The High Line lights glow in the dark as a small, energetic labradoodle emerges from the shadows around A2B. Almost immediately, students break off from their conversations to come greet and cuddle the labradoodle, Nina. Her owner, biology professor Justin Blau, has no choice but to wait for five to ten minutes until he can continue on his jog.
“I’ve never had a dog in my life, but I love them,“ said senior Roshni Dadlani. “Every time I see a dog on campus, I have to pet [it] … It’s [surprising] that there are actually pets on this campus, in a place where we think that there are no animals.”
Dadlani said that seeing dogs around campus is helpful for students who miss their own pets back home or who simply find that spending time with an animal can be a beneficial distraction from the stress of university. The NYU Abu Dhabi peer support group REACH encourages the mingling of faculty’s pets and students by organizing pet-mixer events.
“Faculty who are willing will lend us their dogs for an afternoon so that students can come and hang out with the pets — it’s basically a doggy destresser,” said Dadlani. “It started last semester and it was super successful, we had a huge turnout so we’re doing it again this semester … It’s been our most popular event.”
The most recent mixer was on 7 March, and more are being planned throughout semester. The mixers give students the opportunity to play with the dogs, while also getting to know faculty in an informal setting.
“We actually found a pet sitter [at the mixer],” said Anthony Beaumont, who works in the Athletics Department. ”My wife and I went to the Wadi Bih race two weeks ago and a student volunteered to look after [our dog].”
He said that the move to Saadiyat Campus, which has more space, contributed to the decision to adopt Pepe, a 3-year-old Collie mix, from Animal Action Abu Dhabi last October.
“Living in Sama Tower, we only had a studio and it was barely big enough for me and my wife,” Beaumont said. “It’s good that we actually have someplace where we can take him off [his leash] and he can do his own thing without being dragged along everywhere.”
The campus dog park, which opened this semester and is situated behind the East Dining Hall on the boundaries of campus, has contributed to a growing culture of pets on Saadiyat.
“[We are] perfectly happy with our decision,” said Beaumont, while Pepe rolled on his back, happy to get a bit of sun. “Every time we see students, they love seeing him. It’s a morale boost for lots of students who miss their own pets.”
“I always had a pet in my life,” said senior Sachith Cheruvatur on his guinea pigs, cats, dogs, goats and rabbits back home in India. His love for animals has not dissipated since leaving home, and he continues to care for any injured or vulnerable animals he finds in Abu Dhabi.
“I’ve taken care of a baby falcon, a cat for three weeks, two other species of birds [on campus],” he said.
The fledgling falcon in question had fallen out of its nest in the center of Abu Dhabi when Cheruvatur found it two years ago. He brought the baby bird back to his dorm in Sama Tower and cared for it for several weeks, feeding it and teaching it to fly, until it was old and strong enough to be taken to the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital. Last semester, he housed and cared for a pregnant cat he found on Saadiyat campus until she gave birth.
Despite his love for animals and his own pets, Cheruvatur agrees with campus policies about keeping pets. Student Conduct Policy and Process states
that it is considered a community standards violation for students to keep any pet on campus, except for fish in a tank no larger than ten gallons.
“I think it’s good that they have strict policies about what to have and what not to have. It’s hard to try and have a pet especially when you’re a student as well. You can’t be in the room all the time ... It’s not fair to your pet; it’s not fair to your roommates,” said Cheruvatur.
Fish owners, on the other hand, have more flexibility because their low-maintenance pets fall within the university’s policies. Sophomore Lucas Olscamp said he found it easy to have a pet fish on campus.
“I’ve had Bo, my betta fish, for over a year and a half now and have always had lots of support from friends and faculty in taking care of him while I’m away for the holidays,” Olscamp wrote to The Gazelle.
Likewise, freshman Peter Hadvab spoke fondly of his pet fish Milos, whom he called a semester fish, because Milos passed away at the end of fall semester.
“When there was something wrong [and] when I didn’t feel so good, I just talked to him,” said Hadvab. “He is one of the best friends a man could have.”
Freshman Mounir Khaled, who had pet spiders back home, decided to keep a jumping spider he found in his room as his pet. He found it too time-consuming to take care of, however, and released it after a week.
“I had to look for food for it every other day. Small moths, small cockroaches, small butterflies,” Khaled said. “It has to be flying so that the spider can see it and jump at it.”
While students may miss their pets back home, they can always offer to pet sit one of the faculty pets, stoop down to say hello at pets taken on a walk or simply offer cats on the High Line something to eat.
Additional reporting by Clare Hennig.
Clare Hennig is features editor. Thirangie Jayatilake is a contributing writer . Email her at email@example.com.