Michelle Boudin
August 10, 2015 07:55 PM

Ron Hopper calls his 5-year-old miniature schnauzer Karly an ice breaker, pointing out that his students learn her name before his.

The assistant professor at Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk, North Carolina, brings his dog to campus every day. She walks without a leash, joining him in his office and at the college library and even sitting quietly beneath the whiteboard in all his classes.

“She really helps lower the stress level in my classes. Dogs are joyous and happy, and I think when you come on our campus you can tell right away it’s a friendly place to be because there are dogs here,” he told PEOPLE.

The private university is part of a growing trend of colleges across the country allowing students and staff to bring their pets to campus. College Raptor recently ranked the top 20 pet-friendly schools and listed MIT, the University of Washington and Caltech as some of the other Fido-friendly campuses.

The president at Lees-McRae, Dr. Barry Buxton, introduced the idea there three years ago, and he says it’s been a huge success. Buxton brings his own dogs to work several days a week.

There are designated pet dorms for students to live with their pets, and individual professors can decide whether to allow them in class as well.

Twenty-year-old junior Jessa Hattabaugh brought her family dog, Memphis, a fox terrier, to live with her in the dorms last year and says that was a main reason for choosing the school. “Being away from home, it made such a difference having Memphis there,” she said. “I gotta be with my dog!”

In addition to dogs, the school is also home to cats, geckos and parrots, but it had to draw the line at snakes.

Buxton told PEOPLE, “The housekeepers said no way! We’re not going in a room with a snake!”

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