The walk to and from class is often fraught with furry creatures. Jack the Bulldog will make a photo-opportunity appearance, while neighbors frolic with their dogs on the front lawns.
But what about the college students walking dogs, forbidden from campus residential spaces? And the myriad, rumored pets kept in dorm rooms?
While some students are able to obtain animals for health reasons, others clandestinely keep pets without informing the administration. Both groups of students, however, have encountered and overcome obstacles in obtaining these animals. Regardless, these students agree that the animals have enriched their Georgetown experiences.
Obtaining approval for an animal is a complex process involving numerous departments as well as countless medical forms and documents. Although pets are strictly forbidden for students, service or emotional support animals are allowed on a case-by-case basis.
The Americans with Disabilities Act defines a “service animal” as “any animal that is trained to do, work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability.”
Pets are not allowed on campus, but, by definition, service animals are not pets.
“Service animals are dogs or miniature horses that are trained to perform a specific task,” Associate Director of the Academic Resource Center Annie Tulkin said. “Some examples of tasks these animals may provide are guiding a blind or visually impaired person, sensing when a person may have a seizure and getting them out of harm’s way, and bringing the person items and assisting them with tasks.”
Since service animals are rigorously trained to perform specific physical tasks that their owners rely on to complete their day-to-day routines, they are permitted in most places on campus.
The “emotional support animal,” which provides mentally therapeutic relief for students, is also often requested. This application process is focused less on the physical capabilities of students and more on mental and emotional aid.
Tulkin must distinguish between the two types of animals when she receives requests from students.
“Emotional support animals, or therapy animals, are not covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act. They are covered under the Fair Housing Act. These animals are not allowed in public spaces, but rather they are allowed under this federal legislation to reside on campus,” Tulkin said.
The decision is usually based on less tangible medical factors than those required for traditional service animals, so properly documented emotional support animals are harder to find.
“Students seeking these types of animals must follow the Academic Resource Center and Residential Living process for having an emotional support animal on campus,” Tulkin said. “This includes documentation from the student’s health care provider. These animals are prescribed by a person’s health care provider and typically provide support for anxiety, depression and/or stress. They may or may not have specific training.”
Since emotional support animals are not required to have training in a specific task, most creatures can be considered as emotional support animals as long as they are deemed helpful by a medical professional.
Students seeking a service or emotional support animal as a viable medical option are welcome to apply for one, but it is a lengthy and complex process. Once approved, the student becomes liable for any incidents that occur.
Service animals are allowed to accompany students in most places on campus, including libraries, the cafeteria, classrooms and performance halls. Thus, the university goes through necessary precautions to ensure that the animal can safely interact with others in these high-activity environments. Because of the inherent risks involved, the application process is arduous and highly selective.
Dolly Moorhead (COL ’16) underwent this process to prove that her current service animal, a dog named Demon, was properly qualified.
“I had to submit letters from my doctors indicating I required a service animal in order to attend Georgetown, letters from the trainer to prove he had been trained, letters from the vet verifying his vaccinations and medicine, and proof of a ridiculous amount of bite insurance,” Moorhead said.
The inclusion of bite insurance comes after Jack Jr., the dog chosen to succeed Jack Sr. as the university’s official bulldog, bit a child in fall 2012. The child did not suffer any critical injuries, but the parents pressed charges, and a settlement was reached in summer 2013.
Once the application is approved, the student works with the ARC to find proper housing. Since the animal is considered an accommodation for a disability, no additional costs besides general care and maintenance are required.
However, finding the right on-campus living space for a service animal is not without its caveats.
“Last year, I lived in the fall in a triple with one roommate, who then dropped out, so me and Demon had a triple. We couldn’t get a new roommate because the roommate had to sign agreements to live with a service dog. This year, we live in Henle with four people total plus Demon. I have to put down 1000 dollars in deposit in case of damages,” Moorhead said.
Additionally, the busy schedules of Georgetown students often prohibit them from properly caring for their animals. Moorhead has developed a routine for taking care of her dog Demon, but it is a time-consuming one.
“On top of class, I walk [him] three to four times a day, feed him once in the morning and once at night, and play with him probably twice a day,” Moorhead said. “Having a service animal has in part shaped my Georgetown experience. I have to be conscious about returning to my dorm during the day in order to take Demon out for walks, which means, unlike other students, I can’t do straight marathon Lau sessions.”
Julia Abernathy (MSB ’18), who had an unregistered hedgehog in her dorm last semester, quickly realized just how much work caring for a pet entails.
“She was a baby hedgehog named Fig that we got from a dealer from West Virginia, who sold her to us out of the back of his car. We got the hedgehog because we had been obsessed with them for a while and I decided it would be my birthday present, but she was too much work,” Abernathy said. “She pooped a lot. It was too much to take care of in such a small space.”
After one semester taking care of her pet hedgehog, Abernathy chose to give it away to a nearby family.
Dylan (COL ’17), whose name has been changed for the sake of anonymity, has an unregistered dog living with him on campus. He chose to get the pet because of his love for dogs and his familiarity raising two of them in his family’s home. Since he had no medically valid reason for obtaining the pet, he and his friends have done their best not to advertise its existence to the university.
Although Dylan also has a packed student schedule, he and his friends manage to take care of the dog by splitting up the duties.
“It is not difficult at all to balance the responsibilities of taking care of our dog … and schoolwork. We have it on a feeding and walking schedule and make sure that someone’s always around it,” Dylan said.
Despite the risks associated with having an unregistered dog as well as its inherent caretaking duties, Dylan and his friends are willing to make the effort.
“I think [the dog] has definitely helped my college experience by boosting the morale of everyone in our house,” Dylan said. “Even though it can be tough waking up early to walk it, [the dog] is definitely worth the trouble to have it around us.”
Moorhead also attested to the benefits that her service animal has brought to her college experience.
“Demon has been amazing for helping to maintain my health and making my college experience much less stressful,” Moorhead said.
Health Communications Specialist of Health Education Services Laura Marcucci sees the general health benefits of domestic animals. HES hosts several events throughout the school year inviting pets to campus to spend time with students.
The most popular event is Puppy Playtime, which takes place on the front lawn. Local puppies and their owners are invited to stop by to meet students and run around with them, providing students with a therapeutic dose of comfort.
“Research has shown that pets improve wellbeing and decrease stress. Through the Hoya Health Hut and Thrive Week, HES has held over four Puppy Playtime events over the past few years,” Marcucci said.
“At these events, volunteers bring their trained therapy dogs for an afternoon so that students can pet and play with them. The programs are widely popular; students leave happy and relaxed, and we’ve gotten great feedback that they’re always looking forward to more events.”
No account of the presence of animals on campus could be complete without looking at the iconic Georgetown pet: Jack the Bulldog. Jack is arguably the most popular furry friend on campus, strutting around like a local celebrity, complete with his own entourage of student caretakers.
Jack currently resides in a townhouse on 36th Street, cared for by six students who form the “Jack Crew.” His retired predecessor, of the same name, remains a part of campus life through his home on the fourth floor of New South. He is cared for by Fr. Christopher Steck, S.J., the chaplain-in-residence.
The students living on his floor have mixed opinions on being in such close proximity to an old canine celeb.
“I enjoy seeing Jack every day because it reminds me how proud I am to be a Hoya. I think on-campus pets could alleviate stress if they were more accessible, but Jack doesn’t hold office hours,” Michael Martinez (MSB ’18) said.
Martinez’ jest does have a seed of truth in it. In order to spend time with the current Jack the Bulldog — apart from chance encounters during his walk from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. — it is necessary to fill out a form to have him appear at an event. University-sponsored events are prioritized, and because Jack cannot physically walk great distances, eligible functions are usually limited to on-campus events.
These bulldogs are not the only pets being cared for by live-in staff or volunteer students. Unlike regular students, some community members can directly own pets without them being medically necessary.
Stefanie Chappell, a chaplain-in-residence, has a new puppy named Finnegan, who has attracted a lot of attention from students.
“I am so grateful to the university for allowing live-in staff to have pets. I know that Finnegan has added a lot of joy to my life, as well as to the lives of more students than I’ll ever be able to count,” she said.
Since Chappell is such an accessible figure, her pet provides students with some equally accessible rest and relaxation.
“Finn’s presence has been extremely helpful in our residence hall. Students stop by my apartment or email to ask if they can pet him or play with him because they are stressed out. We walked by one student whose face was tight with stress — he saw Finn and then stopped to say that seeing him was the best part of his day,” Chappell said.
While Chappell sees the immense benefits of having any kind of animal presence among students, she must also take into account opposite student reactions.
“There is one student who is not fond of having an animal approach him, so that student texts me when he is coming over so I can hold Finn and the student can feel comfortable. I recognize the fact that some people have had bad experiences in their history, and it is extremely important to me that students feel comfortable in their hall and in my home,” Chappell said.
General student discomfort can be a reason to restrain pets, but for students with disabilities who require the constant company of their service animals, this may not be an option.
According to the service animal guidelines supplied by Georgetown University, services animals have a right to be present regardless of allergies or fear of the service animal since they are considered necessary to that student’s basic way of life. Cases involving allergies can be brought up individually to the Office of Disability Support Services to weigh the needs of both students and come to a solution.
The complex paperwork, proof of necessity and financial obligations involved in the animal application process makes students with service or emotional support animals a rare find.
Those not eligible under these medical guidelines sometimes bypass the administration altogether and hide pets in their dorm rooms or apartments. In both cases, the issue of caring for pets in a small space on a busy campus is raised. Although students work around those problems, concerns still arise when planning how those pets can be sustained on a long-term basis and what happens if things go wrong.
For the most part, animals — both registered and unregistered — have positively added to the experiences of many Hoyas. From fostering school spirit to providing emotional support to offering help with physical tasks, animals of all species, shapes and sizes have lent helping hands — or paws, fins, quills — to the lives of Georgetown students.