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Kirkland’s Menagerie: Animals on Campus

January 22, 2011

Over Fallcoming Weekend in 2008, four Kirkland women (Shelley Cowan, Jo Pitkin, Jennie Morris and Judy Silverstein), who were all staying at Woody Root’s house, went for a long walk in the beautiful October sunshine.  In the middle of a denuded cornfield, a tiny black kitten appeared and assertively joined them, continually gamboling between their legs. Despite their best efforts to find his home, it became very clear that this kitten decided he belonged with them.  Following much admiration and discussion, this kitten became mine. We thought of naming him Kirkland (which seemed a bit much for such a tiny thing), but I settled on Sam (for Sam Babbitt).

Sam the cat

The Dana family's rescued cat, Sam

As one might imagine, the discovery by this kitten of a group of Kirkland women (and it was truly all his engineering the situation) evoked memories and much discussion about pets on the Hill during our Kirkland years.

Dogs abounding!  In the dining halls!  In McEwen, I watched a large canine snatch one poor fellow’s steak off his tray on Steak-Night – the dog was happy, but the student was not, when told that he could not get a replacement steak.  At lunch in Commons, two large dogs got into a fight underneath my table. As it escalated, we stepped away from our plates to helplessly watch the fray, which only stopped when the dogs startled themselves by flipping the table over.

Eeyore at Chi Psi with rock

My freshman roommate, Mikki Stevens, brought her Chihuahua “Pooper” with her, and he greeted me my very first day on campus.  She later added a lab rat to the menagerie, whose squeaky wheel ran endlessly through the night, a sharp accompaniment to Mikki’s snoring.  My suitemate, Melanie Roth, had her Amazon Gray parrot “Toukee”, who still thrives, chirps, and does that indescribable rusty nut on a screw noise, which we could hear all the way out in the parking lot behind Milbank.  I still have a “Toukee” feather in my dictionary – a rainbow reminder of those salad days.

Having grown up in a cat/dog home, “Toukee” introduced me to the world of birds, and I did obtain some Zebra finches at the Utica Mall (of all places) who bred and bred – I set an alarm clock and fed those ugly, blind, bald things until they matured.  At the peak, I had 11 in my room in B Dorm.  Next door, Carol Carbonaro had her two rabbits, one of which was named “Sach” after the Bowery Boys’ character.  Judy Silverstein had her ducks, and Woody Root recalled chickens roosting in the bathroom sinks of one of the back dorms.

I recall telling the Commons dog fight story to Laurie Honors a few years ago over lunch, where we were sharing a now-square table with some students.  One of them was listening intently, and asked in all sincerity whether we thought he could use that story as support for a request to have a dog on campus, sort of a grandfathering.  I said I didn’t think so – the current Student Handbook provisions about dogs effectively preclude that possibility.

Eeyore at Bristol Campus Center

But back in the day, when Olive (c. 1964-1978) and Eeyore reigned supreme on the two campuses, animals were not only allowed but welcomed, although there were different rules for Hamilton and Kirkland students.  What was not to like about dogs like Olive, who hitchhiked, attended classes, slept in the dorms and never missed a meal in the dining halls?  And Eeyore, who lived in Chi Psi and was obsessed with rocks, and was darned good at Frisbee?

Senior year, my friends and I all said, “When Olive dies, Kirkland dies.” We meant it and believed it, but who would have thought that Olive would indeed go to doggy heaven that same spring?

olive obit

But now, those Kirkland women who discussed the future of Sam—our collective Kirkland cat who resides with my family—regularly ask after him and insist on seeing him when they are at my house.  Sam is a nod to the past, while looking to the future for us.  What are your recollections about the menagerie on campus?

by Penny Watras Dana K’78

For more on campus animals check out “Make Way for Ducklings,” read the comments below and add your own story!

(Click on pages below for a closer view – images may be slow to load, so have patience!)

From the 1976-1977 Hamilton/Kirkland Student Handbook

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Jennifer Potter Hayes permalink
    January 22, 2011 10:31 am

    All of this reminds me of other pets:

    Jane Irwin’s beautiful gray standard poodle whose name escapes me
    Paula Schute’s mutt named Kruschev (sp?) who came and went through our B Dorm suite window (suite 10)
    Olive “hitch hiking” up the hill from the corner in front of the high school on College Street
    Professor Barrett had a beaufiful dog that went to class with him

    • Zan Tewksbury permalink
      January 22, 2011 7:40 pm

      I think Prof Barrett’s dog was the famous Heloise, a large and lovely St. Bernard who loved to give me “kisses” with her slobbery tongue. She was most famous in my mind for eating the term philosophy paper of a Hamilton student who was camped out in the lounge at KJ (he had a tent in the glen, but the winter chill had driven him inside). This student had marked his spot in his spiral notebook with a ham sandwich, and then fallen asleep, probably closer to dawn than not. Heloise apparently came sauntering through in the morning and helped herself to not just the sandwich but the better part of the notebook as well….

      Thus, in this particular case, a student was able to truthfully say that “the dog ate my homework.”

  2. Liz Horwitt permalink
    January 22, 2011 10:52 am

    I too have warm feelings about the campus dogs, especially Olive, who looked like an olive with legs and a head — beagle mix, I think, and was the Queen of the Campus dogs. Does anybody remember how she used to hitch hike up and down the hill with us? I remember somebody put up a sign or graffiti that said “Dogs run free,” which they certainly did. They were Kirkies with fur.

  3. Craig Sonnenberg permalink
    January 24, 2011 9:11 am

    Eeyore lived to the ripe old age of 14 (1973-1987). He continued his rock and tree obsession throughout his years in Boston. The branches that he carried home with him grew larger over the years. Some of them were more like small trees — he’d have the root end in his mouth and rest of the thing dragging behind him on one side, howling with joy the entire way.

    In keeping with his one-time nightclub excursion out on Rte. 5 (I got a call at Chi Psi one Sunday morning from the Oasis saying “There’s a dog here who answers to the name of Eeyore”) … shortly after we moved to Boston he got on a trolley (by himself) and rode all the way to Northeastern! When I got the inevitable phone call, I drove to the campus to pick him up, and there he was sleeping on the steps in front of the quad, just like he used to do at Bristol. He was one in a million.

    Craig Sonnenberg, H’76

  4. Sam Babbitt permalink
    January 25, 2011 10:42 am

    I love this post. Of course, I’m thrilled that the cat is named “Sam”. When we left Clinton, we gave two small kittens to Fran Musselman, and they became “Sam” and “Natalie”, so that’s nice, too.
    Then we knew the Evans’ pretty well, since our Chris and their Tom were good pals. In fact, “Tom Evans” turns up backwards in one of Natalie’s books – GOODY HALL – as “Mot Snave”.
    I remember great agonies in the Assembly over the process of crafting animal regulations, of which, at first, there were none. But the only restriction I remember was one barring “barnyard” animals at some point, and then, of course, there ensued very Jesuitical discussions about the definition of “Barnyard”.
    And then there was the Unicorn at commencement in ’72.

  5. orchardgirl78 permalink
    January 28, 2011 7:58 pm

    Speaking of unicorns, I noticed imagery of horses belonging to Alice Root and Eve Ross, respectively, in the 1975 Kirkland yearbook. Animals of all kinds, really were a significant part of life and I can barely imagine a campus without them.

  6. Connie Halporn permalink
    January 29, 2011 4:50 pm

    My freshman year there was a wonderful dog who lived on our half hall–one evening he was scratching at the bathroom door, and we couldn’t figure out why..this went on for a while–when we finally let him into the bathroom (remember the halls were carpeted) he went into the bathroom and promptly threw up. He hadn’t wanted to mess up the hallway.

    Wonderful dorm mate!

  7. Matt Schaefer '74 permalink
    February 1, 2011 9:51 pm

    There were roving packs of dogs on the Hill during my stay there, 1970-1974. Coach Batt had an old English setter whose name escapes me but was quite ornery. And there were the Sig dogs, mostly English Labradors. Short legs, stocky bodies, black, yellow, and slobbering mouths most often found in the Commons stealing food off your tray while you went back in line for something else. They were the reason I now have two Labradors, a black and a yellow. Both quite old but still quite frisky. Olive was territorial. Anywhere on the Hill and in town was her domain. I remember Eeyore as a pup. Of course over at Kirkland there were cats seemingly everywhere. I read above somewhere about the dog fight(s) in Commons. Not too unusual. Not to mention the Pub in the Commons where our four legged friends could enjoy a beer with the rest of us. I was from NYC in an east side apartment so the campus dogs were my first real exposure to the joys of canine cavorting. Too bad there’s restrictions on them now. The menagerie made the campus, both of them, like a home.

    • February 1, 2011 10:22 pm

      Well, since Matt brought up cats, it’s time I weighed in.

      Early in my freshman year in McIntosh, someone told me of abandoned kittens in Clinton and I raised my hand to adopt one. A little calico moved in to my second floor double, and for reasons lost to memory, she was named Desdemona.

      She couldn’t have been all that young, because it wasn’t long before the neighboring tomcat belonging to the faculty residents in Minor (Norman and Marianne Boggs, if memory serves me) began to pay attention to my little Desi. A large-headed grey critter, I thought he was the ugliest feline I’d ever seen. But I guess he had a beautiful voice, because Desi looked out my window everyday, entranced.

      So despite my efforts to keep her indoors, I found myself playing kitty midwife before freshman year was out. Looking back, I wonder at my roommate’s tolerance (the litter box was in our closet, the kittens were born under my desk) and I only vaguely recall the scramble to find homes for five little ones before the semester was out. But I know I had Desi spayed that summer.

      She stuck with me through five years of moves: McIntosh to Dunham (for a summer job) and then my parents’; then back to Kirkland (Dorm “E” now Root) and on to D.C. for Jr. Year, where my boyfriend once had to retrieve her from a nearby rooftop . Then back to Kirkland (Dorm “B” now Babbitt), and on to a Clinton apartment for post-grad summer. Then Philadelphia, then Boston… then finally, she’d had enough. The day I was preparing for my next move she suddenly disappeared. I put up posters, made calls, but to no avail. I like to imagine she ran into a sly-looking dude with grey whiskers and a big head, who said “Don’t I know you from somewhere?” and finally settled down.

      But even now, I sometimes dream that I’m back, living in a dorm… and I’ve forgotten to leave food & water in her cat dish. Maybe she taught me something about caring for dependents, because my three sons seem ok, and don’t bother my dreamlife nearly as much.
      Desi the cat

  8. July 9, 2014 10:39 am

    I’ve always loved animals, and was thrilled to see, my first day on campus, that a group of dogs had made a circle around my mom, to greet her, as I did folk dancing on the lawn. I still folk dance, and I now have a dog of my own, but I’ll never forget that moment in 1974, on the lawn at Kirkland, when I thought, “I think I’m going to like it here.” I’d like to pick up this thread by reminiscing about my suite mate Nancy April’s cat, who had an obsession with ear-nibbling. I loved that cat. And a few words about Olive. Olive was a dear dog who knew she was loved, but didn’t take advantage of that fact. She wasn’t smug about it. She could sense when someone didn’t want her around; she could sense when someone needed her to be there. She was a well educated dog who appreciated a good philosophy lecture. With a loud bark of approval, she would mark her presence, and the class was always better when she lay on the floor and sighed. The article mentioned Pooper, and Toukee the parrot. I knew them, as well. These animals and their unique quirks were as much a part of our daily lives as was the phrase, “Man on the floor.” Definitely, the pets and animals at Kirkland made it even more special.

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