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Discussion asks if Morris could be more pet-friendly

MORRIS -- The Stevens Community Humane Society has many pets that need good homes, but a lack of pet-friendly rental property in Morris has kept students and other renters from being able to adopt or foster local animals.

At this month's Soup and Substance discussion, a monthly meeting to bring together members of the campus and community to discuss important issues, community members, housing experts and members of the Stevens Community Humane Society explored some of the concerns about pet ownership and creative ways renters could approach landlords about their pet policies.

Ryan Schamp, representing the Office of Residential Life at UMM, said that although studies have shown that having pets can be a benefit for students – feelings of connection, a sense of responsibility, and stress relief – it isn't practical at UMM to allow students to keep pets on campus.

“For us in housing, it's a matter of people with allergies versus not,” said Schamp. “It's impossible for us to keep juggling those different needs.”

However, if a student needs a pet as a comfort or therapy animal, there is a wing in the on-campus apartments that allows animals. Students need to provide a doctor’s note to campus disability services to show they have a need for a pet, and continue to care for the animal while it’s in their care, said Schamp.

One group also expressed concern about moving towards a more “pet friendly” rental community in Morris, wondering if that would just “kick the problem” down the road when students move to a place where having a pet is difficult or not allowed.

“In other college towns where I've worked, it was a big problem – as soon as somebody graduated, the pet got kicked to the humane society because the new job, the new town, that new apartment wouldn't allow that pet to come,” said Schamp.

Karon White, president of the Stevens Community Humane Society, said the organization does see more stray and abandoned animals in May.

“We would like to develop relationships with our landlords so that a college student or young adult could foster an animal for us,” said White. “That has worked in some cases, we just don't have enough foster care because of the ratio of pet-friendly landlords and apartment complexes at this time.”

Maria Fleck, a student organizer through the Office of Community Engagement, said her group felt it was important to convince landlords in the area that there is a market for pet-friendly rental properties that is not currently being filled.

Melanie Fohl, executive director of the Morris Housing and Redevelopment Authority, pointed out that since there is “no excess” of rental property that there really isn't an incentive for landlords to go the extra mile or risk damage to their property by allowing pets.

“You have to find a different way to convince them that it would be worth it,” said Fohl, suggesting that a renters who have lived in a house for a year and proved they can be responsible may have a better chance of convincing a landlord to allow a pet.

Other participants suggested renters interested in owning a pet present their landlord with a list of things they will do to care for the pet to prove they have thought through contingencies and whether owning a pet is a good idea.

Fohl said that some landlords might be in favor of renters fostering animals, especially apartments that are inspected regularly, but if there's a problem “it doesn't really matter if it's a foster cat or just your cat – some people take care of them and some people don't.”