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Kitty Companions

Cats are welcome roommates in four MIT dorms.

After a long day of classes, many MIT students head back to their dormitories for a caffeine-fueled night with their books, problem sets… and calicos. Since 2000, when MIT’s pet policy was rewritten, four dorms—East Campus, Senior House, Bexley Hall, and Random Hall—have permitted cats in designated areas. The measure was introduced to allow students to enjoy the benefits of animal companionship and to cut down on the number of illegal cats kept in the dorms under the flat no-pets (except fish) rule. As the most popular undercover pet, cats were an obvious choice for inclusion when the pet policy opened up.

Kelsey Byers ’07 has been the pet chair of Random Hall since the end of last spring. As such, she resolves problems with specific cats and ensures that all animals are registered. Byers says that a good cat can be an immeasurable help to a dorm. Abacus, a cat in her building, will play along with whatever games students cook up and slink under their hands to be stroked when they’re sitting around. Byers swears the cat can tell which student most needs a friend; it will often cuddle up to the kid with an impossible problem set due the next day. She also says the cat brings students together and provides companionship when human friends are too demanding.

Even so, the Institute’s pet policy had to be revised last year after cat urine caused damage to Random and no one came forward as the offending cat’s owner. The housing office had to intervene. Afterward, students worked together to refine the policy, which now requires that students— and particularly pet owners—take more responsibility for the animals in their midst. Now, no cat is allowed into the dorms without a clear owner, and the policy includes a process for transferring ownership. Nina Davis-Millis, housemaster of Random Hall, says the experience of working together to rewrite the policy was a very good one for the students. Although the dorms’ feline residents require constant attention from their already very busy owners, the students seem to agree that their cats’ companionship is well worth the effort.

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