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What If: Fido followed you to campus?

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For most students, feeding crackers and Vitamin Water to a hungover roommate is the closest they’ll come to taking care of a pet. Assuming responsibility for another living thing when it’s hard enough to care for yourself can be overwhelming, especially because you can’t – or shouldn’t – feed your pet the leftover Ramen and stale beer in your fridge.Many Northwestern students consider buying a low-maintenance pet after they move off campus. Senior Max Shaul was inspired by his girlfriend’s dad, who owns a bird, and found his Quaker parrot through PetFinder.com. Both the bird and its cage were a pricey initial investment, but he says upkeep is only $30 a month.

Shaul says he feeds the bird once a day and because it likes to be alone, he doesn’t feel bad taking on a 25-hour-a-week work schedule in addition to classes. His three roommates love the bird, too. “It’s a great conversation starter,” Shaul says. “You can have him out if people are over and try to make him talk.”

After Weinberg senior Evan Maass and his roommates decided they couldn’t commit to a pet as high-maintenance as a dog, he picked up a California kingsnake at a reptile convention his sophomore year. “We wanted something easy to take care of,” he says. “Snakes are cost-effective. It eats once a week and mice are cheap.”

The novelty factor is also a plus. “It’s a unique pet,” he says. “People like to hold him and he doesn’t really bite.”

Students in university housing, however, should think twice before drooling at the pet store window. The Undergraduate Housing Web site has three words for animal lovers: “Sorry, no pets.” After all, most pets are messy, often smelly and can cause serious health problems for students with allergies.

But sorority houses are exceptions, where live-in house directors have their own apartments. Judy Burns, the house director at Delta Delta Delta sorority, says she spent several years trying to obtain permission from the sorority’s national office to have a puppy. Members of Delta Delta Delta voted unanimously to allow Burns to adopt an eight-week-old West Highland white terrier, Maggie, this summer. “The girls aren’t responsible for Maggie.” Burns describes Maggie as her “baby,” as opposed to a sorority mascot. Her “baby” cost a security deposit against possible damages to the house, and the dog can’t leave Burns’s apartment to wander.

Susan Parmentier had already owned her cat for almost three years before she became Chi Omega’s house director in 2007. She says that she mentioned the pet during her initial job interview, but since the previous director owned a dog, they told her the cat could stay. No specific rules for the cat were imposed, but Parmentier says she defines them herself. He stays in her apartment, though girls can visit. Like Burns, her biggest challenge is finding ample space for him to explore. “He used to sleep in the bathtub, but one day I filled it up and he didn’t know. He jumped in and panicked,” she says. “He hasn’t gone back in since.”

The house directors’ problem with space is one they share with off-campus pet owners, who chose caged animals, like snakes and birds, that don’t eat frequently and can be left alone for long periods of time. Those who follow these basic rules are happy with the decision.

Despite space issues and busy schedules, both house directors and off-campus students say having a pet is worth the trouble. “I love it,” Shaul says of his parrot. “I would definitely recommend getting a pet.”

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