Molly Wallace darted across the campus green at Stephens College one day recently to fetch one of her roommates.
Minutes later, she returned, a little out of breath, wearing a smile and trotting behind an 8-month-old, tail-wagging beagle mix.
“Daisy is the best roommate ever,” Wallace said — doesn’t snore, play loud music or hog the bathroom.
A group of potential students touring campus bent down to pet Daisy, who couldn’t resist getting in a few face licks. “It blows my mind how well mannered she is,” said Wallace, 21, a Jefferson City sophomore majoring in marketing and communications.
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Stephens, a private school for women, has opened its dorms to pets — dogs, cats, birds, lizards, potbelly pigs, even hedgehogs — since 2004. (Sorry, no snakes or spiders.) The pets-in-dorms program started as a way to help students ease into college life by letting them bring a bit of home to campus.
But in just the past two years, some students have started receiving scholarships from Stephens for fostering a homeless dog or cat. About 30 of the 500 students living in the school’s residence halls are in the program.
Basically, students get $3,000 a year to feed, care for and help their four-legged roomies find a permanent home, said Wallace, who in two years has fostered seven or eight dogs.
“I went through five dogs the first semester,” she said. She’d had each about a week before they were adopted or returned to the shelter during the winter or summer break.
About half of Stephens students living in dorms have pets, either their own or foster animals, said Alissa Pei, student life director.
“Our pet policy has earned Stephens the reputation as the most pet-friendly campus in the country,” she said.
A 2011 Kaplan survey of 359 college admission officers found about 38 percent of schools permit some pets in dorms. A quarter of them allow reptiles. Only 10 percent allow dogs, and 8 percent cats.
All the foster animals at Stephens come from Columbia Second Chance, a no-kill shelter that pays for all the animals’ food, toys, leashes and litter.
The students scoop poop, get their animals to a veterinarian if they’re sick and take them to Second Chance pet adoption events. Some students even create Facebook pages for their pets to help them get adopted.
Jennifer Niewald, a junior, is fostering cats for the first time this year. Her charge right now is a 9-month-old calico named Nutmeg.
A few days ago, Nutmeg found a spool of burlap yarn Niewald had been using for a craft project.
“When I came home the yarn was all over the place,” said Niewald, a fashion marketing and management major. “Oh, well, she’s a cat. That’s to be expected.”
Niewald has fostered two other cats, Firecracker and 911. “We called her Nine,” Niewald said.
Nine got her name when she sneaked into someone’s house, hid in a closet and had a litter of kittens. When the homeowners found her, they called 911 and police took the animals to the Second Chance shelter.
That’s where Niewald came in. “I love taking care of animals,” she said. And cats usually stay in the dorm room and are “pretty low maintenance.”
Dogs are out and about more, and are conversation starters, Niewald said. “If you don’t know someone and you stop to pet their dog, you might start talking to them, too.”
The shelter’s staff screens students and animals for placement and figures out pretty quickly whether a student is more a cat lover than a dog lover.
“But we don’t know these kids all that well,” said Valerie Chaffin, the shelter’s executive director. “We place dogs and cats with students based on the animals’ personality. We know if a dog is a barker, a leaper or a couch potato, and whether a cat is a whiner or shy.”
Sometimes “we make a mistake,” Chaffin said. If a student isn’t taking care of a pet, “we will take the animal back and they lose that scholarship.”
Fostering an animal “is not for everyone,” Pei said. A few times, students have fallen in love with their foster pet and ended up adopting them while still in school. More often, it’s students who are graduating who adopt their foster pet.
Wallace said she’s gotten pretty tight with Daisy. But it was a little, partially blind pug named Boss that nearly tripped her up.
“That was my first almost foster fail. That’s what you call it when you adopt your foster.”
She has managed to maintain a perfect foster parent rep mainly because she loves taking care of the animals.
“It’s not about the scholarship. I would do it regardless,” she said. “It just makes you feel so good when you see them adopted, knowing you helped them find their forever home.”