An ongoing issue in the field of housing and residence life is that of issue of pet ownership for live-in professional staff.
While grassroots in origin, senior housing officers should also be responsible for considering how a change toward a pet policy for live-in staff will benefit their institution.
The professional live-in position will typically attract a national pool of candidates. As the field of Residence Life becomes more professional, and graduate degrees are more often required, candidates will have had significant residence life experience as well as range greatly in age and backgrounds. Due to the requirement of a graduate degree, the typical age of professional live-in staff will frequently fall within the range of twenty-four to twenty-eight years old. Candidates are sometimes older, but rarely younger. Given the ages of these incoming professionals, many will have had significant periods in which to develop their independent, personal lives. Included in developing this life is often the acquisition of a pet.
Due to the unique nature of live-in professional positions, stipulations must sometimes be placed upon the personal lives of those who occupy these positions. Examples include policies on cohabitation, alcohol, candles, and pets. Live-in residence life positions require mature, responsible adults who have committed their lives to being positive, healthy role models for students and colleagues.
It is generally agreed that the live-in professional residence life position can be intense and stressful. Being fully immersed within the world of college students requires significant sacrifices in lifestyle. An example of one potential sacrifice is the ability to live with one’s significant other and/or child(ren). Fortunately, some institutions have taken a pro-family and pro-partner position with regard to this potential sacrifice. A pet policy asserts that a pet can be a significant family member, and should receive similar consideration. As much as a child is fully reliant upon the caring and attention of one individual or couple, so is the pet. Perhaps more importantly, minimizing the lifestyle sacrifices of live-in professionals, in an area as precious to people as their pets, will benefit not only the live-in professionals and their family units, but the University community as well.
Recruitment and Retention of Full-Time Live-In Professional Staff
The job-market for full-time live-in professional staff is becoming increasingly more competitive. In order to remain competitive in recruiting professional staff, benefits and salary must be comparable with other institutions. Allowing the opportunity to own a pet while living in the residence halls, will not only increase the pool of candidates applying for live-in professional positions, but also retain them for a longer period of time.
One reason that many professional staff members choose to move out of residence life into live-off positions is the restrictions that colleges and universities place upon the professional’s living situation and lifestyle. There is often little or no choice with regard to the apartment that a professional (and his/her family) has to live in. It is a reality that as a live-in professional your life will be critically examined by the staff and residents of the building in which you live, and seldom do professionals have the opportunity to live in a location which allows them the freedom to own a pet other than fish.
“If I could have a pet, I would choose to live-in for a longer period of time,” is a common statement made by professionals moving out of the field into positions in which they can have greater control over their living situation.
For a live-in professional without a partner or family, security is a common concern. The ability to own a pet could provide a further measure to allow that staff member to feel safe and secure in their environment. When that staff member chooses to exercise in the outdoors, in order to increase their physical health, safety is often at the forefront of their attention. Bringing along a pet, more specifically a dog, would allow a greater sense of security and protection.
Another common issue facing live-in professionals is dealing with burnout and finding balance with their multiple demands. Long days, often working well into the evening and weekends with staff meetings and programs, contributes greatly to the burnout of professionals. Owning a pet could provide some sense of stress relief for live-in professionals and thus a better sense of well being which would be carried over into the job setting.
Pet Policies at Other Institutions
Contact several institutions to find out if they have pet policies for their live-in staff and which issues are addressed in their policy. For the institutions with such pet policies, there are usually guidelines for pet owners and pets. The guidelines include proper vaccinations, licenses, restrictions on where pets may be present, disposal of pet feces, and regulations and financial restitution for damage caused by the pet. Some institutions have strict requirements regarding the type of pet that is allowed, while others are more flexible. The Live-In Professional Report provides an excellent compilation of institutions with policies for pets.
The Live-In Professional Report is a report generated from professionals self-reporting various statistics regarding live-in benefits. It is compiled by Rich Horowitz of Long Island University – CW Post. It allows current staff members and departments to compare themselves with national norms and allows staff members searching for positions to know institution’s policies upfront. Based on the 2001 Live-In Professional Report, 101 institutions allow live-in professionals to have cats (up from 73 in 2000) and 61 institutions allow live-in professionals to have dogs (up from 45 in 2000). There is a changing norm to allow live-in professionals the opportunity to become pet owners.
Health Benefits of Pet Ownership
The health benefits of pet ownership have been well documented. With regard to physical health, pet ownership has resulted in decreased stress levels, cholesterol levels, and risk for heart attacks for some people.
Pets also have been known to provide unconditional support, love, and companionship for people, thus improving the emotional well-being of some individuals. Chicken Soup for Pet Lover’s Soul provides numerous stories documenting the qualitative benefits of pet ownership, thus appealing to the heart of professionals making the decision about a pet policy.
Whether current live-in staff or their supervisors are considering a pet policy, several issues must be explored in relation to individual campuses.
It is important to address specific institutional concerns regarding a pet policy for live-in professional staff members: a perceived “double standard” for live-in staff versus residents, damage to University property, cleaning, allergies, and obligations of pet owners.
Residents: A common concern among administrators in allowing full-time, live-in professionals to possess pets, or more broadly, to enjoy privileges or perquisites not available to students, is that of setting “double standards.” A pet policy should assert that the different standards which students and live-in professionals experience are not only merited, but also necessary.
At its most basic level, the title of the “live-in professional,” or a “professional position” connotes a certain degree of maturity, competence, and responsibility. Indeed, live-in staff have often been professionals outside of the live-in experience, and have worked to obtain a graduate degree. Live-in professionals differ from students in the following respects:
◦ They have received more years of education.
◦ They are significantly older and possess more life and work experience.
◦ They are employed full-time by the University, and are required to live within the residence hall as a stipulation of their employment.
Distinctions and variations in privileges among students and live-in staff have already been made due to these differences. For example, live-in staff have larger living areas and private bathrooms, as opposed to the smaller, shared living areas and bathrooms of students. Also, children and partners are permitted to reside within the private quarters of the live-in staff. Different standards are necessary in dealing with two distinctly different populations within the residence hall. A pet policy for live-in staff encourages the departments to continue to acknowledge the difference between live-in professionals and students, and extend it to the ability to possess certain pets.
Proposals should maintain that pets would not be allowed in residence hall rooms or public spaces unless determined as acceptable by the institution.
The live-in staff apartments are considered permanent homes, while residents are more transitory and do not occupy their space on a year-round basis. Furthermore, the live-in staff apartments are considerably larger than a residence hall room, thus allowing greater space for a pet to roam around. Additionally, some live-in staff apartments have an exterior entrance, which prevents the pet from occupying or moving through indoor, public space.
In many ways, live-in staff serve as role models to students and staff members. Thus, live-in staff must limit their lifestyle to maintain that role. In fact, role modeling appropriate pet care and responsibility is another method by which live-in staff can serve as role models for future citizens.
Damage: A concern for maintenance staff, which immediately arises, is that of damage to the apartment caused by the pet. Whether it is cat scratches to furniture or carpet that is destroyed by pet “accidents,” a proposal could place all financial responsibility in the hands of the live-in staff for restitution of damages. This will be accomplished by requiring a damage deposit upon the acquisition of a pet (much like off-campus rental companies may collect), annual inspections of the live-in staff apartments, and financial responsibility for damage caused by the pet.
An Apartment Inventory form for live-in staff apartments would provide evidence of the current status of an apartment, as well as inventory the condition of any University furniture. Through the Apartment Inventory checklist, a live-in staff member could be held responsible for excess cleaning and damage caused to the apartment.
Cleaning: Apartment cleanliness both during occupancy and post occupancy may be a concern for custodial staff members. Continued standards of cleanliness, as it relates to health issues, should be maintained with pet ownership. Further, pet owning live-in staff members have a further obligation to make sure that the apartment they leave be as clean as it was when they arrived on campus. This also includes thorough vacuuming and cleaning of carpets and University furniture.
Allergies: In consideration of the next live-in staff member to occupy an apartment, pet owning professionals would have an obligation to thoroughly clean their apartments, including HEPA-vacuuming their carpets and curtains, which picks up pet dander.
Obligations of Pet Owners: Pet owners would have an obligation to clean up after their pets. This would include properly disposing of all pet feces in their own personal trash cans or in the dumpsters located outside each hall. Disposing of feces in public trash cans would not be acceptable.
Suggested Components of a Pet Policy
• Number of Allowable Pets
• Type of Allowable Pets
• Standards of Behavior by Animal and Pet Owner
• Guidelines for Vacating the Apartment
• Guidelines for Cleaning and Damages
Suggested Checklist Prior to Pet Ownership
Staff Name: _______________
Pet Start Date: _______________
•Discuss with Director (or designated staff member)
•Immunization Record Date on file:________
•Spay/Neuter Record Date on file:________
•License (dog only) Date on file:________
•Declaw Record (cat only) Date on file:________
•Personal Renter’s Insurance (not mandatory)
•$200 Deposit Date on file:________
•Apartment Condition Inventory Date on file:________
•Agreement Signed Date on file:________
Suggested Checklist Prior to Pet Departure
Staff Name: _______________
Anticipated Vacate Date: _______________
•Apartment is clean (including HEPA vacuumed)
•Apartment Condition Inventory On file date:________
List Damages (explanation of damages and charges to staff member):
Submitting a Proposal
Each institution of higher education and department of housing has different procedures for making policy changes. First, talk with your supervisor and make sure they will support you in your proposal. Talk with maintenance and custodial staff in order to effectively address their concerns. Check to see if your campus has any regulations regarding pets in buildings, and whether an exemption may have to be made for your circumstances. And finally, write a proposal and draft policy to be submitted to the official making the decision. Example policies from comparable institutions and a copy of the Live-In Professional Report are helpful supplements to a proposed policy change.
If At First You Don’t Succeed
For some, success will come easily. Some will spend considerable time presenting the proposal and talking with many staff members before it is accepted. For others, whether they are personal or institutional reasons, a pet policy will not be passed. Know that you have asked the question in a mature and thoughtful way. Then, you must make the choice whether this issue will impact your choice to remain at your current institution, as well as the choice of future institutions you work for. Perhaps the next institution will be receptive. Each step that staff take to recognize the changing nature of the live-in professional position and grant changes to honor these hard working staff members will be a successful move for the profession.
Sample Pet Policies:
Submitted by Wendy M. Wallace, Assistant Director of Residence Life, Colorado State University