Ohio University has seen a slight increase of assistance animals on campus in recent years.
While the university’s policy prohibits any animals other than fish in the residence halls, there are exceptions for emotional support animals. All halls allow assistance and emotional support animals for eligible students.
There are currently 52 approved assistance animals, which is a 1% increase over the past two years.
“Assistance animals are important for students to have because they are a form of ongoing treatment established by a medical or mental health professional,” Christy Jenkins, associate director for student accessibility, said in an email. “The emotional connection between the student and animal is intended to ameliorate impacts of their disability and improve daily life functioning.”
Jneanne Hacker, director of business and conference services, said the most common types of support animals are cats and dogs.
Animals that are not registered, however, have to be removed by the student who is housing it within 24 hours, Hacker said in an email. The animal can be brought back to the student’s room once the student has proper documentation.
The first part of getting an animal approved for students is the online application through Student Accessibility Services.
“In addition to the application, we also request documentation of the student’s disability and how it impacts them,” Jenkins said in an email. “This provides a more broad picture of the impacts the student experiences, so that we may address other areas accommodations may be appropriate as well.”
Students also meet with an accessibility coordinator to discuss how the student will care for the animal, Jenkins said in an email.
An accessibility coordinator reviews the assistance animal policy individually with students who have assistance animals. Student Accessibility Services also collects veterinarian records and roommate agreements before the animal is allowed to live in the room.
Student Accessibility Services then tells Housing and Residence Life once a student has an approved animal, and the two offices work with the student to determine a time when the animal can start living in the room, Jenkins said in an email.
Students who currently have an emotional support animal, or ESA, say they didn’t find this process to be extremely difficult. Anna Denman, a freshman studying history, said she initially didn’t even think about getting her cat, Hope, registered as an ESA.
“I noticed that she would always come cuddle with me whenever I was really stressed, and she would lay on my chest when I had panic attacks, which was really calming,” Denman said. “I started doing research on ESAs and went through a therapist, and we followed OU’s procedures (that) can be found online to get her accepted. It really wasn’t a long process to get her accepted since I already had a diagnosis and a therapist that was on board with the idea.”
She strongly recommends ESA animals to students who need them, and she feels Hope, who is 3 years old, is always there when she needs her.
“She keeps me company when I’m up late doing homework or my roommate is out,” Denman said. “A lot of people come to visit her, which is a benefit in my book because I get to meet new people and tell them about my cat.”
Caring for any pet, however, has its challenges.
“College is busy, but I try to study in my room a lot so I can give her attention because she can get needy,” she said. “Sometimes she wakes me up by yelling at me for attention. Another challenge is that animals are not allowed on the GoBus, and if I leave for the weekend, I can’t leave her here, even if my roommate would still be here to care for her.”
Overall, having a cat has been a good experience for Denman, and she finds it helpful for her anxiety.
“Having an ESA, especially a cat, which is lower maintenance than a dog, can be incredibly comforting, and I highly recommend it,” Denman said.
Denman said people who work around the system just to have their pets with them can make it more difficult for people who actually need them.
Another ESA owner, Reese Little, a sophomore studying child and family studies and speech and language pathology, owns a 5-month-old yorkie named Harley.
“I love having him,” Little said. “It’s amazing. This is like the hangout spot because I have a dog, and it makes me talk to more people because when I take him out on walks everyone wants to pet him.”
Little said the advice she would give to others looking to adopt a dog as an ESA is to do their research.
“Definitely be a good, responsible dog owner,” she said. “It’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of money.”
Little said she did think caring for a dog would be easier but loves that having Harley gives her a routine and keeps her responsible.
“You can’t just leave him in (the room) for hours on end,” Reese said. “I always have somebody with him within a 45 minute span.”
Despite some challenges she's encountered, such as a girl on her floor being scared of dogs, she said he’s helped with her anxiety.
“I always have to be doing something, and he keeps me always doing something,” she said.