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Finding out the hard way why fish make the best college pets

'For reasons of sanitation and safety, pet animals, with the exception of tropical fish and goldfish, are not permitted in residence halls, apartments, dining halls, or other University buildings."

So reads the official regulation on pets for Penn State's Erie campus, where I attend school. Fish in this context refers to any aquatic animal, such as frogs, turtles, and so on. The catch, according to rumor, is that the animal has to be able to survive underwater for at least five minutes.

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As anyone can guess, students have often joked about training Fido to breathe underwater for five minutes or of watching the room inspectors standing over a frog tank holding a stopwatch.

Jokes aside, this rule on pets was a difficult one for an animal lover (especially of cats) to swallow. At one point last year one of my three roommates and I discussed breaking it.

After visiting a pet store, we were sold on the idea of getting a kitten. The only problem would be to persuade another one of our roommates - one usually less warm to our ideas - to go along with the idea.

She beat us to the punch: She was going to adopt a stray pet one of her friends had found and take it to her parents' home. She asked us if the cat could stay the night before she went home for the weekend. Of course we said yes. This was a dream come true.

Unfortunately, we did not think things over enough. We did not anticipate what we would need nor did we discuss cooperating to care for the black-and-brown cat.

The prospect of a cuddly and playful companion overwhelmed us. As a result, we encountered a few problems. We never even really had time to enjoy the cat's presence because the trouble started right away. We failed to find a suitable location for the smelly litter box, constantly fought to keep the feline out of sight and thus out of the windows, and struggled to figure out where the cat could sleep without being disturbed.

By the time the next afternoon rolled around, we were glad to see the fur ball move on to its permanent home. We did not love animals any less, we simply realized the limitations of a five-room on-campus apartment.

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We also realized the university had made its policy on pets for some very good reasons - and we certainly learned our lesson. Not only is a cat or dog too much to handle in a small apartment frequented by many students, but the situation is not very humane for the animal, either.

We were not the first students at Penn State Erie to challenge the official word on pets. I know of other people who have kept gerbils, frogs, or lizards. One guy even had a puppy that he often took with him to his friends' apartments.

Although I can't say for sure, I bet he had many of the same difficulties that my roommates and I had.

Our adventure with the cat last year has not stopped us from wanting to keep frogs or turtles as pets this year - and I don't mean the tiny aquatic ones that live in two-gallon fish tanks. No, we want the big ones - the ones that require five- or 10-gallon tanks ... the ones that will have no problem meeting the five-minute rule.

* Karen Healy is a senior at Penn State University's Behrend Campus in Erie, Pa. She is majoring in communication and media studies with a minor in English.

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