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Columbia Missourian

'Today' show to air story on Stephens College pet-friendly dorm

By Sydney Berry
September 7, 2010 | 8:19 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — A segment on the pet-friendly residence hall at Stephens College, filmed by NBC's "Today" show crew in August, will air Wednesday morning on KOMU/Channel 8.

The rest of the country saw it Monday on the national network, but the MDA Telethon pre-empted it in Columbia.

Searcy Hall, dubbed “Pet Central,” has allowed animals to live with their owners since 2004.

This semester, the hall has approximately 60 students with animals. 

"Having Leo here means a lot to me," said Megan McGill, 18, a freshman at Stephens who lives with her cat. "It's like having a piece of home with me. He's always happy to see me when I walk through the door."

McGill is one of the pet owners featured in the "Today" story.

McGill said she was mainly asked questions about Leo and why she wanted to bring him to school with her.

The college has rules that apply to pet ownership, including limiting the number of pets each student can have to one in most cases.

There are no firm restrictions on what kind of pets are allowed, but it cannot be"too exotic."

Until this year, there was a weight limit of 40 pounds, but now bigger animals are allowed. It was determined that they had no more anxiety in a small room than smaller animals.

All pets must be kept in kennels when the owner is away from the room and must be on a leash when outside, and dogs need to be walked.

If an animal begins to have a disagreeable odor, a tub in the basement can be used for bathing. 

Residents of Searcy Hall consider themselves a community and take the role of pet ownership seriously, said Sara Fernández Cendón, writer for the Office of Marketing and Public Relations at Stephens College.

"They're responsible to one another in taking care of their animals and keeping the building a safe, pleasant place to live," she said.

"Doggie Daycare" on the first floor of Searcy Hall, for example, is a student-run operation that gives owners a chance to leave the building without locking their animals in their rooms.

"It is primarily meant for the students who have pets that have anxiety when kept in the dorm rooms,” said Deb Duren, vice president for student services.

Stephens also has a connection with Columbia Second Chance, a privately funded animal rescue organization. Students can foster animals that are up for adoption until they are found a permanent home.

During school breaks, students can drop their foster animals off at Second Chance until they return.

“The students are required to bring their fostered pets to adoption meetings, and there is a chance their animal will be adopted,” Duren said. 

Nikkole Crow, 19, a sophomore at Stephens is fostering a dog, Corey, until he can find a permanent home. The two are also featured in the three-minute "Today" segment.

Crow was planning to bring one of her pets from home, but after hearing about the foster program during a school orientation, decided on foster care instead.

"I may adopt him in the future," Crow said. "I'm waiting it out for now because like everyone else, I'm looking for a job before I take on the responsibility of a pet."