The Scarlet & Black

The Independent Student News Site of Grinnell College

The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Grinnell pets provide comfort, emotional support to their student owners

River Morel ’22 lives with their cat Sage, a registered emotional support animal through the College, who they call their “soul flame.” Photo by Sarina Lincoln.

By Kelly Page

Many Grinnell College students have roommates, but for some, that roommate walks on four legs and meows. Pet ownership is fairly popular among students at Grinnell, many times for the emotional support that animals can provide.

Elena Voisin ’19 shares their apartment with Mango, a small and spirited cat who got her name because she was the size of a mango when Voisin brought her home. Voisin was working at Almost Always Open the day before Thanksgiving last year when Mango came into their life unexpectedly.

“One night, half an hour before closing, someone had found her in the Subway parking lot and she wouldn’t stop following him around, so he just walked in the store with her and he was like I don’t know what to do with this cat, so I was like if you can hold onto her for another half hour, I’ll take her in. She just kind fell into our lap,” Voisin said.

Voisin is allowed to have Mango in their apartment because she eventually became their official emotional support animal. “It’s nice to have someone to talk to. She can be very very sweet and affectionate. And sometimes she can really sense if you’re having a bad day, like if I go curl up in bed she’ll come and check on me and lick my face. She just fills me with such happiness,” Voisin said.

Cat owners at Grinnell, including Claire Eide ’19, echo the emotional support that a pet can offer. “There are days when you come home from a shitty meeting or like, you weren’t prepared for class, you’re just feeling gross and he’ll just come up to you and purr. It’s a really calming experience,” she said of her cat, appropriately named Cat.

Cat, an extremely affectionate black cat and a gargantuan at 15 pounds, was abandoned twice by his owners (who named him George Bush and Noche, respectively) and ended up at Poweshiek Animal League Shelter (PALS), where Eide adopted him last summer.

While some students adopt animals when they are current Grinnell students, River Morel ’22 came to Grinnell with their cat Sage, who they described as their “soul flame.” Sage, an Aries, is an incredibly wise black cat who, despite being slightly nervous sometimes, loves adventure.

“We’re destined to be together and I just adopted her two years ago. Someone texted me a picture of this cat in the morning with like big blue eyes, and I had just woken up from a dream and I was like yes, I want it. I was like in delirium and my parents were mad, but she’s an angel,” Morel said.

Although no animal shelter would generally recommend impulse-adopting cats, Sage and Morel ended up being a perfect match. Sage is Morel’s official emotional support animal at the College, which allows them to live together in the dorms, and Morel certainly sees their bond with Sage as a source of emotional support. However, Morel pointed out that keeping cats engaged while living in a dorm can be difficult.

“I think you have to make sure that they can be enriched. I feel bad this winter because she can’t go out in the snow, so I’ve been letting her out in the hallway more and letting her run around, but I think it would suck if she was just in this room,” they said.

One benefit of dorm living for cats, however, can be the sense of community they foster among residents who can play with and keep them active throughout the day.

A cat owner who wishes to remain anonymous because their landlord does not know about their animal companion says that when they lived in the dorms with their emotional support cat named Bodhi, they were not the only one who Bodhi emotionally supported. Bodhi, a Cancer who can play with string toys for hours on end and bounces around the room like an acrobat, quickly became a friend to many students.

“The people that I live with benefit from him as much as I do. … In the dorms, I would leave cat toys on the floor and leave my door unlocked, and people could go play with him, and that was really great. It provided a really great sense of community around me and was just a very natural prosocial thing,” they said.

This cat owner adopted a cat at the recommendation of a mental healthcare provider after sharing their feelings of loneliness in relationship to mental health. Cats can be very useful for students dealing with depression because, as the student explained, “I now have a bare minimum that I need to do during the day for someone else, and that’s sometimes much easier for me to accomplish than things for myself.”

Although cats are a very popular pet option, there is a definite culture of rodent ownership at Grinnell. Abby Hansen ’21 lives with a hamster named Briar. She says that hamsters are smarter than many people think and can provide emotional support as well as cats. “When I’m stressed, I can just take him out and he can run around and have a good time,” she said.

Briar is a Taurus who loves eating hard-boiled eggs from the Dining Hall. At the sound of Hansen’s alarm in the morning, he hops against the side of his enclosure until Hansen gives him a treat.

Hansen said the biggest issue she faces in parenting Briar is finding pet sitting for him during breaks, which is a common issue for Grinnell pet owners. Cat owners often need to give their cats muscle relaxants so they can fly or drive long distances with them. Pets who need to stay at Grinnell year-round must often be handed over to other students during breaks.

Though pet owners find ways to make it work, it is important to know one’s limits when considering adopting an animal. Cats and hamsters can play an important emotional role in their caretakers’ lives, but the process of declaring an emotional support animal at the College can be long and arduous. However, if prospective pet owners can work through the hurdles of student pet ownership, it can pay off for the emotional wellbeing of the student and their community and provide homes for beautiful animals.

River Morel ’22 lives with their cat Sage, a registered emotional support animal through the College, who they call their “soul flame.” Photo by Sarina Lincoln.
Leave a Comment
More to Discover
Donate to The Scarlet & Black
Our Goal

Comments (0)

All The Scarlet & Black Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *