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Know your rights: The pets you can and cannot keep in a US college dorm

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, schools are legally bound to allow service animals on campus. Source: Josh Edelson/AFP

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first: a huge majority (96 percent) of US colleges and universities don’t allow pets on their campuses, according to a study of pet policies at more than 100 institutions across the country.

This means only 40 of the schools are pet-friendly – a dismal number, but better than nothing. If you happen to be a student at one of these exceptions, a round of “hurrah” for being one of the lucky few!

This doesn’t mean, however, that it’s a carte blanche provision for you to bring any pet llama, peacock or horse (or all three) to live in your dorm as a sort of mini petting zoo.

Policies vary across colleges and universities in the US, but here are some general dos and don’ts you should know as a responsible pet owner on campus:

1. Service animals are legally allowed

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, schools are legally bound to allow service animals on campus, while the Fair Housing Act mandates colleges to permit service and emotional support animals in their dorms.

College staff can’t ask you to prove or explain your disability, according to the ADA, though they can ask about the pet being a service animal and what it has been trained to do.

If your pet is an assistance animal, colleges may request proof from your doctor that there is a real need for you to have that pet around.

2. Breeds matter

Pet-friendly schools like Alfred State College of Technology in New York bestow the privilege of having family pets live with their students on selected areas on campus, subject to them abiding policies set. For one, only selected species and breeds are eligible, ie. Dogs (under 40 pounds when fully grown), domestic cats and rabbits.

Dogs from certain breeds, whether purebred or otherwise, or any animal exhibiting aggressive tendencies are not allowed. This ranges from large breeds like the Chow, Alaskan Malamute and Siberian Husky to tiny ones like the Chihuahua or Toy Poodle. As a rule of thumb, the next point should provide guidance on the types of pets colleges would most likely be okay with.

3. No disruptions

As much as we love our pets, living in college is a social contract. This means that respecting the boundaries and rights of everyone in the campus community may trump how much freedom you can give your pet to do as it likes. Many colleges like Rice University would have a warning as such: “Animals that disrupt the educational, research, administrative, or other core operations of the university must be immediately removed from the campus”.

4. You spray, you pay


Being a mom or dad to a fur baby is, for the most part, a joyful experience. But there’s responsibility, too. In addition to ensuring they keep the peace in your dorm, you’ll have to make sure they don’t get into any trouble or cause damage, such as leaving pee on carpets or other property damage. The cost of fixing these, naturally, fall onto you.

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