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Conflict arises over pets in dormitories

Eva Binda | Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Beginning last fall, controversy has been brewing in Pasquerilla East Hall because of a new resident, hand-chosen by the dorm’s rectress, Breyan Tornifolio. The unconventional resident is a cocker spaniel dog named Ella. Though numerous dorms on campus have pets, Ella’s presence in Pasquerilla East caused a slew of problems for three students – Jacqueline Collins, Catherine Wetten and Lauren Carr – who suffer from allergies. Originally placed in the dorm because it is air-conditioned – and thus the best placement for students suffering from severe allergies – the women were left with a tough decision following Ella’s debut. They could either stay in Pasquerilla East and deal with recurring health problems or move out of the dorm.One such student was sophomore Catherine Wetten, who moved into Lyons Hall at the beginning of the semester because of asthma and allergies that were intensified by living in Pasquerilla East. She began experiencing congestion and pain while sleeping and “really bad headaches because I wasn’t getting enough oxygen.””It’s a ridiculous situation. You’d never think you’d get replaced by an animal,” said Wetten’s former roommate Karla Albite.Although Wetten was able to move to Lyons, she said the solution was not a good one. “I was upset and didn’t want to move. I have bad airborne allergies. I’m just hoping it doesn’t get too warm for too long,” said Wetten, referring to the fact that Lyons Hall does not have air-conditioning. Wetten and Carr, who still reside in Pasquerilla East, are hoping to move to McGlinn, a currently petless dorm, next fall.”My main issue was that it didn’t have to be a win-lose situation,” Carr said. “There are breeds of dogs that are better for [people] with allergies. Cocker spaniels are not one of them. I don’t understand why there couldn’t be a different breed of dog in the dorm.”But Wetten’s decision to move was not made without discussions and attempts at negotiation with the Office of Residential Life and Housing and the Pasquerilla East rectress. Tornifolio met with all the residents with allergy issues after receiving a letter from Carr.The letter detailed the reasons why Carr felt that having a pet in the dorm was unjust – including that the students “are paying $40,000 to attend this University, we have lived here longer, we will have a harder time adjusting to a new housing arrangement, we are more productive and active members of the community of PE and Notre Dame, and it is our health and well-being that is sacrificed.”Still, Tornifolio said that she felt the discussion was “pretty open and honest.””I’d like to think we’ve been working together to try to find some solution,” she said.In order to try to appease all parties, the dog is confined to a certain area of the building – Tornifolio’s room – and only goes through the lobby to be taken out for walks.”[The dog] is not allowed to be in spaces where the community would gather such as common areas. We try to be understanding of those with allergies,” said Tornifolio, who also noted that residents with allergies tend to not live on the first floor so they are not near the pet on a daily basis.The Office of Residence Life performed a risk assessment and decided that it was not necessary to force Tornifolio to get rid of the dog. Wetten, however, said she got the feeling that “ResLife and [the Office of] Student Affairs hasn’t been paying much attention to it.”The Office of Residence Life did not return requests for an interview.Still, some residents feel this ignores the problem instead of putting it to rest. “I can’t see it as something that should happen, especially at Notre Dame which values family and community,” said Albite, who would like see one dorm for each gender designated as an allergies dorm.According to junior Erin Buckley, “I may have up to three friends forced to leave the dorm on account of a pet, and I know that in my case I would so much prefer these three people in my dorm than a dog.”Pasquerilla East is not the only residence on campus with a pet. Numerous other dormitories – including Pasquerilla West, Stanford and Fisher – all house pets like cats or dogs. But rectors have not always been allowed to have pets in the dorms. Only after a policy change made by Vice President for Student Affairs Father Mark Poorman in 1999 were rectors permitted to keep pets. The idea was that dorm pets often improve the sense of community and help students interact with their rector. “I think having a dog is a huge asset to the community,” Tornifolio said.Pets can also provide comfort to students who are homesick, especially freshmen who are away from home for the first time.”For many freshmen, Jackson [a chocolate Labrador retriever] seems to be a really good thing for them,” said Amy de la Torre, rectress of Cavanaugh Hall. “They come to take him for a walk or to just pet him because they miss their own pets at home.”Although de la Torre has not heard of any residents having problems with the dog in Cavanaugh, an older dorm, she does believe dorm life is about community and would take the dog out of the dorm depending on the number of girls experiencing problems versus the amount who received enjoyment from the dog.”With any community, you have to go with the greatest good and that’s the only way community works,” said de la Torre.