Puppy love: Indian campuses are opening their doors to pets
Students do most of the pet-rearing; use WhatsApp to create chore charts and schedule visits to the vet. It‘s not easy, they admit, but the rewards are constant.
In offices, they’ve been found to ease stress and reduce conflict. Dogs are helping calm nervous fliers at airports. They’re being roped in to comfort patients at hospitals around the world. Now, Indian campuses are opening up to them too.
Students of KJ Somaiya Institute of Management Studies and Research (SIMSR) in Mumbai, St Xaviers’ College in Ahmedabad and Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication (SIMC) in Pune have begun adopting animals and, with the help of college administrations, are figuring out feeding and vaccination schedules, scheduling visits to the vet, even laying down rules about go and no-go areas — pets are allowed into hostel buildings and canteens, for instance, but not into classrooms.
“This is a big change from colleges banning the feeding of pets on campus altogether. And one of the reasons for the change is that pets, especially certain breeds of dog, are great stress-busters,” says Shirin Merchant, canine behaviourist and trainer. “Research has shown that having dogs and cats around can help lower high blood pressure, and this calming effect is especially important as students juggle lectures, assignments and internships, prepare for exams, feel homesick. However, a support system is crucial, so that caring for the pet does not become stressful in itself.”
THROUGH THE RUFF DAYS
While Xavier’s and Symbiosis have had structured pet-care programmes since 2017, Somaiya began to get organised last year.
Students here use a WhatsApp group to sync feeding routines, veterinary visits etc, and work with a local NGO to de-work, vaccinate and otherwise care for their campus pets. The group calls itself Animal Welfare Association of Somaiya (AWAS) and currently has 24 members.
This makes it easier, but as with all pets, there can be no days off or annual breaks —someone has to make sure the routine stays intact at all times. In fact, vacation time has proved to be so difficult that students have decided to stay back in rotation to care for the campus pets.
This year, first-year MBA student Arthi Choudhary, 26, will have her internship in Mumbai, stay back and take care of the dogs, rather than going home. “After the Diwali vacation, we came back and the dogs were so ill and weak. We decided we had to do things differently from then on,” she says.
Still, after a day of back-to-back lectures, MBA student Manish Bhatia, 27, just takes one look at the strays Bubbly, Max and Master, on his campus at SIMSR, and he feels relaxed.
There are now 17 dogs and 3 cats on campus. “Bubbly is my favourite,” Bhatia says. “She is the most playful and affectionate. I go and see her after my classes. When I’m tired or tense about assignments, playing with her makes me forget my stress for a while.”
Symbiosis has gone so far as to institute a pet therapy programme, adopting two Labradors – named Dollar and Pound – at their Pune campus. “Labradors are family dogs and best for therapy,” says institute director Vidya Yeravdekar. “Students dealing with emotional insecurities, relationship problems and stress benefit from pet therapy. We want to focus on the emotional well-being of our students too, and hence this initiative.”
Since Symbiosis is predominantly a management institute, the dogs are named after foreign currencies, Yeravdekar adds.
The students, for their part, have adopted a few strays on campus too. “Our stray pets are Goldie, Scar and Tag. And the faculty is comfortable with dogs being in class too,” says Khevna Pandit, 24, who is in her final year of an MA in journalism. The same rules apply, though — no yapping.
With support from the security and hostel staff, taking care of the animals is less stressful, Pandit says..