Emotional Support Animals help students cope on campus

Emotional Support Animals help students cope on campus

Aubrey WilsonReporter
Dec. 18, 2015; 11:45a.m.

A handful of Lindenwood students are getting emotional support from some special animals this semester.

Emotional support animals, usually cats or dogs, are prescribed to students to help relieve them of emotional or mental conditions, such as anxiety or clinical depression. They are not pets, and they are not service animals, but they are proven to comfort and improve the emotional well-being of individuals.

According to the housing office, this is the first year that Lindenwood has received requests to have these animals on campus. University policy accommodates students who need these animals, but students need to know that this isn’t a loophole in the rules to have a pet on campus, said Dr. Terry Russell, dean of students.

“Some people tend to think that all it takes is a note from a family doctor, but ESAs can only be prescribed by a certified psychologist or psychiatrist identifying a legitimate need for the animal by the student,” said Russell.”

Photo by Aubrey Wilson | Illustration by Phil Brahm

Students must also get the animal approved by a government office that oversees designating a support animal. This ensures that the animals are properly trained and vaccinated as a safety precaution for the general public.

Jesus Lopez, a director of university housing, said after Lindenwood Disability Services gets a request from the students supported by a prescription and a certification that the animal is a certified ESA, housing processes the request.

Getting an animal approved for a student could happen right away or it could take weeks, depending on the student’s history and health, said Russell. About five students have been through the process.

“Once the animal is approved by the Disabilities Services office, we then may have to take additional steps to accommodate the student in housing, OK it with roommates and make sure no one has any allergies,” he said.

Lopez, Russell and Dr. Joe Consumano from the LU counseling center stress the fact that these animals are not pets and students shouldn’t look at emotional support animals as a way to have a pet while at school.

 “I’m sure lots of students have a dog or cat back home that they love and want to have at school, but they need to know that it doesn’t work like that,” said Lopez. “Students with these animals have been diagnosed with a real medical need for them.””

Russell said emotional support animals are only allowed in non-traditional campus living, such as university houses.

“These animals must be kept on a leash at all times when they are not in the student’s residence, but that’s where the animal is expected to be most of the time,” he said.

Students are not permitted to take the animals with them to dining halls or to class, which is different than a service animal, like a seeing-eye dog, as dictated by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Amelia Fowler, a member of Active Minds, a mental health advocacy group on campus, said that an animal that depends on someone to feed it and take care of it could help a person feel less alone and like they have some sort of a purpose.

“Having an emotional support animal is great for relieving stress and anxiety,” she said. “Just being able to pet it could brighten someone’s whole day.”