Last year, a woman made national headlines after she attempted to bring a peacock on a United Airlines flight under the guise of emotional support. For the same reasons, Frontier Airlines barred a woman from a flight for refusing to part with her domesticated squirrel. American Airlines now finds it necessary to post a list of “restricted animals” that includes goats, hedgehogs and spiders.
Emotional support animals have been increasing in popularity, forcing airlines, movie theaters and other public spaces to tighten regulations on those abusing the label. But if support animals are problematic in public and commercial zones, they can be even more harmful in communal living spaces — where people eat, sleep and spend most of their time.
Communal living demands accommodation for a wide array of individuals, including, but certainly not limited to, the physically disabled, those with allergies and those with disorders of mental health. These accommodations may legitimately require the presence of an animal, but the standard for accommodation needs to be appropriately high. Therefore, colleges and universities that provide campus housing, Wellesley included, need to follow the lead of companies like American Airlines and tighten regulations on service animals for emotional support.
It is a millennial mantra to equate mental health with physical health. As a neuroscience major –– and a millennial –– I agree that mental challenges can be as debilitating as physical ones. Colleges’ lackadaisical enforcement of standards for support animals doesn’t simply allow claims of emotional harm; it prioritizes mental over physical health. As an individual with severe autoimmune complications that affect my lungs, making me hypersensitive to pet dander, I struggle living in a college dormitory that allows dogs, cats and even guinea pigs to share my space with little regulation and no formal certification. Disorders causing sensitivity to pet dander are common and serious, leading to consequences that range from asthma to anaphylaxis. Asthma is a condition that afflicts more than 24 million Americans and more than 50 million suffer from chronic allergies.
Others suffer, as well. Janitorial staff are forced to put in extra work to make sure that the next occupant of the space is not affected. This is especially problematic when animals are allowed into common spaces such as living rooms or are bathed in the same showers used by students.
This is not to say that there is no need for support animals. As the daughter of a 20-year military veteran, I have spent much of my life on military bases. I have seen service members return from deployment with missing limbs, with hearing loss from blast-force trauma or otherwise affected by combat. These individuals use service animals, and rightfully so. This also goes for animals needed for emotional support, a reasonable accommodation for someone who likely has acquired PTSD from combat exposure. But these animals are trained. They are certified.
Abuse of emotional support animals is chronic, especially at Wellesley College. The word “trained,” only appears three times in the seven page joint service animal/emotional support animal policy published by the college. All three cases also fall under the sections delineating “service animals” and not once for emotional support animals. Additionally, each use is in the context of subjective reporting by the student and only in the event that college staff/faculty “inquires.”
I like animals. In fact, my respect for animals supports my argument. Anyone who has been in a dorm room knows they hold hardly enough space to accommodate a human. Even a medium-sized dog deserves more than 130 square feet –– not counting furniture obstructions. On top of that, the average college student spends at least 4 hours in classes and meetings each day. Leaving an animal like a dog in a space so confined and for long periods of time is cruel.
Communal living requires compromise. Why not create animal-friendly dormitories for those with animals or those who love their close proximity, while keeping other dorms animal-free? Better yet, require emotional support animals to be properly trained before they are housed on a college campus. In the meantime, I urge Wellesley students, moviegoers and travelers alike with emotional support animals to be conscientious — to consider those who have to make sacrifices for their accommodations.
While I can understand your desire for a healthy environment for all, your suggestions would seemingly contradict what’s allowed/demanded under the federal Fair Housing Act.
Feel free to give me a call, I’d be happy to explain.
Chaz Stevens, Founder
As an administrative level nurse, service dog handler and nationwide legal consultant in service dog law and accommodation, I have some things I’d like to add. There are some MASSIVE inaccuracies/misunderstandings voiced.
Service dogs are highly trained. They are not pets. By federal law, they are considered medical equipment. I love my service dog way more than I love my wheelchair, though. Without my service dog I cannot walk very far at all, I can’t dress myself some days, I don’t have alerts that provide time to take medication to head off seizures/migraines/gastrointestinal issues/etc, I fall into flashbacks that can be a hazard to myself and others who may try to help me, and many other issues. He’s trained to mitigate all that – and then some, behave properly in public, and immaculately professionally bathed and groomed weekly.
An ESA is a pet prescribed to a neurodivergent person or one with mental health problems, almost exclusively. They do not require any training at all by law – not even being housebroken. They can be any species, as long as it is reasonable in the housing situation. Guinea pigs, spiders, pet birds, frogs, fish, insects, cats, dogs, snakes, miniature horses, cats, ferrets, rabbits, etc. Literally anything. A Great Dane or miniature horse may well not be a reasonable accommodation, given the confines of space you mentioned.
I don’t understand how 130 sq feet is small for a dog to be in for three to four hours. Many animals stay in crates that are less than 20 sq feet for 8-10 hours a day while owners are away to work quite happily. Crate training is a good thing as it promotes the dog having it’s own safe space. It keeps the pet from getting into things that may harm or kill it when the human is not home, and every dog should be crate trained.
An ESA owner doesn’t have the right to take their pet anywhere other than their actual dwelling, on airplanes, and pet friendly places any other dog is allowed. You should approach the disabilities coordinator for your school, as it is only their policy that allows an ESA in public areas. Obviously they need the halls as a route to toilet animals that go outside, but they do not have to extend that privilege to routes not used to take the animal out to toilet, human restrooms, classrooms, libraries, lounges, laundry areas, etc. Case law with apartment complexes indicate that. A dorm is just another communal living situation similar to an apartment. Tell the disabilities coordinator that they need to revise policies to accommodate students with allergies and other health issues. They must accommodate you, and you can provide HUD guidance, laws, and case law rulings to support your case.
Service dog handlers, on the other hand, have the right to have their trained animal anywhere they’re allowed to go in almost all situations. Both people with allergies or other issues AND the handler must be accommodated. We cannot be confined to “animal only” areas. That’s segregation and discrimination, by law. We’re allowed everywhere that the dog doesn’t cause fundamental alteration. Some chemistry labs may not be able to allow a service dog, or an animal research lab may not be able to accommodate an SD in the actual lab, etc. Otherwise, in a college setting, expect to see us pretty much anywhere everyone else can be.
Here are some things the school can do to accommodate you and an SD. Air filtration can be altered to promote cleaner air, personal air filtration units can be installed in both your room and the room of those with an SD or ESA, you can make the handler aware that their SD or miniature horse service animal causes problems for you. Nearly any SD or service mini handler will do their best to give you space when they can. We don’t want to infringe on anyone, we just want to live as normal of a life as possible. There are also VOG masks that can be purchased to prevent respiratory irritation that come in many fashionable colors and patterns many of my friends with severe respiratory issues when there’s an irritant they’re likely to encounter.
All of us with disabling conditions have to live together in communal living, and do it the best way we can without harming one another.
Imagine how you’d feel, coming in for your next semester, looking forward to rooming with/around friends and familiar people…but your school announces that anyone with x allergies is now being moved to another wing in another dorm regardless of your wishes because the service dog and ESA owners don’t want to find compromises for the other’s issues. Maybe it’s an older, smaller dorm. Maybe it’s not. It wrecks what you had hoped for as a normal college experience. Everyone knows that’s the “allergy” building and you weren’t allowed in other dorms because you may run into an SD/ESA…and that we’re the solution. You’d likely be devastated to be segregated from others, including your friends. You may file a lawsuit for being discriminated against and limited in your movement in the housing areas. You are essentially requesting that of others.
Be creative. Use the disability resources department. Call Askjan.com and ask about accommodations in housing. Please don’t jump to requesting discriminatory acts in an effort to find resolution to your own issue.
Hopefully you can work with your school to find an agreeable situation to this. Best of luck in both your studies and housing situation!
Well this article was written without actual research into laws.
1) Emotional support animals are not service animals. Two very different things.
2) The laws governing an airline (and what animals they must allow in cabin) is different than the laws governing housing. Your college cannot go against those laws. And emotional support animals have rights in the USA to non-pet housing.
3) You are able to request a reasonable accommodation just like those with ESA’s/SD’s can.