Emotional support animals: What are cats and dogs doing in the dorms?

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Dice, freshman in music, holds her cat Jill inside her dorm. Jill is a certified Emotional Support Animal and having her around helps Dice deal with past trauma. (Emily Eubank | Collegian Media Group) Photo credit: Emily Eubank

Less than a week before moving into the dorms together, Grace Dice, freshman in music, said her roommate’s dog passed away.

“I’m like, ‘How do you feel about having a cat in our room?'” Dice said. “You could just tell, she lit up and she was excited about it.”

Dice’s domestic Siamese short-hair, Jill, is a licensed emotional support animal. Dice said she needed her cat after a traumatic incident in high school.

“I couldn’t leave the house, I couldn’t,” Dice said. “I was too scared to take out the trash when my parents weren’t there.”

After getting a letter from her psychiatrist, Dice was able to bring her cat to Kansas State.

Emotional support animal is a term used by the U.S. Department of Urban Housing and Development in the Fair Housing Act.

“They determined that college campuses with residential housing fall under the Fair Housing Act, and under the Fair Housing Act, they’re supportive of emotional support animals and allowing equal access to people with disabilities,” said Jason Maseberg-Tomlinson, director of the Student Access Center.

Maseberg Tomlinson said that emotional support animals are one possible form of treatment, and that it happens after a clinician’s recommendation. He also noted that many doctors don’t use ESAs as a form of treatment.

“I would say everything’s case-by-case,” Maseberg Tomlinson said. “We look at the student, we interact with the student. We understand their needs, and we determine if it’s appropriate through documentation.”

Like Dice, Makayla Hughes, freshman in life sciences, was able to bring her ESA to K-State after consulting her psychiatrist.

“I’m on medication for anxiety and depression,” Hughes said. “So, I already had kind of like, that background, it allows you to have a support. So, then I just went and talked to my psychiatrist, and my family doctor, and we set up a meeting and we filled out all the paperwork.”

Hughes said her 13-year-old boxer, Sophia, knows when she is upset and will cuddle her when she is having anxiety.

“I knew that, coming into college, I was going to need that support system, and being far from home, being away from my family and the rescue that I’m a part of, I knew that I would want that kind of comfort,” Hughes said.

Having Sophia in her room really helps her come out of her shell, Hughes said.

“I think having an ESA has changed my life, beyond measure,” Hughes said. “If I didn’t have Sophia here with me, I think my life would be a lot different, I wouldn’t have met so many people.”

Nick Lander, associate director of Housing and Dining Services, said via email that ESAs are only permitted in the student’s living space under the guidelines of the Fair Housing Act.

“Students wanting emotional support animals have to register with the Student Access Center and must complete a form to request a reasonable accommodation in University housing and have the university housing reasonable accommodation verification form completed by a third-party verifier that must verify that the student has a disability and describes the reason why the animal is necessary for the student to use and enjoy University housing,” he said.

Lander explained the process further.

“Those forms are reviewed by the Student Access Center and if approved, the Student Access Center notifies Housing and Dining Services to make our office aware the student has approval for the ESA,” he said. “Additionally, if the student is approved for the ESA, they must complete the Assistance Animal Policy and Agreement which covers all of the rules and expectations regarding the ESA.”

More information on ESAs can be found on the Student Access Center’s website.

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I'm Pete Loganbill and I'm the News Editor for the Collegian and host of the Collegian Kultivate podcast! I spent two years at Johnson County Community College, and I am now a senior in Public Relations at K-State. I believe constant communication leads to progress, no matter how difficult a comment may be for me or anyone to hear. Contact me at ploganbill@kstatecollegian.com.