Let’s get one thing out of the way: There is no chinchilla in my dorm room. If you are my RA, do not look for the chinchilla. I don’t have a chinchilla in there, so you won’t find it, anyway.
Like many students, I often find myself tempted by the idea of a pet. New York can be cold and impersonal, and small, fluffy animals may seem like an easy cure. But if I learned nothing from my month-long search for the ideal chinchilla companion, it is that the inevitable difficulties of pet ownership are amplified when hiding said pet in your dorm.
I abandoned my ChinchillaQuest and, as most pets are against The Rules, I advise other students to do the same. But if your heart is set on owning a pet, here’s how it’s done:
Do your research:
While researching is a crucial step in adopting any pet, finding your in-dorm pet is going to require extra attention to detail. Can your ideal animal companion live comfortably indoors? Can you meet its dietary requirements with your student budget/food you’ve procured from meal swipes? Will the pet you adopt from that nice man in Union Square have all its necessary shots? And—not to be overlooked—will your pet smell bad?
Shortcut: Most students’ search criteria for an in-dorm pet include “quiet,” “low-maintenance,” “small,” and “not smelly.” This usually refines the field of available pets to cats, turtles, and small rodents, like mice or chinchillas.
Getting your pet into the dorm:
You’ve done it. Your research has led you to your perfect bundle of joy. You’ve bought the necessary supplies and taken every measure to ensure your pet’s healthy existence in your dorm. But now comes a roadblock in the form of the security guard at the door to your building. How can you smuggle a living animal past him?
Like sneaking anything into the dorms, be it guests or prohibited furniture, safety is usually found in numbers. Enter in the middle of a large group with your pet concealed from view. My suite’s unused Chinchilla Entrance Plan involved placing the chinchilla’s cage in a very large, breathable Duane Reade bag and carrying it in among a group of six or more people.
But if you’ve got a larger animal, you might have to employ even sneakier tactics. In order to conceal their pet cat, John* and his suitemates moved into Palladium early. “We moved the cat in before everyone else because my girlfriend was on the soccer team. I feel like the sooner you get it in, the better. People will be so busy getting themselves settled down that they won’t have time to worry about you.”
Hiding your pet:
Your pet is safe in your room! You’re caring for it properly! Everyone is happy and you can let your guard down now, right? WRONG— constant vigilance is of the utmost importance! From routine room checks, to fire drills, to loose-lipped neighbors, there are still plenty of ways your pet can still be discovered.
Before bringing your pet home, identify a well-hidden but accommodating area to keep dear old Fluffy. For example, my suitemates and I measured out several feet of concealed-but-sunlit space in an (undisclosed) room in our dorm where we could fit a chinchilla cage. Remember that your pet’s safety takes priority over its concealment; please, please, please do not keep your pet in a cupboard.
Supportive floormates are often the key to passing room checks. “It really wasn’t hard to keep in concealed because my girlfriend lived on the same floor as I did. When we would have room checks or whatnot, we would just shuffle the cat around from room to room,” John explains.
And when it comes to fire drills, it never hurts to befriend an RA or two. “We put Ferris (my cat) in my backpack and brought him along. We made friends with the R.A.s early on so that we could get a heads up about fire drills, but they never knew about the cat.”
Finally, make sure you’re cleaning properly. Nasty smells and swarms of bugs will annoy you, your pet, and your RA. “And flushable litter is a must because then you literally dispose of the evidence.”
So you’ve adopted the Pet from Hell:
This animal was an angel in the store. Now you’re certain it’s actively trying to kill you. What happened? Allie* and her roommates soon found themselves hating their pet mouse. “Every morning before class we’d wake up early, find her somewhere in our room, trying to get into our cereal boxes. We would have to put her back in the cage, and devise a new cage alteration so that she wouldn’t escape while we were gone during the day.”
If pet ownership is not working for you, have a backup plan prepared. Find a safe, new home for your pet where it can develop a better relationship with its owners. You’ll both be happier in the long run. “After spending like $40 on a cage and bedding and toys and food, we put her up for ‘adoption’ at the Union Square PetSmart,” says Allie’s roommate. “Rest in peace Edie, you bitch albino mouse, thanks for pooping in my tostitos.”
But really, what happens if you’re caught?
In short, anything can happen. Keeping a pet (other than a fish in a tank under ten gallons) is against NYU housing policy, but has no assigned punishment. Which means you’re subject to any sanctions deemed reasonable, ranging from a written referral to dismissal from housing.
The most likely punishment, however? “I had a hamster in Third North freshman year,” says Melanie*, “but once when we got written up they spotted my poor precious angel and told us to get rid of him—I actually had to meet with the RHD about a hamster. They said we had to give it to a shelter.”
Keeping a pet in an NYU dorm is risk for you and the animal. Though impulse purchases may come as tempting, make sure you have the resources and the responsibility to care for your pet, and be prepared for the consequences of getting caught. If you do choose to keep a pet, however, be responsible, be discrete, and be nice. Happy cuddling!