Emotional support animals: Too much of a good thing?

Amanda Bagnall-Newman, Visual Media Editor

Emotional support animals have the potential to help students with emotional problems by providing a form of comfort and support. These companions are intended for students who suffer from anxiety, depression, mood disorders, panic attacks and other psychological conditions. They are a great way to help comfort students where human interaction cannot.

Lakeland University has recently updated its emotional support animals policy. To summarize, on-campus students who request an emotional support animal must first meet with the Hayssen Academic Resource Center for approval, then with Residence Life for final approval. An important note is the difference between emotional support animals and certified service animals. While service animals are allowed to follow their owners around campus, emotional support animals are denied access to other buildings on campus outside their residence hall.

The Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 amends the Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which forbids discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin in housing sales, rentals or financing. In short, you cannot be denied housing on these terms. Emotional support animals were added with the Fair Housing Amendments Act, and along with the Americans with Disabilities Act, makes those who have registered support animals unable to be denied housing.

An increasing number of students are turning to emotional support animals. The rising issue is that students who truly don’t need emotional support animals are going to mediocre therapists and getting an easy sign off just so their lovable pets can stay at their place long term. Pets can be a valuable aide to emotional balance, but there are those who abuse the system. It seems as if dorms are slowly developing into petting zoos for students’ pleasure.

I know a handful of students who do a great job taking care of their animals and have great respect for their neighbors, but I also see students who are neglect their responsibilities as pet owners. When I walk into an apartment complex and it reeks of pet odor, it’s absurd. Dogs bark unattended in their rooms and cats claw up the provided furniture. Walking on grass around campus is risky due to piles of dog droppings. While you can’t have complete control over an animal, you should at least exercise your responsibility and clean up after it.

For those who cannot receive a doctor’s recommendation or are not suitable to be pet owners, there are pets on campus students can visit to help calm their nerves. Health Services brings in their dogs on occasion, and if you are kind to the hall directors they may let you play with them. However, this argument can also be extended to the loveable companions of our hall directors. While the policy is different, issues still arise. These individuals are held to higher standards for their pets, but there are still students who complain about being kept up at night by barking. With these pets, you know where they’ll be and can try to avoid the area if you desire. However, different policies come into factor.

This abundance of animals is all fine and dandy if you’re okay with pets in general, but think of those who are afraid of dogs or allergic to cats. These students are uncomfortable in the halls they pay good money to live in. As a person who is allergic to pet hair, my health is being put at risk by these animals. While one sniff won’t kill me, long term exposure to the allergens cycling through the building’s heating system swells my throat to the point I have to go outside.

A suggestion is to only allow emotional support animals in certain housing areas like ground floor halls. This would benefit both students and animals. Dogs wouldn’t have to climb stairs to get places and students could escape to higher ground from pet tyranny. If students only expect animals in a few specific halls, they can be better prepared. While this wouldn’t completely end the issue, it would allow emotional support animals to coexist with those who dislike their presence.

Again, I have mad love and respect for treatment through emotional support animals, but the system is abused. Pets are a major responsibility, not just cute companions to leave sitting in rooms. For those who are considering getting an emotional support animal, please give the decision some thought. Make sure you have time in your day to play with your pet and clean up after them. Using the emotional support animal card just to get a pet on campus is a low blow to the system and makes it harder for those who actually need them.

For the full story about emotional support animals and the recent change of policy, or to report a violation of the policy, contact Jim Bajczyk, director of residence life.