Emotional Support Animals, often referred to as “Comfort Animals,” have been used to help several students cope with mental health concerns and can produce positive results in a student’s semester. They are different than service animals in that they are not trained to help with a disability, but their presence can be a positive influence to the owner with mental health conditions such as depression.
Is this an excuse some use to keep a pet, even if they do not need one?
In a KIDK 3 newscast posted Jan 21, 2016, the idea of ESA need is speculated.
“There’s definitely a need for these comfort animals, but there isn’t enough legal documentation to weed out those who abuse the system,” said Hannah Miller, an eyewitness news reporter for the newscast. “It puts landlords in a very tight spot to keep their tenants happy.”
However, several students have seen the positive impact an ESA can have when justly owned, including Ashly Canute, a sophomore studying communication.
“Those students who have them are those with serious mental health concerns, and their ESAs are an important part of their treatment the majority of the time,” Canute said.
Canute owns a Maine Coon mixed cat named Dweeb, who walks on a leash and even plays fetch.
“Taking care of him gives me a purpose, but in a way that I can let go of my emotional tensions,” Canute said.
Through the constant support of Dweeb, Canute has seen the benefits an emotional support animal can provide.
“By taking care of something else, you start to see the world outside of your own head,” Canute said. “An ESA helps perspective.”
Several students have seen the positive impact an ESA can have when justly owned, including Jayde Flesch, a senior studying human biology.
“When you’re stressed out, (an ESA is) nice to take the focus off yourself, by taking care of her,” Flesch said.
Flesch owns a 4-month-old mini Schnauzer dog named Ferra, who she has had for a month as a comfort animal.
“When you come home, the dog is always excited to see you no matter how long you’ve been gone,” Flesch said. “That’s quite a comfort”
Through the constant support of Ferra, Flesch has seen the benefits an ESA can provide.
“I know how stressful school can be,” Flesch said. “Having a pet helps, especially when you’re at school and you might be stressed because different people experience stress in different ways.”
One of the laws allowing comfort animals is the Fair Housing Act of 1968 (amended 1988) which provides equal housing opportunities for all individuals, regardless of traits like gender, race, religion and disability.
In order to be allowed an ESA, BYU-Idaho apartment tenents must provide proof of a mental medical condition and a doctor’s note, both showing why the specific animal is required, according to the BYU-I Disability Services office. Nevertheless, exaggerating a medical condition or misusing a doctor’s note are not unheard of.
An ESA is not an excuse to have a valued pet in a student’s dorm room. They are a comfort to students who are needing ways to cope with conditions and should be treated with respect as such.