Bert Ballard, former Pepperdine communication teacher and owner of Elite Dog Training, poses with Binh An, his Bernadoodle service dog. Ballard said there is a social barrier for service animal owners as a result of not being able to go outside for extended periods. of time. Photo courtesy of dog training elite
For senior Isabella Figueres, snuggling with her dog Matcha can make a tough day better.
Matcha is a 4-month-old teacup Yorkie and Figueres’ emotional support dog.
“We take naps together almost every day, and it’s really one of my favorite parts of my day,” Figueres said. “I think just feeling her there with me gives me a huge amount of comfort that I couldn’t get before, and it makes all the difference in the world.”
In 2019, there were more than 200,000 registered emotional support animals in the US, and the numbers have been on the rise ever since, according to the New York Times. Figueres is one of many college students who find help from an emotional support animal.
Although Pepperdine’s Office of Student Accessibility did not provide the exact number of emotional support animals on campus, there has been a large increase in requests, said Jennifer Baker, associate director of housing processes at the OSA.
The University must accommodate these requests under the Fair Housing Act, which makes it illegal for a housing provider to refuse to provide housing for service or emotional support animals for individuals with a disability.
Many people struggle to differentiate the rules for emotional support animals, service animals, and therapy animals, according to the National Network. Students said there are pros and cons to having an emotional support animal while living on campus.
Service, emotional and therapy animals perform different tasks
The differences between service animals, emotional support animals, and therapy animals are clear.
A service animal is “any dog individually trained to work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability,” wrote CW Von Bergen, a professor of management at Southeastern Oklahoma State University, in a 2016 article in the Clinical IssuesJournal. Typical tasks for these animals include detecting seizures, recognizing blood sugar levels in diabetic patients, and aiding in PTSD-induced anxiety attacks.
Bert Ballard, owner of Dog Training Elite and former teacher at Pepperdine Communications, became a dog trainer after his daughter got a service dog for her seizures.
“My daughter couldn’t function without her animal there,” Ballard said.
The Americans with Disabilities Act grants public access to service animals, which means they can enter all areas where customers would normally go. This includes classrooms and restaurants on the Pepperdine campus.
An emotional support animal provides comfort or support to a person with a disability, but lacks training for individualized work, Bergen wrote.
An emotional support animal requires a prescription, but the animal has no training requirements or public access rights, except for housing, Ballard said.
“Therapy animals are when you want to volunteer in the community without public access rights,” Ballard said.
These animals are commonly seen in hospitals, retirement homes, and schools. Pepperdine often brings in therapy dogs during finals week to relieve stress for the students.
mental health stigma
People often misunderstand emotional support animals, as many people view them as glorified pets granted access to college housing, according to Psychology Today.
“The people who cause the stigmas are people who don’t need emotional support animals and just want to be able to have their pets,” Ballard said. “They make them pass for something they are not.”
Emotional support animals are professionally prescribed treatments, Ballard said.
“There is a massive misconception that people want THAT because they want to bring their animal,” said Carly Condon, a junior. “That goes along with the stigma of mental health.”
People with mental illnesses may feel ashamed or fear being judged or misunderstood, because mental illnesses cannot be seen physically, according to McLean Hospital.
“When it comes to someone with anxiety or depression, you can’t see it, and a lot of times it doesn’t show up for other people,” Condon said. “Therefore, it can be easily invalidated.”
Pros and cons of having an emotional support animal in college
Owning an emotional support animal has psychological, physiological and social benefits in alleviating the symptoms of an individual’s disability, according to an article from the National Library of Medicine.
Petting a dog lowers cortisol, a stress hormone, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. The interaction between a person and their dog increases levels of the “feel good” hormone, oxytocin.
A student with depression could benefit from an emotional support animal, according to Counseling Today.
“This is partly because emotional support animals offer love and acceptance,” wrote Jake Butwin, Proskauer’s litigation associate, in a 2019 Fordham Urban Law Journal article. “But it’s also because they alter behavior, offer distraction and promote a sense of responsibility.”
Condon said her emotional support cat Binx gives her daily purpose and builds her self-efficacy, alleviating her symptoms of depression.
“Having something to take care of is really rewarding and sometimes it’s the whole purpose of getting up,” Condon said.
A student with anxiety may benefit from emotional support animals, as they offer a sense of stability and reassurance, according to Counseling Today.
“I struggle with a lot of anxiety and other symptoms related to my PTSD diagnosis and the biggest thing Matcha does that helps me is snuggles with me,” Figueres said.
Although the benefits are clear, there are some challenges college students face regarding the responsibilities of caring for an animal.
“Being able to care for another being is sometimes a really wonderful, helpful, helpful piece of healing and access, and then sometimes it can become difficult because it’s another being,” Baker said.
Also, there is a social barrier that comes with the responsibilities of caring for another being. Ballard said this includes not being able to go out for an extended period of time or attend the same events as others as a result of caring for an animal.
Pepperdine Approval Process
Baker said Pepperdine has a well-established system regarding the boarding of emotional support animals; however, the process is lengthy to address the validity and specific needs of a student’s accommodations.
Animals brought to campus mostly include dogs and cats, with the occasional guinea pig and rabbit, Baker said. Most students bring animals that can be picked up and hugged.
“Animals on campus need to be able to be in community,” Baker said.
The first emotional support animal on the Pepperdine campus arrived eight years ago, Baker said. The office has never dealt with bogus cases of students requesting an emotional support animal, Baker said, because of the paperwork required to bring one on campus.
There is an equity issue, Baker said, revolving around student access to psychological professionals who can write the necessary paperwork for an emotional support animal.
“Many students who may need this [emotional support animal] they can’t go to a vendor who could write that documentation,” Baker said.
The OSA will work with students who have a phobia or allergy to their peers’ emotional support animals, Baker said.
“It was very important to me to make sure that [roommates] they were not allergic and generally felt comfortable,” Condon said.
Housing and Residence Life will contact each individual in the assigned building to obtain an agreement to live with the animal, said Luke Bost, associate director of housing and facilities at Pepperdine.
“The resident directors and the resident advisors are working together to work with the department to have a conversation about how this will work in the residence,” Bost said. “This can include talking about any of the scenarios that may arise.”
Pepperdine allows emotional support animals in all residence halls on campus, Bost said, regardless of whether they are freshmen or graduate students.
“Through the house, they let everyone in the building know that there is an ESA, but they don’t know who owns the ESA,” Figueres said.
In the fall 2022 semester, Figueres said, Matcha filed a noise complaint with HRL and the Department of Public Safety had to get involved. Figueres said that DPS politely verified the situation.
Figueres said her two roommates have adored Matcha since she moved out.
“She supports all of us,” Figueres said. “We all play with it and cuddle with it, it really works really well.”
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