Do you have hamsters, ponies, dogs, or rats living on campus yet?
If you don’t, you soon will. Here is what you need to know about Emotional Support Animals.
How Emotional Support Animals Are Impacting Life on Campus
Due to changes in the Fair Housing Act and the Rehabilitation Act, colleges and universities across the U.S. are now required to allow students to live with emotional support animals (ESAs). An ESA is any animal that brings comfort to an individual who has an emotional issue such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), panic or anxiety disorders, stress, depression, phobias, personality disorders or other issues. To get an ESA, an individual must obtain an official diagnosis and an ESA letter from a licensed mental health professional.
As a result of these changes, ESAs can live in “no pet” housing situations such as college and university residential housing. ESAs have changed both campus administration procedures as well as student living. Administrations have had to create and then adapt their housing policies and procedures for ESAs. In this blog post, we’ll look at some challenges that colleges and universities have faced, how they’ve overcome the challenges, adapted their policies and procedures, and how StarRez has helped with the process.
Handling Non-Standard Support Animals
Emotional support animals don’t have to be “standard” animals that live with humans such as dogs, cats, birds or fish. In some cases, universities have to handle “non-standard” support animals such as snakes or rats. This can be challenging because some animals may have unique safety concerns or people living in the residential units may have fears about the animals, and both of these issues need to be addressed.
As a result, colleges and universities need to establish a process for non-standard animals. Jules S. Breaux, Director of Housing at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, stated that they have a safety review committee for the review of non-standard animals. Last year, a student submitted a request for rats. In this case, the university required the rats to be spade/neutered and receive a full health screening. In addition, the roommate had to agree to have the animals in the room. Finally, the university had to verify with the biology department that there wouldn’t be any interference with the research animals.
“Last year, a student submitted a request for rats. In this case, the university required the rats to be spade/neutered and receive a full health screening.”
Addressing Student and Animal Safety
Some requests for certain animals have raised concerns for the safety of the other students and the campus at large. Not everyone likes pets, whether they’re standard animals or not, and some people may be afraid of animals. If a student has to take the pet outside, it may cause students to be afraid and everyone has the right to feel safe.
There’s also a concern for the animals’ safety, as residential units may not be the best place to have animals living with students. This is especially true for larger animals that are cooped up in a room, without enough attention or exercise, which could lead to destructive behavior. Although this doesn’t happen frequently, in one case at Georgia College and State University, they had to bill a student for damage to a room caused by the ESA. The issue of student and animal safety needs to be addressed in a school’s ESA policy.
Distinguishing Between ESAs and Pets On Campus
With animals in residential units now, colleges and universities and also dealing with the sensitive issue of pets on campus being required versus desired. Dr. Larry Christenson, Executive Director of University Housing, stated, “Many students that would normally fall under the category of desired are taking advantage of the changes in housing rules to have a pet.” It’s getting easier to claim an ESA as there are companies now providing an ESA letter service. An individual fills out an online questionnaire, a therapist makes a decision based on the questionnaire and then provides the ESA letter.
“Many students that would normally fall under the category of desired are taking advantage of the changes in housing rules to have a pet.”
There may also be challenges with students bringing in pets, which aren’t ESAs or service animals, and then claiming that they are ESAs. In the case of the rats, the rats were later discovered in the room of the then ex-boyfriend of the student. These challenges between ESAs and pets provide another layer of management for university staff.
Mark Craddock, Associate Director of Operations at Georgia College and State University, uses StarRez to document the approval process and animal details. A student fills out a form with ESA details and then the university creates an entry for the animal that includes a picture of the animal, student information and any notes in a comments section. He states, “That way, if issues arise with an animal, we have consistent documentation for every student who has been approved.”
“That way, if issues arise with an animal, we have consistent documentation for every student who has been approved.”
Addressing Roommate Conflicts
A roommate needs to agree to have a support animal in the room. However, even though the roommate may agree to have the animal, as time goes on, conflicts may come up. For example, the individual may not be able to sleep well, get tired of the smell or even end up taking care of the animal. These kinds of conflicts can lead to more involvement for the residential assistants as well as additional training for them on how to handle these conflicts.
Creating Policies and Procedures
All of the challenges described in this blog post should be addressed in an ESA policy for the school. Once a policy is established, the school needs to create an administrative procedure to handle the requests. Jules has used StarRez to handle the ESA procedure as follows:
- A student makes a request for an ESA on the StarRez portal, which is then sent to the Office of Disability Services (ODS).
- The ODS reaches out to the student with the appropriate paperwork.
- A questionnaire is sent to the mental health professional.
- Once all is received by the ODS, the director meets with the student.
- If approved, a memo is sent to the housing administration and the student is notified.
- The information is filled out in StarRez in the Special Needs section and it will be populated on emergency reports and rosters so staff knows the animal is approved.
For More Information
Learn more background on ESAs from ESADoctors.com.
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