photo provided by Amber Walters
Emotional Support Animals, or ESA’s for short, is a question I had fumbling around in my head for quite some time now. I’ve seen various students around campus with animals that are mostly dogs and a few cats as well as a weasel or ferret, I’m not sure which but who honestly knows the difference? (Disclaimer: It’s a ferret, which is a member of the weasel family). Seeing these animals around campus got me wondering, what are these things and why do students need them? So, I set out to find the facts and find them I did!
An ESA requires a prescription just like any prescription drug, however you’re not taking your dog or cat with a glass of water before bed every night.
An ESA requires a prescription just like any prescription drug, however you’re not taking your dog or cat with a glass of water before bed every night. Instead, the idea behind an emotional support animal is to give you a sense of security, a reason to get up in the morning and a way to cope with some stress or anxiety in your life.
According to the United States Dog Registry anyone with Anxiety, Depression, Bipolar disorder, Mood disorder, Panic attacks, Fear/phobias, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Suicidal Thoughts/Tendencies is entitled to an ESA. They are allowed to live with you in any dorm, apartment or house, even if the landlord has a no-pet’s policy. If you have the paperwork, you’re set. However, to legally obtain an Emotional Support Animal, you need to be considered Emotionally Disabled by a licensed mental health professional.
Michael Allbright, Assistant Dean of Students for Housing and Residence Life, was able to provide some of his experience with ESA’s on campus, including some restrictions he has. We first started off by talking about his dorm life at Wilmington back in the mid 90’s. He told me that before Wilmington College had made official rules against animals, kids in the dorms could have almost any type of animal they wanted. He fondly recalled a kid on his floor owning a massive snake that eventually broke out, crawled through the ventilation system, and – as all horror movie snakes do – bit someone. Thus, causing the policy of only non-carnivorous fish to be adopted.
The current student body living in housing have different rules than in those days, and now you need to fill out the paper work.
Mr. Allbright said, “For students that need them it’s great, but it should be supplemented with something else like medication or counseling.” Of course, the school nor anyone else besides a court of law can mandate that you must attend counseling services. Mr. Allbright also spoke to the problems with ESA’s on campus, saying the biggest problem is illegal ESA’s, more commonly referred to as Pets. I asked him more about his cleanliness policy in the dorms, he gave me information on when they perform room inspections, but other than that it seemed a little relaxed on how clean the room should be.
Mr. Allbright also gave me excellent information on what his department must be do before you can officially have an ESA. These include checking with your roommate to see if he or she is alright with it, checking across the hall to see if they are alright with you having an animal and preparing you to clean up after your animal if it makes a mess on the floor.
Local smaller college numbers of ESA’s have risen significantly higher within the past few years.
After I spoke with Mr. Allbright I headed to the lady in charge of it all, Amber Walters the Director of Disability Services. She’s new on campus so after a nice chat with her about her qualifications which include the better half of two decades worth of work experience in disability services in which she described herself as a “jack of all trades”, we began the topic of our discussion. The current count of ESA’s on Wilmington College’s campus is 19. She then offered the comparison to Ohio State which is about 60 ESA’s between 66,000 students, when compared to the student body size of Wilmington which is somewhere in the 1,500 range that size difference is clearly staggering. However, she did supplement the numbers by saying that local smaller college numbers of ESA’s have risen significantly higher within the past few years.
The current Director of Disability Services has three criteria for an ESA:
1) A diagnosed disability is required.
2) It must be proven and necessary for the student to be able to function in campus housing with the ESA.
3) Must produce evidence that shows having an ESA will help you with your disability. Amber Walters the director of disabilities has had 45 inquiries about ESA’s since she began working, and she has only accepted 1 person so far.
[ESA’s are] comforting, familiar, an excellent motivator and at times it’s a good distraction – Kazi McDowell
Afterwards I headed over to the Student Health Center to speak with Kazi McDowell the Director of Counseling Services. I asked her what the benefits of having an ESA would be, she told me, “it’s comforting, familiar, an excellent motivator and at times it’s a good distraction.” She did say that not every student can handle the stress of having an ESA live with you, after all you’re practically taking care of a baby, though most of the students she’s seen have been coping well enough and she’s even seen improvements. Kazi included an idea she’s been trying to get rolling which is bringing in Therapy dogs every few weeks to the campus so that students can stop in and enjoy some dog company! This introduction could help lower the need for ESA’s on campus as well as all the benefits of an ESA without any of the negatives. Though if you really need your emotional support animal nothing could really supplement that could it?
Some doubts had been brought up about the legitimacy of ESA’s with all my interviews. Of course, I see it, you want to bring Fluffy your faithful companion from home with you to campus, here’s a way to get around the system, though that does undermine the students who need ESA’s. I spoke with a few students who regularly care for their ESA and they all provided me with fantastic reasons that they are a real case of a student in need. I believe them, and I support the idea of an animal that for sure helps lower anxiety, blood pressure, and helps with a countless amount of added benefits. But for those that just want their pet with them it hurts the for-ESA cause. Though as stated earlier, you can’t be forced to go to counseling, but it is encouraged. If the student is healing, I think that’s all that really matters.
(Provided by Amber Walters)