Some cat lovers in four residence halls will be permitted to keep their pets in their rooms during the 2000-01 academic year.
The legal cat population will be limited to a total of 26, chosen from the numerous cats who resided clandestinely in East Campus, Senior House, Random Hall and Bexley Hall last year. No illegal cats will be tolerated. Freshmen will not be permitted to have cats.
The one-year pilot program is the first easing of the no-pet (except fish) policy that has been in effect for more than 20 years. Dogs, snakes, iguanas, hamsters, ferrets and all other pets will continue to be banned.
The issue came to the forefront last December when residents of Random and Bexley were told that the ban on cats would be enforced when they returned for the spring semester. A number of students protested, saying their pets provided companionship, relief from stress and rodent control.
Heeding their concerns, the pilot program was designed by the Dormitory Council and the Office of Residential Life and Student Life Programs (RLSLP). If DormCon and RLSLP are satisfied that it is a success, it will be extended for another year and some students will be allowed to bring new cats onto the campus.
Initially, Karen A. Nilsson, associate director of RLSLP, was skeptical about lifting the ban. However, as discussions proceeded, she decided the experiment was worth a try to eliminate the illegal cat problem.
"I have faith in our students," she said. "I know they'll be responsible and adhere to the policy." If not, the ban may be reinstituted.
Jennifer A. Frank, a four-year resident of East Campus who was president of the Dormitory Council last year, took the lead in formulating the plan and now jokingly refers to herself as the Cat Czar.
"I don't have a cat myself but I know how important they are to some of my friends," said. Ms. Frank, who graduated in June. "I'd often go upstairs to pet and play with a cat myself. It can be very relaxing."
The number of legal cats will be limited to 12 in East Campus, five in Senior House, five in Bexley and four in Random, the dorms that housed most of the underground cats last year. Each dorm must name a Pet Chair. The ban on pets remains in effect at other residence halls.
Cats will be confined to their owners' rooms and specific areas in the dorm, providing defined cat-free zones for students with allergies. The cats must be spayed or neutered and inoculated against rabies, distemper and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV).
Owners will be required to provide a photo of their cats, labeled with the owner's name, the cat's name, the room number, proof that the cat has been spayed or neutered and had its shots, and $5 to pay for the registration and collar tag. Students will be financially responsible for damage caused by the pet.
The complete Undergraduate Housing Pet Policy is available on the web.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on August 9, 2000.