By Kaitlin Burch
Most people are familiar with service animals and the purpose they serve, but not everyone is aware of emotional support animals and what they have to offer.
According to the Ram Student Handbook, a service animal is, “A dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability.”
An emotional support animal is different, and by definition does not just have to be dogs. Many people suffer from mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression, and these kinds of animals can offer a sense of comfort for many.
According to the Ram Student Handbook, students at FSU are allowed to have an emotional support animal in the dorms on campus if certain guidelines are met.
Associate Dean of Academic Success LaDonna Bridges explained the differences between service animals and emotional support animals.
She said that as far as service animals go, only two questions can be asked: “What function does your animal provide?” and “Do you have a disability?”
She added, “For an emotional support animal, you can ask for documentation,” whereas for a service animal, no documentation is needed.
Bridges said, “It has to be very explicit about the nexus between the disability and how that is mitigated by the emotional support animal.”
Unlike a service animal, an emotional support animal cannot be taken everywhere. The animal must remain in the dorm room of its owner unless it is being taken out for bathroom breaks.
Associate Dean of Students and Director of Residence Life Glenn Cochran said, “We currently have six [emotional support animals living on campus]. There are different kinds of animals included.”
Bridges said these kinds of animals “aren’t trained to provide a function,” meaning there is no lawful training that they must go through to serve their purpose.
In a sense, a household pet can be used as an emotional support animal as long as proper documentation is provided.
Bridges explained that there is no cost affiliated with having an emotional support animal, but in order for a student to have one on campus, the student must present the animal’s immunization records, as well as a doctor’s note from a mental health care provider.
“Ninety-nine percent of the time, this is for something that is emotional or psychiatric, so it has to be from a mental health provider so a primary care doctor is not qualified to provide this,” she added.
Many students support the idea of having emotional support animals on campus.
Junior Cheyenne Smith said, “I feel that they are great and very necessary.”
Junior Elizabeth Bressoud agreed. “I think it’s a very positive and beneficial thing because most students come from a home before they go to college with pets and even if they don’t have emotional needs medically, it helps them in a better working environment when they’ve survived all of high school with animals.”
She added, “Going from a very pet friendly environment to nothing at all is kind of hard academically.”
Others felt a personal connection to the idea of emotional support animals.
Junior Madeline Pimental said, “For me, I think just having my dog around comforts me and I don’t have a mental disability or depression, [and] I would like to have my dog here just to feel more comfortable.”
Bridges said due to many people having severe allergies to pet dander, in most cases of students having emotional support animals, the student lives in a single. However, it is possible for a student with an emotional support animal to have a roommate as long as the roommate is OK with it.
Sophomore Chelsea Getchell said she would be fine if her roommate had an emotional support animal. “I personally am an animal lover and would find dogs relaxing and a nice break in a stressful day.”
Sophomore Grace Pushor agreed. “I would not mind my roommate having one because I know it’s there for their complete support.”
Sophomore Sacha Bonilla-Mena said even though she was in favor of the idea of a student owning an emotional support animal, “I personally don’t believe a dorm room is the most ideal environment for animals to be living … depending on the kind of animal.”
Freshman Isabella Kondi said, “If people are happy with them, then I’m happy with them.
“I feel like some people can’t find the same comfort in people as they do animals,” she added.
Bridges said, “Colleges and universities continue to grapple with what this means” in reference to emotional support animals because there is “no national standard,” but universities such as FSU are working to accommodate students with emotional needs.