Benson sits in the lobby of the Colonial residence hall with his tail wagging as he eagerly waits for students to enter and say hello. He isn’t an average resident of Colonial—he plays a different role: the resident dog.
Michael Barcelo is the residence director for Colonial, and Benson is his 9-year-old Plott hound mix with brindle fur.
The Office of Housing and Residence Life approved a pilot program in August 2017 to allow live-in staff at the college to apply for a pet. Four resident dogs currently live in the Colonial, 12 Hemenway, 2 Boylston Place, and Piano Row residence halls.
According to Erik Muurisepp, the associate dean for campus life, OHRL adopted the policy pioneered by RD Desiree Bradford after considering animal welfare and other factors. OHRL believed it would help attract qualified RD candidates concerned with having pets.
If a RD wants a pet they must apply. OHRL created restrictions on the breed, size, and other behavioral expectations.
Barcelo believes Benson suits Emerson because of referrals from dog walkers and veterinarians.
“He’s been through agility training and gone through the puppy courses when he was a wee little tyke and has been through various trainers over the course of his life, much more in his early age,” Barcelo said. “By the time he came to Emerson he was very much settled in his ways. He’s the dog that you see today.”
Barcelo also benefits from living with Benson—he said his quality of life increased drastically.
“Sometimes it becomes hard to compartmentalize living where you work,” said Barcelo. “While he’s not an emotional support animal in the clinical sense or he hasn’t been prescribed he serves as that for myself and my partner.”
Belle became a member of the 2 Boylston community a month after the residence staff pet policy passed. The 1-year-old, blue-eyed red merle miniature American shepherd’s love of people fits well with her energetic personality.
“It’s really nice to have a companion with us,” Bradford said. “I have anxiety, so it’s really helpful to have her with me to help destress that piece off of it.”
Bradford trains Belle through the Canine Good Citizen Program. The program rewards dogs with good manners. Once Belle passes the 10-step test she can become a certified therapy dog and become more present on campus.
“She’s so good around college students,” Bradford said. “She could care less about children and older adults, but college students she will give a hug like no other. I’ve gone on walks with students when they are really feeling anxious and upset, and she’s helped them to feel more calm on campus.”
Piano Row RD Charlie Shen de Leon adopted Kilo in early November. Kilo is a 5 to 6-month-old Catahoula leopard and lapper dog mix. New to Emerson and fairly young, Kilo works to adjust to the campus setting.
“[Kilo] is getting slowly better being around people. Thankfully he’s not aggressive—he’s more afraid of them than people are afraid of him,” de Leon said. “There’s a lot of studying [for us], not just the physical needs of a dog but also emotional and psychological needs. We also do a lot of obedience training so that he can be safe for himself.”
RD of 12 Hemenway Matthew Carney adopted Watson in August. Carney said living with the 8-month-old cocker spaniel and poodle mix helps him feel at home while he works.
“[Being an] RD is a full-time job, but we also live in the residence hall, so it truly is our home,” Carney said. “So having a pet just brings our sense of home closer.”
Sophomore Sabah Shams met Watson the second week of classes. Shams said they love to see pets in their community.
“I think it really helps with people who can’t have their pets around or even if they don’t have a pet at home,” Shams said. “Just interacting with an animal can really help to deal with stress. I think the healing power of an animal is super important.”
Freshman 2 Boylston Place resident Tere’ssa Fleming said seeing Belle light up someone’s day amazes her.
“It is incredible to see students—those who you’ve never seen talk, never seen smile, who would always look like they are constantly having a bad day—and the moment that they see Belle they become a completely different person,” Fleming said. “I think if there are more puppies on campus we would have happier students.”
According to Barcelo, students say Benson reminds them of their own pets at home and helps them cope with homesickness. Barcelo offered a Google form in October for students to sign up and walk with Benson.
“I’m a firm believer that all animals are attuned to our emotions or very competent at an intuitive way,” said Barcelo. “I feel very strongly about being able to offer him as a resource and/or support to students who whether it’s because they’re homesick, whether it’s because they are anxious and in crisis, or are just looking for something positive as a pick-me-up in their day.”
Editor-in-Chief Shafaq Patel did not edit this article due to being a Resident Assistant. Managing Editor Kyle Labe did not edit due to being an employee of the Student Affairs and Campus Life office.