Yapping furiously, a floppy-eared puppy scampers around the floor of a Kemper suite living room. She dashes down the hall, cuts back and sprints up the coach and back down to the floor to complete her first lap. After doing a few more "zoomies," she kisses her favorite roommate.
Darcy a Chiweenie pup – half-Dachshund, half-Chihuahua – lives with Weinberg junior Sei Unno in Kemper, where Unno is a Residential Assistant.
Adopted in July, Darcy is an emotional support animal who helps Unno manage her chronic depression.
"My first two years here, it was pretty stressful," Unno says. "My room kind of became this toxic environment and somewhere I would isolate myself, but now that she's always there and always very playful, I can't really do that anymore."
On a typical day, Unno walks Darcy both before and after classes, during which Darcy, who Unno describes as a "social butterfly," attracts attention. She's even become popular enough to have a social media presence: @darcythechiweenie's Instagram account has 235 followers.
Taking Darcy on walks and feeding her meals regularly puts Unno on a schedule that doesn't lend itself to the busy lifestyle of many Northwestern students. But Unno doesn't mind sacrificing accolades and potential resume-builders.
"She does require a lot of time, so that has made me reconfigure how I spend my time," Unno says. "It's more important for me to be happy."
Unno forgoes other traditional Northwestern experiences as well. She was planning on studying abroad but decided against it so she could stay with Darcy.
"It would break my heart and it would be so stressful to live in a different place," Unno says.
Securing roommate status for Darcy wasn't easy. Unno was the first student to request to live with an animal in a form, so she had to gain special approval from AccessibleNU last summer. At first, the office asked for more information from Unno because Darcy was not considered a service animal, but rather an untrained emotional support animal.
Alison May, assistant dean of students and director of AccessibleNU, says the department wanted to handle this precedent-setting case correctly and fairly. May and her office had to ensure that all parties involved, including other students, would not be negatively affected, and everyone's privacy would be protected.
After getting Darcy approved as an emotional support animal, Unno's next step was solving the problem of her position as an RA. Because she is an employee of the University, AccessibleNU needed assess whether Unno's dorm should be considered her workspace or living space. If the former, Unno would be accommodated as an employee and different rules would apply to Darcy.
Unno was prepared to give up her RA position for Darcy, but AccessibleNU decided that Unno's dorm was her "living space," and the Chiweenie became Kemper's newest resident.
Since Darcy is the first known animal to live on campus with a student, AccessibleNU, Residential Services and the office of General Counsel had to make sure Unno's suitemates didn't have allergies. In the future Residential Services will be permitted to check her room for ticks and fleas.
"When you're thinking about two beings' lives you really want to try and make sure you are careful," May says.
Now a permanent Kemper resident, Darcy's positive presence is infectious. SESP sophomore Ian Pappas takes Darcy for walks about once a week as a stress reliever.
"Nothing gets her down. She's 100 percent energetic 100 percent of the time," Pappas says. "It's a good time to step back and take everything into perspective. Take a dog's view of things."