Occidental’s themed housing lets the dogs out

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Author: Damian Mendieta|Damian Mendieta|Damian Mendieta|Damian Mendieta|Damian Mendieta

A blur of brown fur zooms across the carpet, greeting visitors to Occidental’s Pet House at the door. Nutella, a chocolate labrador, runs around in circles as she happily nips and licks at the knees of a new face.

Nutella trots across the living room and plants herself in front of Pet House resident junior Paulina Moreno. Nutella’s eyes bore through Moreno’s laptop and she pants continuously until the geology major laughingly gives in to Nutella’s demands and starts playing with the large brown dog.  

“She loves attention,” junior Leah Corby said. “She will just sit there until you give her attention.”

Moreno does not seem to mind, as she brushes aside her homework and continues to play with the lovable iconic resident of Occidental’s newest Themed Living House. Nutella abruptly walks away, tail wagging energetically. 

Before it was re-introduced as Music House (a Themed Living option for students), the two-story household quietly tucked away on the side of Bell-Young Hall once served as Occidental’s Guest House. Now the latest innovation for on-campus living, Pet House is home to the living experiment of pet-friendly student housing. 

Last year, Corby envisioned a different option for on-campus housing that would tie together the responsibilities, privileges and perks of living with pets. As a resident adviser for Rangeview Hall, she lamented the lack of interaction between the RAs and residents and that neighbors did not get to know one another behind closed doors. This most definitely is not a problem at Pet House.

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Rebecca Tribelhorn

The heart and soul of this particular themed residency is the ever-playful, happy-go-lucky Nutella. She is the alpha dog in the Pet House, and always asserts this dominance when her fluffy competition, a dog named Bear, waltzes in the door. 

Bear is a calm canine who prefers to lounge around as a part-time resident of the house, while Nutella eagerly enjoys basking in the limelight of anyone who sets foot inside.

Great fortune smiles upon visitors who visit on Tuesdays because Corby has free time for the gray and white Wheaten Terrier. This popular pooch can otherwise be found basking in the sunlight on the lawn outside Fowler Hall.

In fact, Bear was Corby’s inspiration for establishing Pet House. Resident or not, he makes his presence felt to the delight (and occasional disgust) of inhabitants.

“Ugh!” 
junior Kelsey Palghat sighs 
as she returns to the couch where she had been studying. “Bear, you drooled all over my homework!” 

A real waterworks display is to be expected whenever Bear is around. Moreno decides she has had enough of her laptop as she and Corby rise from the couches, intent on training Nutella and Bear tricks.

Determined to make Bear roll over this time (with a bag of dog treats in hand), they seem to finally have achieved success as he begins to roll 360 degrees. But at the last second, the dog mockingly rolls back to his original position, nonetheless demanding his treat.

Corby half sighs and half chuckles after letting Bear get away with an incomplete trick yet again, exasperated. “He doesn’t know how to roll over but he sleeps on his back.”

Bear happily chomps up the tasty snack and trots off towards resident junior Michael Shoesmith. In her frantic hustle across the living room, the chocolate lab’s tail hits Palgaht. 

“Nutella used tail whip,” Palghat says, citing a childhood Pokemon video game. “It’s extremely effective.”

The living room roars with laughter while Nutella seems pleased with the attention.

Catching on, Shoesmith groans, “Bear used drool.” He tries to clean his hands as he returns to his computer. 

All in all, it seems like a typical day for Pet House.

The proposal for the house specified that both cats and dogs may call the location home, but since one of the residents is allergic to felines, they are limited to dogs or fish. There is also a weight limit that Corby hoped would be split among three small dogs, but Nutella, a hefty 80 pounds, covers the entire maximum allotted weight alone.

Because the other residents would have faced more difficult obstacles in bringing their dogs to Occidental, Corby’s parents brought Nutella all the way from their home in Michigan. Hailing all the way from Australia, Palghat would have had a hard time bringing her dog over to the United States due to restrictions on international pets. Another resident, from Hawaii, would have needed to keep her dog on quarantine because Hawaii is rabies-free and Hawaiian authorities exercise very tight restrictions in order to prevent any outbreaks, necessitating a complicated process for any dog coming to the mainland.

Alas, Nutella was called in to fill the void Pet House faced.

With bare walls all around, the residents are doing what they can to give the house a distinct atmosphere. Palgaht has several colorful paintings leaning against the walls underneath where they are planned to be hung up. Corby has also decorated the living room with posters debunking pitbull stereotypes.

The future of Pet House is up in the air for now, since themed living homes depend on student support to resubmit a housing proposal annually. In the meantime, Corby and the residents will be implementing interactive programs and discussions to raise awareness about relationships between pets and humans. 

For one of these activities, a posse of students will head down to Huntington Beach’s one-mile stretch of shore Sept. 22 where dogs can play leash-free. Although the queen of Pet House, Nutella, will be unable to attend this event, Bear will most likely make a guest appearance.

“We’re not bringing pets, but my boyfriend might happen to show up at the same time and same place,” Corby says behind a smile that seems to give away Bear’s surprise attendance.

Pet House also intends to spearhead animal shelter volunteering and raise awareness about pet issues. For instance, Corby is passionate about debunking stereotypes that portray animals, especially pit bulls, in a negative light. Corby says her volunteering experience at the City of Los Angeles North Central Animal Shelter has changed her perspectives about human and animal relationships.

“After volunteering at the local animal shelter, I have come to love pit bulls and fight for them,” Corby says, as she points out an array of posters promoting a friendlier image of pit bulls. “I’ve been made aware of many such issues just by volunteering [at the shelter] the past year.”

Corby is also enthusiastic about promoting student participation in volunteering, and plans on ferrying Pet House residents to the North Central shelter.

“It was going [to the shelter] that caused me to look at pit bulls, it shaped my who mindset about owning an animal and what that means because there’s so many who don’t have homes,” Corby says while gently stroking Bear. “Our programming might revolve around volunteering or another host of things.”

Clair Morrissey, Pet House faculty advisor and philosophy professor, has been supportive since the Themed Living proposal was first drafted. She also teaches a course on animal ethics, “Animal Ethics: Moral Status and Non-Human Animals,” to bring up questions about the moral relationship humans share with creatures. Morrissey is ecstatic about the successful establishment of Pet House, but mostly about the effects it will have on the college.  

“I think that the most fantastic thing about Pet House is how committed they are to going out in the community and volunteering in local animal shelters,” Morrissey said.  “I think that really is fantastic because it exemplifies Oxy for me.”

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