Professor fights proposed ban on animals indoors
by Ashley Adkins
A new policy proposed by the Marshall University Board of Governors that will ban animals from buildings on Marshall's campus may soon pass.
According to proposed Policy No. GA-15, domestic animals are not suitable to bring on campus because people may have a fear or an allergy associated with the animal, the animal may be a nuisance or a distraction and animals can be unpredictable and can exhibit uncontrollable behavior.
The policy says that all the factors present both a safety and health hazard for the university community. Service dogs are the only exception to the new policy because they are authorized on campus at all times.
Bill Palmer, professor of history at Marshall, is one faculty member who will feel the effect of this proposal. He has been bringing his dog, Nemo, a black labrador retriever, to his office on the quiet weekends for about five years.
"My objection to the policy s that it just makes no statement as why this is a problem. It makes no effort to contact or reach out to people that might be effected by it. I think that's very shortsighted," Palmer said.
Palmer said he's willing to listen to what the Board of Governors has to say about the policy but he thinks some guidelines could be set up instead of banning animals from buildings.
Karen Kirtley, assistant vice president for the administration, said the policy was created to defer a potential liability against uncontrollable animals.
Kirtley said she wants students and visitors on campus to understand that dogs are permitted as long as they are on a leash.
"We're trying to take a pro-active approach," Kirtley said. She also said other schools throughout the country have similar policies.
The policy says dogs are permitted outdoors on university property at all times if the dog is on a leash and kept under control and under the possession of the owner. The owner must show responsible care for the dog and ensure safe behavior of the dog, which includes preventing the dog from chasing wildlife. Dog owners are prohibited from bringing a dog on campus, including a service dog, if the dog does not have proper immunization and is not wearing a rabies vaccination tag. Owners are also responsible for cleaning up and disposing of waste properly while on campus.
The policy states it is modeled after the Huntington City Ordinance 507, which states dogs must be on a leash or confined to the owner's property.
At first, Palmer was bringing Nemo to his office but he said he decided to see how Nemo would react in the classroom setting. He said after serious consideration of issues involved with his dog, he began to allow Nemo to sit in the class. The first class Palmer took Nemo to was one he taught last summer.
"As far as I could tell he handled it just well and the students loved him," Palmer said. "The students find him an interesting presence in the classroom and I think he very much contributes to a healthy atmosphere."
Since then, Palmer has brought Nemo to classes he has taught this academic year. He said Nemo sleeps a majority of the time.
Kirtley said the university recognizes the important role domestic animals have in the lives of students and employees.
Keshia Runyon, junior English literature and history major from Huntington, was a student in one of Palmer's classes. She said he would bring Nemo to the class and the dog would act great. She also said he was the best dog to have the pleasure to meet.
"It would be disappointing to not have Nemo in the class because he's a vital part," Runyon said.
"He has never barked at anybody, he's never growled, much less tried to bite or be threatening to anybody," Palmer said. "He stops and lets people pet him."
He said the history department secretary has even deemed Nemo "the world's best dog."
Palmer has written a letter to University President Stephen Kopp, expressing his concerns. He said one part of the policy mentions how dogs can cause allergies in students but he argues that service dogs can cause allergies as well.
"The author of the policy does not seem to be aware that Seeing Eye dogs can cause allergies in students, too," the letter says. "Do we want to ban them from the classroom too on those grounds? In fact, pet dander on the clothing of any student in the classroom, whether they have their pet with them or not, can also trigger allergies. Should we then ban all students with pets because somebody might be allergic to the dander on their clothing?"
Palmer said he has never received any complaints about having Nemo in class with him and he gives his students the option to object anonymously about having the dog in the room.
He said he has a friend who teaches at Harvard University who told him that dogs frequently play along Harvard Yard and even faculty at Harvard, including a law school professor, bring their dogs to their offices. He said the Yeager Scholars visit the University of Virginia as a field trip every year and the group always sees dogs playing on the lawn.
In his letter Palmer states, "If Harvard, and even the Harvard Law School and the University of Virginia aren't freaking out about pets, why does Marshall have to? Isn't this the kind of place we'd like to be, a unique community, with a kinder, gentler atmosphere, rather than some quasi-police state, where people in power simply assume the bad faith of their community?
"Would we like to be on Leno, as we almost certainly will be, being lampooned as the "pet-hostile" university? Marshall has been teaching students since 1837. This can't be the first time people have brought pets to campus."
The letter references the "Tonight Show with Jay Leno" because the talk show host made fun of West Virginia for the Barbie ban.
Palmer said he is circulating petitions and urging students who have been in his classes to write letters to the president about the issue. He said he has also started a group on Facebook and is creating T-shirts that say "Save Nemo."
He said students willing to write letters against or for the policy can submit the letters to him and his secretary until 10 a.m. on April 6.
Kirtley said the policy is under review in the administration. The policy will be discussed on April 30 during the Board of Governors meeting.
Ashley Adkins can be contacted at email@example.com.