COLUMBIA — Standing four stories high and blending in with the other red brick buildings surrounding the quadrangle, Searcy Hall located on the Stephens College campus looks like an average college residence hall, but looks can be deceiving. Step inside, and you might hear a whimper here or there, or you might pick up some cat hair on your sweater.
In 2004, Stephens College announced it would allow small pets under 40 pounds to live on the first floor of Prunty Hall. After a positive response from students and faculty the program has since expanded; Searcy Hall is now a “pet friendly” residence and some prospective students are basing their future at Stephens on whether they will be accepted into this residence.
“I just talked to a parent who said that her daughter wanted to come to school here, but if she couldn’t get into Searcy Hall, then she probably wouldn’t come,” said Lory Arnold, the director of Residential Life at Stephens. The residence hall currently hosts about 50 students.
Aside from small animals, Stephens’ students are also permitted to keep a horse in the stables on campus. “We’re a pretty pet friendly campus,” Arnold said.
Perhaps no place is more pet friendly than Searcy Hall, which has a gated backyard for pets to run around. Freshman Abby Herzog takes her pet pug Tao to the yard to play in between classes. Herzog said she enjoys living in Searcy Hall because everyone has pets, and when she has to stay at class late, her fellow residents will take care of Tao.
“Being able to have pets basically made my decision to come here,” Herzog said. “It just wouldn’t have been as appealing.”
Although most students and faculty have responded well to the pets, the change has not gone over without any complaints.
“Our biggest problem is probably barking,” Arnold said. “I have only had to kick one dog out before, and that’s because she was under a year old.”
Searcy Hall residents must fill out a pet floor program agreement plan before they are admitted to the residence hall. All dogs must be over 1 year old.
Some colleges and universities have contacted Stephens because they are interested in starting their own pet programs, Arnold said. Institutions such as Eckerd College located in Florida have developed similar pet policies.
“The question of pets on campus has come up at several institutions,” said James Baumann, the communications director of the Association of College and University Housing Officers International. “The growing development of apartment-style dorms could facilitate more liberal pet policies for the campuses that want them.”
Heather Duren of the Central Missouri Humane Society, which helped Stephens craft their policy, said residence hall and apart-style living is ideal for pet care.
“It is a great setup for animals; you always have someone to watch your animal, too, if you are in class,” Duren said. “From a humane point of view, I would almost always put an animal in an apartment-style home before a country home.”
Although some institutions are looking to follow Stephens’ lead, MU and Columbia College don’t plan to change their current policies any time soon. Frankie Minor, the director of Residential Life at MU, said the university’s pet policy is probably more open than most institutions.
“We allow a range of small animals including hamsters, gerbils and nonvenomous snakes,” Minor said. Residence hall coordinators are also allowed to have female, spade, de-clawed cats in their apartments.
At Columbia College, students are allowed to bring fish in aquariums up to 10 gallons in size.
As for life at Stephens, Searcy Hall is a pet-lovers paradise. Emilyann Allen, a sophomore resident of Searcy Hall, said she was more than happy to bring her two cats, Benny and Joon, to Stephens.
“It’s nice for the pets, like their having their own college life, too.”