Ada and Fugu

There are plenty of things you expect to see students doing on a college campus, but walking a rabbit on a leash is not one of them.

Well, it’s a fairly common sight at Middlebury, especially in the vicinity of Milliken Residence Hall where Ada Santiago ’13 and her pet bunny Fugu live in a suite with three other students.

The College permits students to have “small animals” other than dogs, cats, snakes and ferrets in their dorm rooms, as long as they are confined to “appropriate aquariums or small cages at all times.”

And while Middlebury’s policy may seem fairly liberal, other colleges across the country are now allowing dogs and cats (and small animals, too) as a way to help students adjust to college life away from home.

Last June, the New York Times published a story and an accompanying blog post about the growing number of colleges that are putting out a welcome mat for pets. They include Washington & Jefferson College in Pennsylvania, M.I.T., Eckerd College in Florida, SUNY-Canton, and Stephens College in Missouri.

The first media outlet to notice the trend toward pet-friendly campuses may have been USA Today. In September 2008 the columnist Sharon L. Peters wrote that new pet policies on campus “seem to have emerged in response to a pet-loving society and from recognition that animals can reduce stress and make acclimating to college easier.”

Fugu {"Foo-Goo") surveys the scene with Ada

Reducing the pressure of college life is exactly what Fugu does for Ada Santiago and for her friends. “Life at Middlebury can be very, very stressful at times, but with a pet like Fugu I can chill out with him anytime I want. Hanging out with him is very stress relieving.”

Santiago consulted Middlebury’s pet policy before applying and, once she was accepted and assigned to a double in Hadley Hall, she contacted her soon-to-be-roommate via email to see how she’d feel about sharing their room with a caged rabbit.  (The roommate did not object.) This year Santiago lives in Milliken and one of her suitemates, Steven Dunmire, says, “Having Fugu in our suite is something new and different for me. And of course playing with him is an awesome break from schoolwork.”

Once when Santiago was out of the dorm, there was a fire drill and Dunmire had to carry Fugu in his cage out of the building. Afterward he realized that caring for Fugu causes Santiago to be more responsible. “She’s not just taking care of herself; she’s responsible for this living creature that needs her attention every day.” And having a pet is a good way to meet people. “They are great ice breakers,” Dunmire observes. “I’ve never asked Ada, but I bet that having Fugu here helped make coming to college easier for her. He definitely made it easier for me.”

Many Middlebury students are accustomed to seeing Santiago walking her pet rabbit on a leash. During a recent sojourn around Pearsons Hall, at least a dozen students stopped to admire Fugu or pet him, and some even bent over, picked him up (with permission), and held him. “Fugu is very people friendly,” Santiago says.

To an observer it appears that Fugu is also quite keen on grass, trees, and shrubs. Here’s what happened one sunny afternoon: Santiago took a few steps, tugged gently on the leash, and Fugu veered off in the direction of the nearest grass (for food), trees (for shade), or shrubs (for cover).

This pattern continued for several minutes and their progress was minimal, which prompted Santiago to explain: “He understands the concept of walking along with me, but he’s also a very stubborn rabbit. And he gets distracted very easily. Sometimes we can make it to Sunderland [Hall] from here in 20 minutes; other times it can take an hour. So I often walk him places and then carry him back.”

Santiago’s family in Brooklyn adores rabbits. Their first bunny, Velvet, lived to be 11 years old, and Ada has had Fugu, a two-and-a-half-year-old Netherland dwarf, since he was eight weeks old. Her parents just got a new bunny, as yet unnamed, and Ada has endeavored to train her rabbits to walk on a leash at Prospect Park, just a short subway ride from the family’s apartment on the Williamsburg/Bushwick line.

Aside from her interest in rabbits, Santiago plans to major in psychology, has a deep curiosity about autism, and uses American sign language (which she is quite passionate about) to converse with friends on campus.

But when she’s walking Fugu, she tries to focus on her pet and not think about academics or anything else. “It’s my special time with him,” she says. “Sure, people here know me as the girl with the rabbit, but I don’t mind. Just look at Fugu. Isn’t he super cute and cuddly?”

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  1. That’s great. I had to have my Middlebury pet in secret back in the 70′s– my cat Nicholas lived with me in Jewett House for two years– and I had him for another 11 years after that.

  2. That’s great! Just don’t forget that in this case the article should have said ” every day”, not ” everyday”!
    That is one of my pet ( as it were ) peeves and I hate to see it being committed by people at Midd!

  3. This is such a great article!! Love to Ada and Fugu!! <3

  4. GREAT article!!!! I have my little doggie-woggie, HRH The Princess Nepal and couldn’t have gotten through the recent death of my mother without her!!!!!!!!!! Her unconditional love is beyond value. Many of my Cosmic Children come over to walk her and play with her. God bless pets!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    MuchLove,
    Francois DivaMan Clemmons,
    Alexander Twilight Artist-In-Residence

  5. Another reason to love Middlebury! (as if we needed more)

  6. Nothing new here. In the late 1950s there were several small pets in the women’s dorms, among them my pet guinea pig. Either my roommate or I had to get up at 5:30 a.m. on our room-cleaning day and dash with the pig and cage to a room we knew wouldn’t be cleaned that day. That room housed a large, very tame white rat. When it was cleaning day for Rat’s room, he came to stay in Pig’s room. No one except our friends ever knew a thing. No one ever questioned why our rugs and bedspreads were missing their fringe and the wires for lamps and record players gleamed copper-bright without their insulating black cover. Pig survived the years

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    in the dorm and went home with me after graduation (June 1960), where he served honorably as entertainment and companion for my dying mother.

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  7. I knew a fellow student who kept an Irish wolfhound in his dorm for a couple of months before being found out in the early 70s. While I think that may be pushing it, at least in a shared-room situation [that's a BIG dog], I see no reason that dogs, cats–yes, and even ferrets–can’t be allowed in dorms, with suitable policies about cleanliness, that also spell out the consequences, both of pet-expulsion and monetary penalties if the pet-keeping student does not show proper regard for preventing property damage, adverse sanitary conditions or avoiding excessive noise. BTW, as the keeper of 3 ferrets, I can attest that it’s not the ferret that smells bad, it’s the uncleaned cage–just like a cat’s

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    litter box smells if not scooped regularly.

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  8. Aw! I adopted my pet rabbit from the Middlebury Humane Society during my senior year and he’s still with me, having travelled cross-country to Monterey and now back in Georgia. At Midd we lived in the Japanese house and he was certainly a key member of the dynamic there haha. It’s neat to find an article about a pet rabbit at Middlebury!

  9. Like Valkyie, I adopted a bunny from the Addison County Humane Society during my junior year. I tried taking him out to Battell Beach one day on a leash, but he didn’t quite take to it like Fugu! Still, he was so well trained that we just let him run around the common room of our suite instead of cooping him up in his cage. The cleaning staff didn’t mind — they loved him too! He’s now a whopping 7 years old, and has moved with me to Boston, Chicago and now London. Bunnies are great college pets if you treat them well!

  10. Good to see a pet friendly policy. Tanya, our Shepherd-Huskie, went through school with me in ’72-74′. Attended every class, including 3 hour art studios with David Bumbeck, and accompanied me to the Library. I was married and living off campus, and Jodee was working, so it was Tanya and me, and no one seemed to object, but then I heard that other students liked Tanya so much they began to bring their dogs on campus, it got out of hand, and the Administration clamped down — I think about the time I began my independent scholar program … just in time apparently! It would have been a drag to have not let Tanya finish school with me!

  11. It’s great that students are allowed to have pets in their rooms. While I was at Middlebury, 1942-1946, this was not permitted. We always had kitties at home. When I returned home for vacations our kitty, Nicky, always recognized me. It is wonderful to learn about all the changes at Middlebury. I do not return for reunions now. It is too far and there are few remaining members of my class. I enjoyed those four wonderful years in Vermont. But now I love living in Florida as I don’t do well in the cold New England weather. Greetings to all, Joy Kluess, Daytona Beach, Florida.

  12. Some of us at Middlebury had “Easter new born chicks” in our dorm room, and to cover for them we all had to learn how to do the “cheep” through our teeth, so when any authorities from the dorm were around we would all start “cheeping” at each other to cover up the chicks’ cheeping. I can’t remember who ever ended up inheriting those cute little chicks, but we had fun figuring out how to keep them as long as we could. (We’re talking back in the 60′s – maybe around 1964)

  13. Wonderful! What was once an act of defiance now enjoys the college’s official sanction. Back in the early 70s, my canaries didn’t especially endear me to the Dean of Students, Wonnacott. But other students were far bolder. Never heard of the wolfhound, but someone in Stewart, my freshman dorm, tried to keep a raccoon. I would have ratcheted up my rebellion if the driver of the Greyhound bus I took up to Middlebury from NJ after spring break had allowed me to board with a caged puppy. His refusal left my unsuspecting parents holding the bag, so to speak, but I still had the birds. They miraculously survived various types of fumes, my taste in music and the volume at

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    which my room-mates and I enjoyed listening to our records, my pitiful attempts to play the guitar, icy winter drafts, as well as erattic sleeping patterns and feedings during my Middlebury years. Following my winter-term graduation, they kept me company on the drive to Houston, Texas, and later on my return to NJ in the sweltering heat of August. Back where I started before attending Middlebury, Young Dude and Sampson continued to soothe me with their song and chatter as the madness of law school unfolded.

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  14. How terrific that the college is allowing pets, albeit on a limited basis, on campus. There were quite a few “secret” pets when I was at Midd in the early 70s. My beloved cat lived with me for most of my sophomore year in my ground floor Kelly single, which worked quite well as she could let herself in and out through my window. Unfortunately she had to go home when someone fed her some kind of drug that made her pretty sick. Kudos to Midd for recognizing the benefits of welcoming a few pets to campus.

  15. I love that people can have pets on campus! My senior year at Midd, we found a tiny kitten under a bush and she lived at the Italian house with us for most of the year. Beyond helping all of the residents relax between classes, she attracted a lot of visitors to the house, especially other students who were homesick for their own pets. I also remember many ridiculous late night walks to the Chinese house to see the resident iguana.

  16. This is a great article! :) I am not to fond of rabbits because a few years ago I got brand new carpet from smartcarpet.com and I had three pet rabbits and they kept going to the bathroom on my new carpet. I had to give them away but they still are fun animals to have.

  17. My daughter has been after one for a while, i still haven’t made up my mind. She is only 6…. I would like to see is she has the dedication to look after it…. Maybe after Christmas

  18. Class of 1993 in MIDD, but became disabled in 1997. I have had a wonderful service dog—-Bianka—-since October of 2009. Because of my disabled status, I would now be allowed to have my precious Bianka at MIDD with me and would do so in a heartbeat if I were to go back to college. Good to know MIDD is animal-friendly! It is such a joy for OTHERS to have contact with animals, whether they are at college or otherwise. I’ll bet the students, staff, and faculty feel very blessed to see Fugu hopping around campus!

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We hope to create a lively discussion on MiddMag.com and invite you to add your voice. Please keep comments civil and relevant to the news item at hand. MiddMag.com may remove comments that do not follow these guidelines.

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