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Rectors’ pets call residence halls home

Kristin Durbin | Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Although animal-loving students may suffer when they leave pets behind and come to Notre Dame, residents of some dorms can still interact with the furry friends belonging to their rectors.

New rules instated in the last decade prohibited pets in residence halls, so pets already living with their rector owners in the dorms were “grandfathered in” as residents of their respective halls, Farley Hall rector Sr. Carrine Etheridge said.

Etheridge unexpectedly became the owner of Farley, a Pekingese mix, about 10 years ago.

“Farley was a stray, and security brought her to my attention on a bitter, cold night in December,” Etheridge said. “She would have frozen to death, but she’s been living here ever since, and it’s been a lot of fun having her.”

For the past 10 years, residents of Fisher Hall have become accustomed to the mellow, friendly basset hound named Ellie, who belongs to Fisher Hall rector Fr. Rob Moss.

“She’s kind of a fixture,” Moss said. “She was my mother’s dog, and I probably won’t have another one in the future, but I don’t think she’s moving anywhere.”

Fisher Hall residents christened Ellie as the dorm’s unofficial mascot, and she often attracts crowds during dances and parties in the hall, Moss said.

“There’s one chair in the main lobby that I let her sit on, so it’s pretty much her throne,” Moss said. “She’s so friendly that she practically flirts with some students, and she puts up a little fuss if the assistant rectors don’t pet her.”

Ryan Hall rector Breyan Tornifolio has enjoyed the companionship of Ella, a cocker spaniel-springer spaniel mix, since she arrived at Notre Dame five years ago.

“Ella is a great companion to have,” Tornifolio said. “The women like having her around, and it’s nice having her there when I get back from a meeting or while I’m in my room.”

Etheridge, Moss and Tornifolio all said their dogs comfort homesick students and help them deal with difficult situations, such as the loss of a family member or illness.

“Farley is very sensitive and will sit by a girl who is in trouble or in need of help,” Etheridge said. “She’s particularly good with girls who have broken up with their boyfriends, but she’s heard everything and she never breaks her confidence.”

Similarly, Tornifolio said she encourages her residents to feel comfortable around Ella and to confide in her because she is “the best secret keeper there is.”

Sr. Sue Dunn, who resides in Cavanaugh Hall, said her dog Leo is a substitute for Cavanaugh women who miss their own animals at home, she said.

“He came through when I had to break hard news to residents in the hall,” she said.

In addition to supporting students through trying experiences, residence hall dogs often receive a great deal of attention and special treatment, including walks and treats from students.

This Christmas, Tornifolio said Ella even received a gift from one Ryan resident’s mother. Moss also said one Fisher student carved a wooden picture frame for Ellie a few years ago, and Ellie often rides the elevator and goes on rounds with security guards.

Etheridge said the women of Farley enjoy dressing their dog in costumes for every occasion, including dances and football weekends, and Farley knows which students keep dog treats in their rooms.

“We put her in a black taffeta dress for dances, and she wears either a football jersey or cheerleading costume to pep rallies, which people love to see,” Etheridge said. “Once, we had a luau, so some girls made her a grass skirt and used walnuts instead of coconuts for her top. We have a lot of fun with her.”

Although allergies to dogs present a point of concern, only Moss ran into issues with allergic students in the past, but this problem was resolved when the student moved from the first floor to an upper floor, and no problems have occurred since.

Despite the responsibilities of having a pet in a residence hall, the rectors unanimously agreed their pets make life in their halls more lively and interesting. Tornifolio said she “couldn’t imagine Ryan Hall without a dog.”

Other dog owners living on campus include Fr. Austin Collins, resident of Dillon Hall and owner of an Irish setter named Big Red.

“It’s just fun having a dog,” Etheridge said.