Pets Pamper to Students Seeking Emotional Support On Campus
It is not unusual for a student to see a pet around campus, since 17 Skidmore students have registered emotional support animals (and at least a few more have unregistered pets), in residence halls and apartments. However, prior to 2015 there were no pets on campus and Skidmore’s Office of Residential Life had a no pet policy.
Emotional support animals were previously known as therapy animals but “we are moving away from calling it ‘therapy animal’…. because the animal is not actually providing therapy, but is a part of a person’s therapeutic treatment,” said Meg Hegener, Coordinator of Student Access Services.
In 2011, the United States, on behalf of a college student with disabilities who claimed she had been denied reasonable accommodation for her service animal, filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska, suing under the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 against the University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK). The student suffered from depression and anxiety and had a small dog that helped her manage her panic attacks. The student requested reasonable accommodations but was denied permission to live in university housing with her dog. The lawsuit was settled in 2015 and in addition to UNK having to pay two former students, they were required to change their housing policy to allow people with psychological disabilities to have animals in university housing, if the animal provided necessary therapeutic benefits for the student. “Colleges all over the country are now looking at expanding their emotional support animal policies,” said Hegener
Due to this ruling, Skidmore now has an emotional support animal policy and allows students to have them in on-campus housing. This policy is different from the policy that allows students to have service animals. Service animals are also treated slightly different. For example, unlike emotional support animals, they are allowed in academic buildings. Though, at this time, there are no registered service animals on campus.
Currently, 17 students have a registered emotional support animal on campus but at its peak, there were 22 registered. On-campus, this number fluctuates as students go abroad, graduate and new students get approved. The 17 animals are ten dogs, five cats and two rats. At other times, there has also been registered snakes.
In order for a student to get approved to have an emotional support animal on campus and in on-campus housing, they must go through a multi-step process. First, they must fill out a student application and a treatment provider must fill out a treatment application. Here, they are looking to make sure “that the provider is really recommending [the pet] as part of a treatment plan,” said Hegener. Next, a committee of staff from Residential Life, Counseling Center, Health Services and Hegener meet to review the application.
Once the student is approved to have an emotional support animal, they must sign a contract and meet with a member of the Residential Life staff who goes over information on veterinarian services and a plan if the student handler has to leave campus. Some of the rules for having an emotional support animal include that the animal cannot enter academic buildings and if it is a dog, that they must be crated when left alone for everyone’s safety.
For Ella Amaral ’18 who has two emotional support rats, Toby and Clover, the process for getting them approved went very smoothly. “I wouldn’t say it was easy, in the sense that it required a lot of forms and explanations about why I wanted them, but it was smooth and everyone I spoke with and worked with in getting approved was so kind, and you could tell they really wanted what was best for you and the animals.”
Overall, there have not been many issues with students having animals on campus except for a few issues of dogs not being crated and owners not cleaning up after their pet. “As long as students are responsible animal owners, then we don’t have a lot of problems,” said Hegener.
Photo by Erin Silgardo '18