Pets on UAE campuses? A debate. Habiba Ahmad Abdul Aziz writes about the idea making many paws for thought

The phrase ‘No Pets' is a staple of many college and university student handbooks, but there are signs that the traditional mantra is starting to fade. At Stephens College in Montana, USA, certain dorms contain "pet floors" where students can bring animal companions.

The University of Missouri-Kansas City held a pet show last year where students were encouraged to bring friends furry (or otherwise) to enjoy what is usually a critter-free campus.

And while UAE students should not expect to bring a camel to class anytime soon, animals may be getting closer to that proverbial paw-in-the-door.

Not surprisingly, universities here routinely bar pets, placing health and hygiene concerns at the top of their rationale.

Fear of infection

"We can't allow pets on our campus because they might be carrying some sort of infection or a virus," said Hashim Khalid, housing manager at Ajman University of Science and Technology Network.

"If the student is living separately in a building then he or she can be allowed to have a pet."

Yet he acknowledged the possibility that colleges might experiment with changes someday. "Some organisations might come up with some proposal we might approve of," he said.

And special cases do arise. At American University of Dubai, Housing Director Fida Aschkar said their rules do allow guide dogs for visually impaired students.

Ashkar said that she did not know of any students who currently needed such exceptions, but that one would be granted upon receipt of proper medical documentation.

Sharing and caring

Students aren't the only ones on campus who care about animals. In Sharjah's University City, faculty from both American University of Sharjah and University of Sharjah formed ‘Muezza's Feline Friends' to feed and tend the many stray and feral cats wandering around the large complex.

According to group members and AUS professors Dr Judith Caesar and Dr Dennis Russell, this "cat interest group" sets up feeding stations inside and around the campus gates; they also catch stray cats for release after they are neutered by a local veterinarian.

Caesar, an associate professor of English, noted that taking care of these homeless cats benefits the animals - and keeps the campus mice population down.

Working with them, she added, provides many reminders of how cats are independent creatures with minds of their own.

She recalled trying to find a home for a campus cat, giving it to a colleague. But the animal opted out of the arrangement on its own.

"The cat didn't spend the whole day at [the professor's] house," she said with a laugh. "It came back to me, so I sent her another one. This one remained."

Russell, an associate professor of biology, recalled that his cat, Artemis ("Artemis is the goddess of the moon because she is white," he noted) was born in a street about two years ago.

Her mother, Russell said, was crushed by a car and Artemis simply popped out after the accident. When first picked up, Russell added, Artemis was in critical condition.

For a month, a University of Sharjah professor of English used a tiny baby bottle to feed the patient, who was kept in a birdcage to protect from a dog that shared their home.

Russell said that Artemis can be jealous, scratching him when he is diverted on the telephone, and physically coming between him and visitors in order to get his undivided attention.

"When cats don't have any contact with other cats they get confused," he said, especially when the animals imprint on people.

Russell's observations underscore what he described as the beneficial nature of pets to students, faculty, or anyone else.

Many studies, he said, say that pet ownership "eases tension, lowers blood pressure: people become happier, healthier. It's a kind of therapy that goes way beyond medicine".

However, he acknowledged that pets are a big responsibility, though he called cats generally more independent, cleaner, and self-sufficient than dogs.

No matter what the pet, Russell noted, a problem with introducing them in dorms is the possibility that students will abandon the creatures when they go home.

"This is very cruel," said Russell, noting that the phenomenon occasionally occurs among faculty. "The poor pets starve to death. How would you feel if you were abandoned?"

The last woof

Not surprisingly, responsible pet ownership emerged as a topic among students who were informally surveyed on the topic. They were divided as to whether pets on campus is a good idea.

Some were enthusiastically for the concept. "Yes, I would absolutely love to [have pets in the dorms]," said Fady Khalil, a student at AUS. "A beagle would be amazing. A Persian cat would be good too. I wouldn't mind a hamster."

But others were wary of how much time pets require of their handlers. For his part, AUS student Yousif Biltaji said he doubted he could properly tend a pet even if dorm policy allowed it.

"I'm never in the dorms and I don't have time to take care of it and to chill with it," he said. "Maybe if I was back home … ."

The writer is a student of mass communication at the American University of Sharjah

The 2nd guard of the student editorial body of Notes (In alphabetical order)

  • Abiya Ahmad - American University of Sharjah
  • Deena Kamel Yousuf Hussain - American University of Sharjah
  • Dina Zalami - American University of Sharjah
  • Eman Goma - American University of Sharjah
  • Fahima Abdullah - Dubai Women's College
  • Fatima Tapya - American University of Sharjah
  • Fatima Rabbani - American University of Sharjah
  • Habiba Ahmad Abdul Aziz - American University of Sharjah
  • Hamida Mahmoud - Dubai Women's College
  • Heba Amin - American University in Dubai
  • Isra A. - American University in Dubai
  • Mekhala Chaubal - Randolph-Macon Woman's College, Virgina, USA
  • Nashwa Al Derawy - American University of Sharjah
  • Nura Al Nazer - American University of Sharjah
  • Saja Al Zubeidi - Al Shefa'a Secondary School for Girls
  • Siham Al Najami - American University of Sharjah
  • Souad Al Jamal Al Serkal - Zayed University
  • Syed Hamad Ali - Aston University, Birmingham, UK
  • Tazeen Jameel Sharif - Ajman University of Science and Technology
  • Zainab Hardwarewala - American University in Dubai