By Ashley R. Williams, CNN
(CNN) — Some students moving on campus at Ferris State University this fall won’t have to leave their furry friends back home, thanks to a program the Michigan school is piloting.
As a remedy for the anxiety and homesickness, Ferris State is trying out a pet-friendly residence hall floor in one of its 14 dorms on the university’s Big Rapids campus, school officials said.
“One of the reasons that we made the decision to do this is just by listening to our students,” Lisa Ortiz, Ferris State’s director of housing and residence life, told CNN.
“Students have been very vocal in letting us know they would like to bring their pets to campus if there was an environment that would welcome them,” Ortiz said.
The unique program, unveiled for the first time during the 2023-24 academic year, has proved popular as it’s already full, she said. One pet per student is allowed.
“To be quite frank, there was not much benchmarking to do because a lot of universities are not making the decision to do this at this point,” Ortiz said.
The school partly chose Cramer Hall’s second floor for allowing 30 dogs, cats and other pets due to its carpet-free environment. The residence hall is floored with a luxury vinyl tile, according to Ortiz.
“Cleanup is very easy,” she said, alluding to the possibility of any accidents – which students are expected to pick up themselves as part of the agreement.
Students also must pay $250 to live with their pet, have had a relationship with the pet for at least six months before the semester starts and show proof of necessary shots, spaying and neutering.
They also cannot host live feeds of their pets, have to follow local leash laws and must keep them under control when taking pets outside the residence hall.
“Right now, we’re not limiting any pets,” Ortiz said. “It should be a typical household pet so we’re expecting dogs and cats, but I’ve had conversations with students about whether or not a snake, lizard or bunny would be allowed, and they are at this point.”
Each year, she’s seen students return to campus with varying levels of homesickness, including missing pets they’ve come to depend on.
The pilot program’s goal is to help alleviate that feeling. Ferris State referenced research from a 2021 Tarleton State University study, which showed owning pets could reduce students’ cholesterol and blood pressure.
The study also found having pets with them at school decreases anxiety, loneliness and stress while boosting fitness levels.
“This is an opportunity that, if it is the right environment for their pets, (can help students) leave that level of homesickness or depression or anxiety because they know their animal is waiting for them when they go back after class,” Ortiz said.
Noelle Humphrey, a Ferris State student and Cramer Hall’s senior staff adviser, thinks the presence of pets will give students another reason to get out of bed each morning.
“They have someone relying on them that holds them accountable for not only their well-being, but a lovely furry friend’s well-being, which will encourage them to wake up, go to class, socialize, get their dog or cat out of their small space,” Humphrey said.
The program’s success will be measured through student feedback and monitoring how the building’s living situation is going, Ortiz explained.
“Part of it, too, will be damage to the community when we check out the students at the end of the year,” Ortiz said. “We’ll be reviewing the state of the building, what was successful in terms of the animals being kept there and other issues that may be concerning that we need to work through.”
If all goes well, Ferris State could expand on the program with a dog park and other pet-friendly amenities down the line, according to Ortiz.
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