Who knew that pets could be so controversial? Here at Wes, the emotional support animal policy has been generating a fair amount of stir over the past couple of months.

From a post on the Parents Talk forum:

“Does anyone have experience with the University’s ‘support animal’ policy? Apparently students go through an application process to bring an animal for emotional support. We are baffled by this.”

From one Wes administrator to another (overheard) (maybe they should make office doors a little thicker?): students should not be allowed to have a new pet as an emotional support animal because “how would that create routine?” and “where is the bond?”

Yeah, I know. Those are things I should have never seen nor heard. But I did. More importantly, if you ask me, those are some things that should never have been said. Based on the amount of skepticism that the policy seems to generate, I thought I would give a brief explanation of what it means and why it exists.

Emotional support animals, as you might have guessed from the name, are animals that live with students who have documented disabilities. Before you, the healthy college reader, exclaim, “Wait, that’s just a pet!” with some indignation, let me break this down a little further.

You are probably aware by this point in your Wesleyan career that you are required to live on campus all four years unless you have a really awesome reason not to. You are also probably aware that you are not allowed to have a pet in campus residences, which means that the University has effectively banned you from having animals in your life for four whole years. Other than the basic stupidity of this (like, I don’t know, we are all adults and should be allowed to own cats), this can have negative impacts on our health.

Research shows that the presence of a pet can improve many conditions and even change people’s prognoses. That’s why there are services that bring dogs and cats into hospitals to visit patients. It doesn’t just “cheer them up” on a surface level, it actually improves their condition. This is especially true for depression. Having a pet helps to create routine, and can give people who are severely depressed a reason to get out of bed and a steady schedule that can help them succeed.

And in case you were wondering what conditions might affect our seemingly healthy population of college students, here’s a quick list: fibromyalgia, bipolar disorder, ADHD, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, eating disorders, epilepsy, autism spectrum disorder, multiple sclerosis, depression, migraines, diabetes, asthma, and severe allergies. That’s a list that I created from conditions that my friends and I have. That probably doesn’t even come close to covering the range of medical conditions that can be found here on campus.

This, as you may have guessed, is why emotional support animals are allowed. But getting an emotional support animal is not an easy process. If I were to make it a step-by-step type of thing, it would go like this: 1) students must have a documented disability and be registered with disability services, then 2) they must get a note from their doctor which states that having an emotional support animal is the best course of treatment for their condition (this is often combined with another treatment such as medication), and finally, 3) CAPS and the health center must agree that this is a reasonable accommodation to have. If the request gets approved, ResLife is then supposed to make sure that a student with an emotional support animal is housed with people who are not allergic to animals and would feel comfortable having an animal in their residence.

In the same way that there are students here with conditions bad enough to get medical weed (jealous?), there are students here who require other accommodations and who, even though you might not be able to tell, are disabled. That’s why it’s called an invisible disability. And as “baffling” as it may be to some people, an emotional support animal can be a valid and valuable course of treatment for these invisible (and visible) disabilities. Were I blind and requesting a seeing eye dog, nobody would question it. We as a society already understand on that level that animals can provide help for those in need, so it’s time to take the next step and realize that they can provide emotional support as well. It’s especially disappointing to see criticism coming from parents and the administration, those who are supposed to be a little more grown-up than we are.

  • “From one Wes administrator to another (overheard) (maybe they should
    make office doors a little thicker?): students should not be allowed to
    have a new pet as an emotional support animal because “how would that
    create routine?” and “where is the bond?”

    I am really sad to read that sentence. I got approved for a support animal over the summer and adopted a cat from a local shelter to bring with me to Wes. It has been very healing for me to watch this sweet, loving cat putting on weight, gaining fuller and glossier fur, growing more confident in herself and in me, and in general becoming a much happier cat with me than she was at the shelter. We’ve been together three and a half months now, and we’re both demonstrably happier for it.

    In addition to all that, I no longer had a cat at home bonded to me (because I’d been away at college for three years), but the instant this cat and I met at the shelter, we knew we were right for each other and started bonding. Sometimes it takes helping someone else to heal to start healing, yourself.

    Also, thank you for the article.