Cats, canines and controversy

Elena Deeter, Senior Columnist

Who knew a small adorable pet on campus could be a problem but emotional service animals (ESA) have been the cause of some controversy.

If you’re unfamiliar, you probably have seen a dog, bunny or cat either on campus or in your dorm and wondered how they managed to do that.

ESAs are animals which in some way give therapeutic support to those with a physical or mental disability. ESAs are different from service animals, as they don’t need to be trained. Service animals are trained to perform certain tasks for people with disabilities, like a Seeing Eye Dog, or a Psychiatric Service Dog. This major difference is the beginning of the controversy.

Some think that if the animal isn’t professionally trained, it cannot fully aid in therapeutically supporting the owner. Although that’s a fair argument with a physical disability, any animal can aid in a mental disability. Lots of studies have been conducted proving the positive effects of being a pet owner.

They’ve found that pet owners have lower heart rates and better blood pressure levels, along with stronger abilities to handle psychological and physical stress (check out for studies). With those effects alone, it’s pretty believable to imagine pets being good for disabilities such as anxiety, PTSD and depression. How cool is that? Doctors prescribing an adorable fluffy kitten for your disorder? Yeah, I know that’s not exactly how it works.

So what’s the problem now? Some are concerned about people abusing the system.

As you may have figured out through looking around, emotional support animals are allowed where some other “basic” animals are not. They can be in your dorm, in your “no pets allowed” apartment, on your plane and in public buildings. Technically speaking, in certain areas it’s not too difficult to get an ESA.

ESA certificates can be received online. I actually went to a website, and it took me less than one minute, to be accepted for an ESA certificate. All I had to do was click two boxes, giving absolutely no specific information and if I would’ve just paid a fee, I would’ve gotten an official NSAR (national service animal registry) ESA certificate. Then I could take my theoretical corgi on a plane for free, let it live in a pet-free apartment, etc.

I don’t agree with the method of obtaining an ESA certificate so quickly online. I think you should have to get certified to receive an ESA by going to a doctor or counselor. Counselors will be able to work with you more personally and will have opinions on whether an ESA is a good fit for you. Although it may feel like the perfect plan, sometimes it’s important to get a second opinion. It’s an another mammal that you have to take care of, and sometimes that responsibility can build anxiety even more. The online method lets basically anyone and everyone with some money to get an ESA, and sometimes it’s not the best option.

But, I think those risks of people without disabilities getting ESA certificates, the possible fringe cases, are worth it. Because of those concerns, people want to either make it more difficult for people to get ESAs or they want to discontinue the service in general. Even if there are those fraud cases, if there’s a pet that can help someone with a real disorder, then it’s already worth 100 disability-free jerks getting a free ticket for their tiny dogs.

That being said, there are still some things to consider when discussing emotional service animals on a college campus, specifically in a dorm. Personally, being paired with someone who has a dog or cat sounds amazing, but others would disagree. You have to consider allergies, and even that the roommate might then have a tiny responsibility in taking care of the animal.

I don’t think the problem should be solved by universities limiting the number of service animals on campus but it is all about communication. If someone believes that getting an ESA will help with their disability, then they need to discuss it with their roommate and community, and if that doesn’t work, then different living arrangements should be made because it is ultimately about that person with the disability.