Vet students contest ban of pets from class

by Tom Lopez

Administrators in the College of Veterinary Medicine say students who don’t like a new animal care policy are barking up the wrong tree.
Under the new policy, students are assessed a three-dollar fee per day to leave their pets at the veterinary clinic while they are in class, while anyone who has an office can keep their pets there. Administrators say the fee covers the cost of caring for the animal, including cleaning and heating costs.
“We’ve issued a statement saying we don’t agree with the policy, and that it should be changed,” said Tim Strauss, the president of the college’s student council.
Previously, vet students had taken their pets with them to classes, labs and the library, although a University policy states that no pets can be kept on campus except to assist students with disabilities.
The new policy was formed by the Pets Policy Committee, which was selected by College of Veterinary Medicine Dean David Thawley, in order to allow vet students to continue to bring their pets to school. It went into effect this quarter.
However, some students suggest the new policy is unfair. Because only faculty members have offices, students are usually the only ones who have to pay if they want to bring their pets to school.
“The policy that resulted from the committee trying to come into compliance with University policy only benefits people with offices, which means that students really ended up with the short end of the stick,” said Sean OhmsWinnie, a veterinary student and member of the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly. “It’s a change that seems to be against students. I think that’s where a lot of the opposition to this policy originated.”
However, administrators’ response is that the policy was established to aid students, not to discriminate against them.
“It’s an effort to accommodate students who don’t have offices,” said Carl Jessen, an associate dean of the College. “The issue is whether it’s a privilege or a right. It’s a privilege to bring your dog into this institution, it’s not a right. … We’ve been bending over backwards trying to accommodate these students.”
Another contested issue is the make up of the committee. The Pets Policy Committee selected by Thawley consisted of staff, faculty and students who owned dogs, so that the committee “would be biased toward making a solution that would work,” Jessen said.
However, even though students at all levels were chosen for the committee, Strauss takes issue with the fact that the student representatives were chosen by administrators. “The students were not selected through the democratic process,” he said. “They have no constituency to represent.”
Strauss, who owns a dog, said the policy has had a negative effect on him. “I don’t bring him in anymore because of the policy,” Strauss said of his dog. “The fee is ludicrous. They can’t justify it.”
Administrators say, however, that the vet school’s policy was the best alternative to the University’s policy.
“Over the years, the dean’s office has had some complaints (with students bringing their pets in the facilities), and he was ready to cancel the policy,” said Elaine Robinson, a veterinary professor and the secretary of the committee. “There was a move to allow no animals. But we wanted the students to have the opportunity to have their animals with them.”
Complaints ranged from animal manure to noise complaints to bites, and came from both faculty and students. “Not all the animals that were brought to the college were well-behaved,” she said.
Robinson added that the policy offers students their best alternative to the University policy, since leaving their pets at a non-University clinic would cost much more. “It was in order to give some kind of accommodation that would not involve paying a fee that would be much higher.”
Despite the support of the administration, Strauss said one student group is circulating a petition to have the policy changed.
“It’s highly ironic that at the College of Veterinary Medicine there is a policy that doesn’t help veterinary students take care of their own animals,” OhmsWinnie said.
However, Jessen argued that the college is under no obligation to do so. “This is not a day-care center for pets,” he said.