Colleges must increase consideration for students who need therapy pets

For some students enrolled in a college as demanding as Geneseo, finding ways to manage the high stress lifestyle can be extremely difficult. To make it more manageable, some people desire a therapy pet or Emotional Support Animal that can assist individuals with physical, psychiatric, intellectual or mental disabilities. 

Many colleges and universities struggle with allowing therapy pets to live on-campus with students, despite the laws explicitly requiring them to. Schools that permit them with no hesitation, such as Geneseo, still need to work diligently to accommodate students with these life-saving pets.

“According to the [Fair Housing Act], colleges and universities must make reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities requiring service animals or emotional support animals,” according to Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education. 

There isn’t a question as to whether or not therapy pets should be allowed to live in residence halls; by law, they are. Instead, it comes down to the word “reasonable.” Colleges need to find appropriate ways to deal with emotional support animals other than asking students to move or get rid of them. 

For example, on Wednesday, Sept. 19, a student was told they must get rid of their emotional support animal, which the school was aware of when they housed her, due to noise complaints. 

Animals are always slightly anxious in new environments and it is still early in the semester. The school should have planned for this noise possibility. It should consider designating certain floors in specific resident halls for people who need emotional support animals.

Perhaps the issue here is not the mere existence of emotional support animals, but rather, the lack of constraints surrounding them. 

“There are currently no Federal restrictions on the species of an animal in an emotional support role,” according toStudent Affairs Administrators in Higher Education. Therefore, students could house virtually any animal, so long as it qualifies as a therapy pet.

It’s understandable why colleges may be wary about emotional support animals. Housing a dog is far different from housing a hamster. Nevertheless, schools should be understanding of students’ needs and house them, along with their therapy pets, in locations that satisfy everyone.  

The emotional stress of classes, exams, assignments, meetings and a variety of family situations can harshly affect a person’s mental health. Instead of finding a compromise or a way to help these students, colleges tend to remove the animals. 

If a student has the proper documentation for their animal and notifies the proper people, the college should accommodate them. There are people that may have allergies or even a fear of certain animals, but there are precautions and steps the school can come up with to make sure everyone has what they need to feel safe and stable. 

The concern that some students might abuse the policy of having a therapy pet or ESA exists, but that’s why the college asks for proper documentation. It ensures those who need these services can receive them. 

Whether it’s the extra work or lack of consideration that is stopping schools from taking these steps, the students’ mental and emotional health is worth a second thought.