Emotional Support Animals (ESA) have been seen as substitute service animals in the past but have recently gained more acceptance. This acceptance has been growing since studies have shown that pets help their owners with mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety.
According to Carrington College’s student blog, all kinds of pets help their owners battle depression and anxiety, helping distract from the negative thoughts caused by the mental health problems. As a result of the constant care and attention, the pet needs, the ESA allows the owners to feel needed and divert attention to the matters in the present. Carrington College also mentioned that “The researchers found that companion animals not only boost self-esteem, but also provide empathy, initiate social encounters, and serve as a substitute or additional family members.”
ESA’s can help reduce stress in people as well. It is becoming more common are taking their emotional support animals to college with them, since college can be a very stressful place. The Daily Campus states that ESAs can impact the performance of students, especially ones who have specific conditions. ESAs can help students to relax when stressed about school work. The Daily Campus also mentions that ESAs help students succeed in their daily life on campus, just as much as a service animal would.
In an article from the student newspaper of Northern Kentucky University, The Northerner, a student named Courtney Castle had her dog certified as an ESA; and it helped her battle her social anxiety by forcing her into social situations because of her pet, Oliver, attracted attention to her.
The Northerner also mentions that owners of ESA’s need a letter from a psychologist that states that the owner would benefit having their pet as an ESA. However, some believe that pets should not be able to become certified due to privileges that the ESA’s give. Skeptics believe that people who certify their animal as an ESA, are scamming the system so they can take their pet with them to certain places, such as living with them on campus. Castle, though, believes that if properly certified, ESAs can be beneficial to people dealing with mental health issues.
Also, there is controversy over whether ESA’s should be allowed on campuses. According to a news publication, ESA Doctor, campuses are obligated to allow them under the Fair Housing Act and Rehabilitation Act of 1947. This act says that the ESA provides the owner with therapy through affection/companionship. ESA Doctor also specified that even though the support animal doesn’t need any special training like a service animal, the owner does need to show that having their ESA has been helpful with their condition in which they have their ESA. The condition can be mental or physical, limiting the person’s everyday life.
Saint Leo University openly allows ESAs for students who live on campus. Katheryn Krzyzanski, who works in Residence Life and is criminal justice major, states, “Yes, they are allowed on campus. I’m not positive if there are restrictions on what type of animals are allowed or not.”
Tiffany Nelson, Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern for SLU, commented on ESA.
“Yes, absolutely they [ESAs] help. You have the bond between human and animals, which is powerful for anybody, but it can be especially helpful for people dealing with different mental health issues. Especially here, I would say stress, anxiety or depression are some of the more common ones seen on campus.”
If someone is unable to get an ESA, Nelson also suggested that there are also alternatives to help combat one’s mental health problems.
“There are stress relievers that are unique for each person; like exercise has been shown to be just as effective or more effective than some antidepressant medication also spending time with people you care about so like friends or family members,” said Nelson. “Social connections and feeling connected is an amazing way to help deal with that kind of stuff. Your diet plays a part in it, just everyone is unique, and everyone has their own way they deal with stress, but finding what works for you can be really effective. For some people, it can be an emotional support animal, and for others it can be a range of other things.”
Although ESA’s can be helpful, the decision to bring them on campus should not be taken lightly. They have not had training unlike service animals, and are seen as “reasonable accommodations”, according to Study Break, independent online magazine. Study Break also mentions that ESA owners are responsible for damages that are caused by the animal, they have to clean up after the animal, and it is not allowed to keep the ESA in the dorm room all day without any playtime.
It is suggested that students take the time to consider all of their options when it comes to living on campus with an ESA. The owner responsibilities and possible consequences that come from bringing your ESA to live on campus. Even though colleges are obligated to allow ESA’s on campus for noncommuters, the student still must get the ESA authorized by their university.