Cassie is a 3 month old kitten living in Southside Commons. She enjoys playing, while her owners take their online classes. (Leslie Regan/B&W Staff)

Furry, four-legged friends spend quality time with students living off campus

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Some Lehigh students living off campus have chosen to bring their furry friends with them, spending quality time with their pets during this unconventional semester.

As COVID-19 restrictions  limit the traditional activities students are able to engage in, both pet owners and their peers said it has been entertaining to have their pets around. 

Ben Berkman, ‘21, is the owner of a chocolate lab mix named Bandit. A soon to be 3-year-old, Bandit has spent the majority of his life at Lehigh after Berkman adopted him as a puppy. 

After bringing Bandit home to his fraternity house, Berkman said the two have formed a formidable friendship. 

When living in the fraternity house in previous years, Berkman said the accommodations provided Bandit with ample space to walk and sniff around. Berkman said Bandit also became friends with other members of the fraternity, who would help him care for Bandit. 

Although housing circumstances are different this year, as the two are residing off campus, Berkman said the transition has had no negative effects on Bandit’s quality of life. 

“As long as he has a window to look out and practices being a guard dog, he enjoys where he lives,” Berkman said.

Berkman said Bandit also has his own social circle of dog friends who run around and play together. He said this is another perk of having Bandit at Lehigh as it makes it easier to meet new people. He even said that people now even recognize Bandit when they go on walks.

One of Bandit’s dog friends, Plum, belongs to graduate student Emma Zachary, ‘19. Zachary only took two graduate classes last spring, which she said allowed her to spend a lot of time training Plum.

Zachary said she timed the adoption perfectly, as she would not have considered getting a puppy if she did not have adequate time to care for one. 

Zachary said she has a spacious backyard that is surrounded by a fence, giving Plum room to safely play and run around. 

In addition to serving as a stress reliever, Plum motivates Zachary in other ways, she said. 

“Having a dog has also made me go on daily walks and I’ve become closer to certain friends who like joining us for the daily walks,” Zachary said.

Lauren Wasserman, ‘22, has a lab named Koko, who turned 1 just a few weeks ago. She agrees with Zachary, and enjoys the variety of benefits brought by having a pet. 

“Having reasons to go outside throughout the day really improves my mental health and my ability to stay focused on Zoom school all day long,” Wasserman said. 

Because Koko is a puppy with lots of energy, Wasserman said she makes sure to take her on short walks throughout the day. Wasserman said going on these frequent walks during the winter helped her maintain her own mental health. 

Although Wasserman takes primary care of Koko, she said her friends also enjoy having Koko as a pet and partake in walking her, feeding her and cleaning up. 

I think if she wasn’t so good and people-oriented, there might be a problem, but overall she’s been a perfect apartment dog,” Wasserman said. 

Berkman, Zachary and Wasserman all said their dogs improve their mental health being when school or work gets intense.

“Koko improves the mental health of my roommates and friends too, whether its work-related stress or any general anxiety that we feel,” Wasserman said. 

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