Remember that emotional support animals are not trained and differ from service animals in that aspect. Therefore, they are not at all easy to care for, which is precisely why no one should make this decision lightly.
Since 1988 when the Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHA) passed, emotional support animals have become accepted as a company for people with mental/emotional disorders. This signaled the end of the rule that only trained and certified animals can help.
Western Washington University, The University of California Berkeley and The Catholic University of America, and some other American universities reported a notable increase among students requesting ESAs recently.
Even though Americans with Disabilities Act doesn’t recognize ESAs as service animals, emotionally/physically disabled people still can act upon their right to live with an ESA in a dormitory. After all, ESAs have their own duties to perform, even if this just means comforting the disabled person.
In 2011, a student filed a lawsuit against the University of Nebraska at Kearney because the university refused his request for ESA and the student found their decision to be discriminatory. Her reason for this statement is the fact that her doctor recommended her an ESA, which counted as “reasonable accommodation” under the FHA. Rejecting her request in spite all that was a discriminatory decision against the disabled, she stated.
The biggest issue with ESAs is the fact that many college students who want to live with an animal are completely unaware of the potential costs and their responsibilities when it comes to proper animal care. Food, water, and vet services are a must. What’s more, the student is obligated to have private means of transport for safe transportation of the animal if necessary. ESAs are not allowed on public transportation.
ESA owners don’t only have the responsibility to pay for the feeding and medical care for their animals, but they also are obliged to pay for any potential damages the animal can cause to the college or other students. In that sense, even though emotional support animals don’t require training like service animals, their owners have to be aware that they are solely and fully responsible for any misbehavior of their ESA.
What’s more, every ESA owner has to clean up after their animal. ESA should be provided for completely when it comes to the adequate living space as well. Regular walks and entertainment count, too. If the ESA owner mistreats the animal in any way, this will be considered as an abuse, and the animal may be taken away from the owner or removed from the campus.
ESAs are not just mere pets and shouldn’t be considered as such since they are practically assistance animals. But, the animal should still behave obediently and domestically to a certain level as it is going to live in “pet-free” residential areas. Living with an ESA is not just a right but also a privilege. Students with ESAs should report to the university’s disability resource center in order to have the ESA cleared for the dormitory before they actually move in. Unauthorized ESAs found on the campus are a reason enough for fees and other disciplinary actions.
Another common ESA issue has to do with the students who try to present their ESAs as licensed service animals. It’s either that or the students themselves believe that their ESAs have equal rights to licensed service animals, which they definitely don’t. This false belief can cause the ESA owners to put their ESAs in situations and public places where they are not allowed in. Service animals are specifically trained to be calm in these situations and various public spaces, while most ESAs aren’t.
There’s a real concern for an untrained ESA to become scared or otherwise uncomfortable when brought to a public space. This is a recipe for disaster as the animal in such a state can cause property damage and discomfort/damage to other people and animals.
What’s more, (potential) ESA owners should know that faking an ESA license or pretending that ESA animal is service animal is treated as a second-degree misdemeanor. If the offender gets caught and convicted, they may be fined or even sentenced to 30 hours of community service.
All college students who are diagnosed with some kind of a mental/emotional/physical disorder/disability should consider and analyze all the responsibilities, pros and cons that go into owning an emotional support animal on campus. In case your doctor strongly believes that ESA would improve your quality of life and you have all the means and resources to take good care of your ESA then definitely practice your right to enjoy ESA’s company. But always keep in mind that ESA is not your pet but an assistance animal. If you don’t have any of the mentioned disorders nor the ability and resources to take care of the animal, ESA is not for you.
Be sure to visit the Animal Legal and Historical Center in order to get more information about ESA laws and licensing. Remember that there are no species limits when it comes to the ESA animal and that one person can have only one ESA. To be completely sure about your options, don’t forget to check your college/university’s ESA policy and/or check with someone at your college/university disability center for complete, step-by-step guide when it comes to obtaining and caring for an ESA.