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Credit: Megan Kyne

Three and a half hours away from Penn's campus, the first university in the Pennsylvania State System will allow pets other than fish to live in residence halls as of Spring 2019. 

Lock Haven University, one of the system's 14 schools, will allow students in their North Hall dorm to live with pets — including cats, dogs, rabbits, hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, and fish. The University announced this initiative on Tuesday, citing a wish to “make [students'] college experience more enjoyable and successful.”

Some restrictions still remain, though. The pets must be at least six months old, have been in the primary care of the student or student's family for at least three months, and are only allowed to enter through a specific hall. For dogs, only specific breeds are allowed and they cannot weigh over 40 pounds. Both cats and dogs must wear leashes while on campus, display identification and rabies tags on their collars, and be neutered or spayed. 

Administrators at Lock Haven hope pets will help students feel more at home. LHU North Hall Residence Director Emmy Borst said the comfort pets provide may help students excel socially and academically, a conclusion supported by a study in the Modern Psychological Studies journal. The article finds that animals on college campuses may help students who struggle with psychological issues. 

But some disagree. Penn veterinary medicine professor James Serpell said there is little evidence concluding animals alleviate stress. Serpell said what little research conducted was funded mostly by the pet food industry and these studies look at the effects in a limited scope. 

While pets are not allowed in dorms at Penn, animals can still be found around campus. There has been an increase of assistance animals following a 2013 Department of Housing and Urban Development memo requiring housing providers, including universities, to make accommodations for emotional support animals. 

Organizations within campus, including VETPETS, Penn Benjamins, undergraduate Class Boards, and the Penn branch of Active Minds, have provided therapy dogs to students before exams. Students living in fraternities or off-campus housing may also have pets, though there may be additional fees. 

In the past, Penn students have raised several challenges that come with owning pets on campus. 2016 College graduate Ed Cai previously told The Daily Pennsylvanian that taking care of a dog would compete with time to study while 2016 Nursing graduate Kassie Donnels has shared that drunk people have tried to pick up her dog.