By Annie Norling ’12
Panic starts rising as time ticks closer to the deadline for this story. Belle, my miniature Australian shepherd, watches me with her piercing green eyes. She starts to wiggle as soon as I look at her and all my worries melt away.
Animals can have a lasting impact on emotional and psychological health, but many universities do not allow animals in the dorms. Pacific Lutheran University is one of these schools. Students are required to live in the residence halls or dorms for two years or until they are 20-years-old, but they do not have the option to have a pet.
Because of this policy, I moved off campus after my first two years so I could have an emotional-support animal. As long as students are required to live in the residence halls, there should be options to have an emotional-support animal.
According to Service Dog Central, “An Emotional Support Animal is a dog or other common domestic animal that provides therapeutic support to a disabled or elderly owner through companionship, non-judgmental positive regard, affection, and a focus in life.”
As a sufferer of anxiety attacks, I have personally experienced the inability to get out of bed and go to class. Belle helps dissipate the anxiety by being a source of unconditional love and companionship. No matter how bad I feel, I have to get out of bed to walk and feed her. She helps me face the day.
I am not alone. According to the American Psychological Association, rates of depression and anxiety in college students are on the rise, yet universities and the Americans with Disabilities Act still do not consider emotional-support animals as service animals.
The ADA defines disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.”
According to the University of Louisville Law Review, emotional-support animals “help depressed individuals by getting them out of bed to go to work or to interact with others.”
Under these definitions, an emotional-support animal should be considered a service animal because they provide assistance in accomplishing major life activities.
Allowing just one emotional-support animal in a residence hall could have a positive impact on the entire hall community. Studies by the University of Western Australia have shown animals can be beneficial for overall community health in addition to individual health.
The benefits include facilitating social interaction and establishing a sense of community. Therefore, if one student in a residence hall has an emotional-support animal, that animal can provide emotional support and well-being to many students in that hall.
Considering the potential benefits of emotional-support animals, PLU should allow these animals to live in the dorms. The current pet policy at PLU allows only fish and certain service animals. However, therapy animals are not included in PLU’s definition of a service animal.
I have personally experienced the joy college students exude when they see a dog. Walking around campus with Belle, I am constantly approached by students who want to pet my dog. As they pet her, they tell me stories about their dogs at home.
Not all universities have the same policy as PLU. With proper documentation, Brigham Young University allows students to have therapy or emotional-support animals in university housing.
The policy states, “A ‘therapy/emotional support animal’ is an animal selected to play an integral part of a person’s treatment process.” Therefore, BYU believes therapy animals should have access to university housing.
Others may disagree with these policies because of the potential health risks animals pose, including allergies and dog bites. They may also argue that emotional-support animals do not require specific training or that college students cannot handle the responsibility of owning an emotional-support animals.
PLU has 10 traditional residence halls, and I believe one of these should be reserved for students with emotional-support animals or students who wish to live around these animals. With proper documentation or therapy training, students should be allowed to apply for residence with their emotional-support animal.
The concern about dog bites is irrelevant because the process of certifying a therapy dog is rigorous. For example, to be certified through the Delta Society, a team is required to complete therapy classes and pass a difficult test. Such dogs must be well behaved and cannot be aggressive.