By Tori Rodgers
Many students love seeing a fluffy, friendly animal around campus; some often exclaim “Dog!” whenever they spot one, waving and talking to it as if it were their best friend. For most people, seeing an animal can make their day.
“Whenever I see a dog on campus, it makes my heart happy. It reminds me of my little puppy,” Lisa Elliott, a freshman resident, said.
Although it is perfectly normal to miss a beloved pet when away from home, it is not an excuse to dub them an emotional support animal; misguided thinking assumes that anyone can get approved to have an ESA. This is in fact not the case; there is a crucial process necessary to having an animal here.
Malone’s animal policy was revised three years ago to assure it followed the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Department of Justice, as an increase in ESAs and mental health awareness was seen nationwide. Anna Meadows, director of Student Accessibility Services, explains that it is then updated yearly to ensure current policies. Meadows works with students that have disabilities, so if an individual is wanting to bring their ESA or service dog to campus, they should expect to contact her.
“There are three categories of animals when you’re working with people with disabilities… service dogs, therapy animals, and emotional support animals,” Meadows said.
Therapy animals are “trained to provide love and comfort to people in long-term care, hospitals,” and similar situations, as defined by USA Service Dog Registration. These are the dogs that are taken to children’s hospitals to brighten their day and are especially friendly and gentle. These dogs are not allowed on campus.
Service dogs are specifically trained to provide a physical service to an individual with disabilities. There are currently two seen on campus; one provides assistance for its owner that is visually impaired, and the other is a psychiatric service dog that physically calms his owner in the event of a panic attack.
An emotional support or comfort animal, as defined in the Student Handbook, “provides emotional support, alleviating one or more identified symptoms or effects of a resident’s documented disability.” They may live with their owner (that has the disability), even if it has a no pet policy like Malone, but ESAs are not allowed in other buildings on campus. Though these ESAs such as dogs, cats, and sometimes lizards, are animals, they are for people who truly need them for their mental health.
“We have two service dogs on campus and we have a number of emotional support animals,” Meadows said. “Those are the animals that are allowed on campus. None of them are considered pets.”
Concerning pets outside of the realm of registered animals, fish are allowed, as long as they are in a tank that is no larger than 20 gallons. It is not necessary to notify the Student Development Office for this; however, it is important to note that other animals that live in tanks (even if it’s smaller than 20 gallons) are not allowed. Only fish are permitted as pets at Malone.
If a student has an emotional support animal they want to bring to campus, Meadows encourages students to meet with her. She can then explain the policies and process to them and go over the recurring instances of documentation and forms.
“Their [the student’s] mental health professional needs to… provide me with documentation stating the nature of their disability: what functional limitations a person has, how the emotional support animal alleviates those symptoms, [and] how it’s part of their therapeutic plan… [to] verify that their condition is disabling,” Meadows said.
Next, additional documentation from a vet is required. These documents must state that the animal is in good health, has had flea and tick prevention treatments, and that is overall a safe animal to bring to campus. Then the policy is signed by the owner to acknowledge that they are fully responsible for the animal and that they will cover any damages and care required.
“They [the owners] are responsible for cleaning up any messes inside or outside of the residence hall. They can’t pass on caregiving to another person… [they] are fully responsible for that dog or cat,” Meadows said.
Cleanliness is the biggest issue with animals on campus, as to be expected. Working with housing is crucial, due to factors such as allergies and roommate consent; the dorm room is the animal’s small home for however long it is on campus, so it is important to have the correct accommodations. All students with an ESA living with them pay an extra fee at the end of the year so those rooms can be cleaned, but it is crucial to practice day-to-day animal cleanliness.
If Malone’s policy is violated four times or more and the pet becomes disruptive, the owner will then be asked to remove the animal. However, that does not usually happen; experiences with on-campus ESAs are mainly positive ones.
Panthera Miley, a campus resident in her junior year, has an emotional support dog. She had bad anxiety that prevented her from sleeping. When she got her dog, this problem lessened, and she was able to successfully get through the day.
“My issue with anxiety is a mixture of both social and some other form, where I can’t be around too many people but it’s very hard for me to be alone,” Miley said. “[When I’m alone] it’s like my brain tricks me into thinking someone’s about to literally murder me.”
Miley is comforted by her dog’s instinct of being able to tell when something is wrong. When her dog is fine and not worried, Miley knows that she has no reason to be either. Her dog is important to her daily life and ease of mind, something that others don’t think of when they see her with such a cute and fluffy animal.
“They are a type of emotional support, so they’re not just a regular pet,” Miley said. “If you notice too many people around me, don’t come up. [My dog is] going to be here all semester and all year probably, so you’ll have plenty of time eventually to see her again. So it’s okay to come up and pet her, but don’t come in a huge group because that will overwhelm me.”
For any pet, it is important to remember that they are not just playthings. They are animals that, for ESAs and service dogs especially, have a purpose; therefore, the animal and the owner should be treated with respect in every interaction.