Illegal pets

One off-campus student has an eight foot boa constrictor named Jimmy living in his town home, despite the no pet policy. 

College is stressful enough without trying to hide a feathered friend in your closet during a room inspection.

Sarah Hollenbeck, a senior psychology and economics double major from Centreville, Virginia, knows this all too well. While living on campus, Hollenbeck and a few hallmates smuggled a duck into the appropriately named Eagle Hall.

Despite regulations and the penalties for getting caught, Hollenbeck and other daredevil JMU students have chosen to keep animals both in residence halls and in off-campus housing.

JMU permits students to keep fish in any number and in any size tank, provided that both roommates are OK with the arrangement. The Americans with Disabilities Act also allows students to keep service animals in the dorm.

During her freshman year, Hollenbeck’s roommate visited a friend at Longwood University and came back with a duck named Tucker, or commonly known as Tuck the Duck. The roommate’s friend had been raising Tucker with a cat, so she rescued him.

In addition to scavenging for grass and bugs on campus for the duck to eat, Hollenbeck would get food for Tucker from the dining halls.

“We would punch at Mrs. Green’s and get salad, like spinach, and tomatoes, and kind of seed stuff, and feed it that,” Hollenbeck said.

Tucker didn’t stay a secret for long.

“We didn’t want to tell anyone at first, but of course, like, if you tell one person, because it’s so good, everyone wants to know about it,” Hollenbeck said.

Even the hall’s resident advisers knew about Tucker. On one occasion, they dropped by Hollenbeck’s room to play with him. And Tucker liked the attention.

“It wanted to sit on your shoulder,” she said. “And, like, wrap itself up in your hair.”

In the week that they had him, Hollenbeck says Tuck the Duck doubled in size. Hollenbeck decided that it would be better for everyone if Tucker went to live with her roommate’s parents. A few months after the move to her roommate’s parent’s house, Tucker waddled away, presumably to live in the wild.

Hollenbeck’s hallmates also raised a rotating group of hamsters that year. She wasn’t a fan of their sharp teeth and mean disposition.

After the last hamster died, Hollenbeck and some of her hallmates purchased three rabbits for $20 each on Craigslist.

Hollenbeck says the smell of the rabbits — named Molly, Max and Sophia — made it difficult to keep them hidden. On inspection days, one roommate had to keep watch while the others moved the rabbits and all of the nesting and feeding gear to a car waiting outside.

“It was a well-kept secret,” she said. “It could have gone on if they hadn’t gotten pregnant.”

Sure enough, Max had impregnated his sisters. Hollenbeck and her roommates sold the rabbits to a woman who wanted them for her children.

Rachel Hollenbeck, a junior economics and engineering major and Sarah’s sister, also kept a forbidden pet in Chesapeake Hall. Rachel got her cat, Chester, at Sylvia’s Pets.

“He was the cutest cat,” Rachel said. “He was very energetic, almost like a dog but in a cat-form.”

Chester stayed in the dorm for two weeks until a “pooping” incident prompted Rachel’s roommate to threaten to tell the RAs if she didn’t get rid of him, which she did.

“[My roommate] thinks that he pooped on her bed, but I think it was just mud,” Rachel said.

Hugh Brown, the associate director of the Office of Residence Life, says finding prohibited pets on dorm is a rarity.

“It’s random,” Brown said. “We do occasionally find a pet in a residence hall room, but it is not a common policy violation.”

Brown said stowaways have included dogs.

“Dogs are pretty hard to hide because they tend to bark and need to be taken for walks outside,” he said.

Despite the challenge, a group of students tried to raise a puppy in their dorm room, according to a close friend of one of the students. The dog was eventually discovered, and out it went.

The Office of Residence Life’s guide book cites the protection of “the general health and safety of hall residents” as the reason for the ban. If a resident is caught with a secret pet, the owner has 24 hours to relocate it. After that, the student can be fined $50 per day until an inspection determines that the animal has been removed.

“The punishments aren’t that bad,” Rachel said.

Off campus, students also find ways to sneak pets into their dwellings. While some landlords allow pets with additional charges, some ban pets or certain types of pets entirely.

One such resident, who insisted on anonymity due to his townhouse’s no pet policy, hides an 8-foot boa constrictor named Jimmy in a tank the size of a treasure chest at the back of his closet.

The snake was only a foot long when he first got him, and he has had to purchase new tanks for the snake to match his growth. Now, Jimmy is a party staple and everybody clamors to take a turn holding the snake.

“[He’s] not as friendly as a dog, but it is definitely pretty sweet having a snake.”

Rules aside, is it a good idea to raise pets in a college environment?

Sarah said no.

“I don’t think everyone has that understanding of what kind of a commitment raising an animal is,” she said. “As a senior and a double major, I know it’s too much work.”

Contact Kinzie Stanley at