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The cat’s meow: Keeping illegal pets in College residences

by Claire Oxford

For some Kenyon students, missing a furry friend they left at home is incentive enough to break one of the College’s rules. Pets at Kenyon, except for fish, are against the rules and regulations of the Office of Housing and Residential Life (ResLife), but still provide an indisputable source of joy for many students in the community. Ranging from kittens to tortoises, Kenyon pets are companions that can brighten an otherwise average day.

Nikki Keller, a member of the college counseling staff, is an advocate for students having pets. “Research has shown petting an animal — petting a dog — can reduce blood pressure and anxiety and just make people feel more at ease and calm,” Keller said.

“It is pretty nice to come home after a long day and just be like, ‘Kittens,’ and let them crawl all over you,” said an anonymous student and temporary owner of two kittens named Narcissa and Neville. “Sometimes it’s hard [with the kittens]. Doing homework down here is very distracting, because they’re in their rambunctious mood. But once they get tired they’ll just sleep on your lap while you’re reading.”

The student discovered the helpless kittens out on her doorstep over Family Weekend. They were most likely not left by someone because they acted wild and were hungry, according to the student. “10 p.m., I opened the front door because I heard the mewing and wanted to find out what that was, and they were just on our front door,” she said. “They were probably about two weeks old, really underfed.” Bringing them into the residence, the source said that the transition has been easy. “We got them a litter box, we had a baby bottle,” she said. “Now they’re onto dry food, [and] they’re totally trained with litter boxes. … Yeah, they’re very well-behaved except they like to scratch. Not in a mean way, just in a playful way.”

However, this can only be temporary housing for Narcissa and Neville. As the student explained, “We’re happy to provide them a warm home and food and a litter box and love but … we can’t do that for a long time.” Currently these students are seeking a more permanent home for the kittens, primarily because the responsibility and cost of raising two cats in a college setting is a challenge too big to tackle.

In addition to the duties of pet care comes the risk of ResLife discovering the pet. Jill Engel-Hellman, the office’s director, outlined campus policy in an email to the Collegian: “To preserve student health and safety, animals are prohibited in all College residences, with the sole exception of fish in bowls or in tanks that do not exceed 10 gallons,” she wrote. “Any student or living unit found with a pet or animal will be charged up to $500 for cleaning all affected living spaces and damage caused by the pet.”

This policy does not stop other pet owners on campus from forming a more permanent attachment to their pets, as is the case with a notable Kenyon tortoise named after a notable Kenyon alum — Rutherford.

The anonymous owner explained how Rutherford became a mainstay in the residence. “We thought a tortoise could exist in a dorm room — it doesn’t smell, I feed him out of the Peirce salad bar. I come home with coffee cups full of lettuce and sometimes tomatoes if I’m feeling fancy. He’s super low-maintenance. We bought him at a Petco, brought him home, brought him into our lives.”

Rutherford has made Kenyon his home beyond just his owner’s residence. “A couple of times last year [another student] and I walked down Middle Path with him on a leash. It was so unnecessary but so funny. We made a lot of friends that day,” the owner said.

Rutherford also has been an important part of the source’s study routine. “Last year … I would sit outside of [my dorm] and read and have a string tied around his shell so I wouldn’t have to pay attention, …  then I’d just have to find the string to go find him.”

Having cared for an illicit cat in her dorm room earlier this year, Kaitlyn Perry ’18 laments Kenyon’s policy against pets. “It kind of makes me upset,” she said. “I remember calling over the summer and asking to bring my cats but they said I couldn’t. … I really wish I could bring my cats because it’s a really nice thing to look forward to …  to be able to take care of something.”