Can I Bring an Emotional Support Animal to School?
Emotional support animals are allowed on college campuses, but the rules vary from school to school. Emotional support animals provide therapeutic benefits to individuals diagnosed with psychological disorders including anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, depression, eating disorders, and insomnia to name a few. The mental health community has found that animals can offer unconditional love and support that can help to alleviate the symptoms of psychological disorders. Psychological disorders can leave individuals feeling isolated, and they may have a harder time coping with stressful situations like attending college, by having an emotional support animal these individuals have the support they need to function and thrive in these stressful environments. It is important not to confuse emotional support animals with service animals there are different rules and laws that they fall under so make sure you know what they are before taking your emotional support dog with you to college. Listed below are some helpful tips to follow when bringing an emotional support animal with you to college.
Americans With Disabilities Act
Under the Americans With Disabilities Act, emotional support animals and service animals are not the same and do not share the same protections. Service animals are dogs, or miniature horses that have been trained to perform specific tasks for disabled individuals and must be allowed to accompany an individual anywhere the general public is allowed to go. Emotional support animals are not specially trained and do not have the same rights as service animals and may not be allowed to accompany an individual wherever they go. There are two exceptions, and they are air travel and housing. Under the Air Carrier Access Act emotional support animals must be allowed to have their support animal with them while flying, and under the Fair Housing Act, emotional support animals must be allowed to live with an individual regardless of community rules including no pets or breed restrictions. If you plan on taking your emotional support animal with you to college, they must be allowed to live with you under the law, but they may not be able to accompany you other places on campus or in the community.
Documentation for an Emotional Support Animal
To avoid any confusion when traveling or living with your emotional support animal it is important to make sure you have your documentation with you at all times. To qualify a pet as an emotional support animal an individual must have a letter from a licensed mental health provider that includes the following:
- A prescription or ESA letter on the letterhead of the current mental health provider that is less than one year old and is signed and includes their licensing information.
- The individual with the emotional support animal has been evaluated by the mental health provider that has signed the letter.
- The individual requires the emotional support animal for a disorder that can be found in the DSM IV or V.
This documentation is easy to carry and will avoid any doubt as to whether you have an emotional support animal with you or if you are trying to bring your pet with you.
University Forms for Emotional Support Animals
Some Colleges and Universities are now requesting more documentation in addition to your ESA letter. The University forms and documents can sometimes request too much private information that a student is not legally required to provide.
For example, some University forms will request private medical information or the length of time a student has seen the licensed mental health provider. This information is private and can go against HIPAA privacy rules. Make sure that you are aware of your rights and don’t let your school force you into completing every part of an ESA University form.
Emotional Support Animal-Friendly Colleges
Since emotional support animals do not have the same rights as service animals, you may have to jump through some hoops to get your emotional support animal with you on campus. To avoid unnecessary stress and aggravation, it may be better to find a college that is more animal-friendly some examples include:
- Eckerd College
- Lees-McRae College
- Stephens College
- Stetson University
- Washington and Jefferson College
- University of Northern Colorado
- University of Idaho
- University of Washington
- University of Illinois
The above is a list of just a few animal-friendly colleges; if you require an emotional support animal, it is important to do some research to find out what college is not only best for your area of study but is also best for your emotional support animal.
Living with an Emotional Support Animal on a College Campus
Once you have been accepted to a college and approved for housing where you can have your emotional support animal with you, it is important to prepare yourself for living with your ESA on campus. Below are some tips that will better prepare you for college life with an emotional support animal:
- Dorm Room
It is important to make sure your emotional support animal will be comfortable living in a small space. Small spaces are generally not a problem for cats, birds, or small animals that live in cages, but dogs especially large dogs may have an issue living in a space as small as a dorm room. It is recommended to do a test with your emotional support animal and keep them in a small space to make sure they can adapt to dorm life.
If you will be living with a roommate or roommates, it is important to communicate with them about your emotional support animal. Under the law, you cannot be denied housing, but your roommate may have an allergy or fear of the type of emotional support animal you have so it is important to contact them and make sure they understand and can live with you and your ESA. It is important to understand that your ESA is your responsibility and if you have room or dorm mates that offer to help that is great but do not count on them taking care of your ESA.
Regardless of the type of emotional support animal you have, it is important that you have the time and ability to care for your support animal while living on campus properly. Properly cleaning up after your pet is essential as dorms are small and animal smells can travel. If you have a dog make sure you have time to walk them and take them to do their business and clean up after. If you have a cat or other small animal make sure you keep up on cleaning their litter box or cage. You will also need to be prepared to clean and vacuum if your pet has fur that can accumulate in your dorm room.