Issues of Pets on Campus Requires Constructive, Open Problem Solving

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

The topic of pets on campus is a complex one. I’ve heard from students about how a few moments petting one of the campus dogs has relieved the stress they were feeling and reminded them of the comforts of home. I’ve heard from staff that have been bitten by a dog in the past and when turning a corner to find a dog off their leash growling at them has caused their blood pressure to skyrocket and their nightmares to return. I’ve heard from faculty who maintain that their ability to bring their pet to work is a cherished part of their experience at the College. I’ve heard from people who have had to maneuver around excrement left in the hallways of our buildings. And I’ve heard from community members of all types that it can be uncomfortable to raise issues about pets on campus because they worry that their views are those of the “minority” on a campus that mostly self-identifies as a haven for animals and animal lovers.

It’s clear that when it comes to a pet “policy” people feel strongly no matter what their life’s experiences have been. It’s also clear that we can empathize with those with fears or allergies, just as we can embrace those who count on our animal friends to comfort and nurture their experience. Dogs on campus provide benefits and dogs on campus create liabilities – both of these truths co-exist. So how does one go about bridging what seems to be a daunting divide between perspectives and emotions?

Our current policy, which does not permit animals in public spaces or to be off leash when walking through campus, provides a good starting point and attempts to balance the needs of all. And yet, issues arise for which the current policy provides insufficient solutions. For example, some community members are uncomfortable with asking pet owners to remove their pets or put them on a leash, because occasionally their request is met with disdain or because they are not confident that they have the right to make such a request. And there are property damage issues and liability issues as well by pets who are not well supervised by their owners.

On the other hand, other community members are concerned about restricting the presence of pets further than we already have, some because they enjoy having pets around and some because they worry our workplace is becoming overly regulated.

While these differences may appear irreconcilable, we owe it to ourselves to try to work together in common cause, respecting both individual opinions and rights, and our collective commitment to one another. The meeting scheduled for May 3rd at 12:30 in Scheuer, gives us an opportunity to engage in constructive problem solving and create a space where consensus surrounding a way forward that serves all of the members of the Swarthmore community can emerge. We cannot ignore the issues that exist; we have to do our best to understand them and find solutions.

I believe all of these issues are resolvable, as long as we listen to one another with respect and concern and stay focused on the well being of our community as a whole. It’s not simply a matter of whether people enjoy the pets on campus, but rather a question of how we respond to the issues that their presence creates. To do that, we need to move beyond dichotomous thinking and use this moment to creatively strengthen our community. I’m confident that we can do so.