Dorm pets bring students consonance and community

For many students, moving away from household pets is one of the hardest parts of going to college.

But some have figured out that life without their furry or scaly friends is not an option. For these students, the companionship of an animal is a necessity despite living in the limited space of the dorms.

Junior Elizabeth Dobbe, sophomore Molly Lenz and junior Rebecca Grommesh have found emotional support animals (ESA) to get them through the academic year in Granskou.

Canine Companion

Luther, Lenz’s dog, is a “quarantine pup.” Lenz adopted him to help her through a family loss.

“It was my decision to take him because he was my dog,” she said. “I made sure I could take him as an ESA before I got him.”

And Luther is good at support.

“He’s receptive to my emotions,” Lenz said. “He’s an Australian shepherd and border collie mix, so he’s getting kind of big,” she added, citing his DNA test.

If Lenz had to guess, her energetic puppy will reach between 80 and 90 pounds.

Most days, she takes Luther to the dog park and on a long walk.

Lenz said Luther has been supportive for more than just her own sake.

Lenz said her roommate, who is a friend from high school, has loved having him and will take part in training him.

For much of his puppyhood, Luther has spent time living it up in Lenz’s dorm room.

“I think he likes it better at the dorms than at my house because there are so many people, and he loves people,” Lenz said. “He’s always happy to see everybody on campus.”

Lenz said that he’s kept her sane this year.

“He’s always good to come back to,” Lenz said. “It’s been a rough year for all of us, and if we all had pets, it’d be a little bit easier.”

Feline and Fish Friends

Grommesh’s first-year roommate moved away from Augustana right before sophomore move in.

While she loves her current roommate, Grommesh said her roommate is rarely around, making dorm life pretty lonely.

“I realized that I was going to visit people on my floor who had animals at like one in the morning,” Grommesh said.

Two doors down that year, there was a cat, and senior Kale Hellman had a cat on the Grommesh’s floor during freshman year.

“It occurred to me when COVID hit that I’d never been without an animal or at least direct access to an animal,” Grommesh said.

After talking to her doctor, the first suggestion was an ESA.

“Bringing Zoot to the dorms, I knew that especially because she was going to be a kitten for most of this year, I figured we’d be okay for this year in the dorms, and I’d make sure we had different housing next year,” Grommesh said.

Living in a corner room of Granskou, having the fluffy white kitten allows her to have plenty of company.

“She’s a living teddy bear,” Grommesh said, explaining that when Zoot isn’t in spots that are her own, she’s prone to being cuddled at any moment.

To get her energy out, Zoot has plenty of toys, but Grommesh admits that the cat’s favorite is the red dot that’s emitted from a laser pointer.

“She has a really annoying habit of if I’m gone for anything less than 15 minutes — like if I’m going to take a shower or wash dishes — she will run out the door when I come back.”

When this happens, Grommesh said Zoot will take laps around the floor, taking full advantage of her mom being unprepared to chase her.

Grommesh also has a beta fish and a collection of pampered plants, all with names. She tries to keep her leafy pals out of reach of Zoot.

Of course the cat still gets her paws dirty. Zoot even loves to go visit Grommesh’s neighbors.

“I’ve become to other people what Kale Hellman and [the other cat owner] were to me, which is really, really cool,” she said. “I’ve had people show up just to hold the cat and freak out.”

Rambunctious Rat Roommates

Dobbe said her friends call her dorm the zoo.

She has two fish tanks, one with a betta fish and the other 10 gallon tank has a handful of others. And just this year over spring break, she picked up some new friends.

Dobbe said she loved rat sitting for a friend in J-Term 2020 so much, she decided to get her own.

“I have three rats,” Dobbe said.

The biggest one is Plop. Goose is gray and white. And Ruthie is the smallest and slightly blind.

They are young, as she’s had them for only about a month.

“About an hour a day I’ll set up my dorm, pull the blanket down, put pillows in front of where they can’t go and let them free roam.”

She calls it “rat time.”

“It’s the highlight of every day,” Dobbe said. “They’re so cute. They’re curious. They explore so much. They love treats.”

Dobbe currently lives alone and plans to be a Viking Advisor next year.

But she said the animals make it easier to take care of herself with the structure they provide. Overall, she said it’s been a positive experience.

“I think living in the dorms, there’s just not a lot to do, and it can feel claustrophobic and a place you can feel trapped in,” Dobbe said. “Having pets in the dorms, it’s suddenly a very enjoyable place to be.”

Photo by Elizabeth Dobbe.