not fall within the categories of persons most likely to have a companion animal, some of these students still want to bring pets to campus. The vast majority of postsecondary institutions prohibit companion animals in their housing, although many campuses allow students to keep aquariums of limited size with fish. (205)

The number of colleges with more generous policies is increasing. (206) Although the number may be growing, it remains low, with one estimate at only twelve schools allowing pets other than certain small animals and fish. (207) An administrator stated that cats and small animals were allowed in one wing of one dormitory so "students can bring a little piece of home with them." (208) At one of the most pet-friendly schools, one administrator explained that the reason for the generous policy is to help students feel comfortable with the transition to college. (209) However, an expert has questioned whether bringing a pet to college could slow the transition for some students and could "serve as a Band-Aid on what could be a more serious mental health problem, like depression." (210) Students report social benefits of having animals, such as allowing them to meet friends and draw visitors to their rooms. (211)

One report states that another institution's decision to allow cats in specified dorms was "instituted as a compromise while cracking down on students who harbor a menagerie of other animals." (212) Another reason for allowing companion animals is financial, to encourage animal loving students to live on campus rather than in off-campus housing. (213) One administrator acknowledged that "in an increasingly competitive recruiting market for top students, becoming known as pet-friendly is another way for a college to differentiate itself." (214)

The level of how pet-friendly a college is varies widely. Companion animals in campus housing can be divided into several categories. This section will begin with the animal friendly policy that is most common--one that allows for very small animals to be kept in dormitory rooms. …