Paws for thought

How do emotional support animals measure up to other options on campus?

By Victoria Hansen,

When students leave for home for college, it means leaving behind their family, friends and pets. Non-aquatic pets are banned in University of Findlay residence halls, but some students feel that they won’t be able have a meaningful life or prepare for a productive career without a four-legged friend, which leads them to the Office of Accommodation and Inclusion to bring an emotional support animal.  

“The University of Findlay, we follow Housing and Urban Development, the Office of Housing and Urban Development regulations, policies and guidance on emotional support animals,” Nicole Schneider, Director of Accommodation and Academic Support Center at the University of Findlay, said.   

The online legal dictionary NOLO says that the Fair Housing Act will only allow an emotional support dog if having the animal is necessary for you to have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the home. The difference between a legitimate ESA and a pet is the letter from your licensed mental health professional, according to the University of Massachusetts’s Transitions to Adulthood Center 

However, the role of emotional support animals is controversial in the psychological community, with studies showing little-to-no benefit for patients with emotional support animals compared to those without. Due to the lack of empirical evidence for the benefit of emotional support animals, it is ethically permissible for a psychiatrist to decline signing emotional support animal letters, according to the American Psychiatric Association. 

“That’s my stance as a psychologist, too. I typically don’t sign them,” Dr. Jacob Burmeister, clinical psychologist and associate professor of psychology at the University of Findlay, said. “Oftentimes, apartment complexes want to make sure that this animal is not just a pet. In those cases, I’m happy to write it; but I don’t write it like I’m certifying this as an emotional support animal. I haven’t evaluated it.”  

The laws surrounding emotional support animals are for housing only. Schneider says that emotional support animals are only allowed in the dorms.  

“They can go in and out of the dorms,” Schneider said. “We do allow animal owners to walk their dogs.” 

UF students without severe mental health issues might still miss their pets at home and need some animal companionship. Luckily for dog people, there are options. Mishka the therapy dog is in the AMU Atrium from 2-3 p.m. on Mondays to help students cope with the stress of college.  

For students looking to be more involved with a dog, the 4Paws for Ability club trains service dogs. 4Paws club members are often seen on campus with their dogs in their definitive red vests. 4Paws dogs are service dogs in training, which means that while they are not allowed in the dorms, they are allowed in most other buildings on campus. 

“Service dogs and service dogs in training are able to go into a good majority of buildings on campus,” Luke Miller, secretary of UF 4Paws for Ability, said. “The buildings that you’re going to see them not really be able to go into our dorms.”