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Animal Magnetism


By Malka A. Older

Students at Harvard will go to great lengths for fur.

Despite the warning of the Handbook for Students that "no student may keep an animal in a building owned or leased by the College," undergraduates desperate for furry companionship have found ways to get around the sanctions against four-footed friends.

Take Max, a house-cat living somewhere near the river. His stay at his dorm-of-residence was jeopardized one day by a routine maintenance visit.

"Once the Facilities Maintenance people came to do some work and we had to hide Max in the bathroom, but Max started mewing," says Max's owner in an e-mail. "One of them started walking around cooing 'Where's the kitty?', but it wasn't a problem. They just said to make sure he wouldn't get out."

She said she decided to keep him here because she and her roommate "missed the distinctive feel of having a cat to come home to."

Max's owner, a sophomore who calls herself a "friend of felines," says that having a cat around is "definitely therapeutic."

"Max was kind of dumb for a cat, but he was gentle and sweet, and you never had to worry about seeming smart or funny or interesting for him. He was easy to be with," she says.

Sounds like a good boyfriend.

Unfortunately, Max "had litter-box issues" and was recently donated to a new owner.

But not all pets need a litter box. Some of our not-so-furry friends provide comfort as well.

One student who asked to be referred to only as "Gabriela" (not her real name) said she would miss her aquatic frog "Toby" if he weren't around.

"When I hear him croaking at night, peaceful in his little tank, it makes me realize how stressed-out we get as students," said Gabriela. "His croaking brings me back to reality, it relaxes me, it's a very soothing noise, and also just looking at him playing in the water is also therapeutic."

Although Gabriela has never been caught with Toby on campus, she said there have been some close calls.

"[Last year] an inspector came up the stairs. My roommates dived to hide the toaster and the hotpot but they didn't even think about Toby. He was sitting in plain view right next to my desk. Luckily he didn't make any noises and [the inspector] didn't even notice."

Although Harvard employees generally are as strict about pets as bouncers at the Grille are about IDs, students find there are other problems inherent in owning a pet at Harvard.

One senior biology concentrator, who owns an African pygmy hedgehog named "Tigger," explains her difficulties.

"I hear that with some serious attention, you can get a hedgehog to be friendlier and more petlike', but it's hard to be a student here and do anything other than school, so I don't get to play with him much," she said. "I am looking forward to getting a pet that actually loves me back; when I graduate, I might get a puppy."

Puppies are harder to hide than hedgehogs, but that's not a problem for some Harvard residents, specifically tutors and masters, who are allowed to own pets.

Quincy House Co-Masters Michael Shinagel and Marjorie L. North own a puppy of the Toto variety whom they redundantly dubbed Quincy. North says in an e-mail that the dog is both for their benefit and that of the students.

"We keep a pet in residence because A. we love dogs, B. we believe that the students really miss their pets and enjoy the 'puppy therapy' that a dog in residence can provide."

"Quincy" can often be found in the Quincy courtyard surrounded by a group of undergraduates eager to play with her.

"I think it makes Quincy House more of a family environment, a warmer community, when a cute furry puppy comes bounding up to our students with pure, unadulterated enthusiasm and love," says North.

Another dog in Quincy was fortunate enough to make it into the facebook. "Loki Lund," pet of Assistant Senior Tutor Louisa Lund, has her picture along with her facetious e-mail (loki@valhalla), concentration (anthropology and canine studies) and her phone number (woof!) in the book.

But for some students, playing with a master's dog once in a while is just not enough. Although local lore has it that pets are banned because cats were left to starve in dorms over winter break, some more responsible pet owners still say that they need their furry, or slimy, or spiny creatures to get through the day. After all, sometimes we all just need something to cuddle.

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