Inside Higher Ed, Dog Days in Dorms:
Most students know the list of items they can’t bring into a university dormitory. They can’t haul in their own beds. They can’t set up a microwave. Candles usually aren’t allowed.
The family golden retriever would usually fall in this banned category.
But no longer does that stop students from asking for emotional support animals — requests for them have skyrocketed at colleges and universities nationwide.
Washington State University’s Access Center, which handles the needs of students with both psychological and physical disabilities, only fielded two or three requests for emotional support animals in 2011.
Now the center gets 60 to 75 requests a year, said Meredyth Goodwin, its director.
The bouncing bunny, the fluffy kitten and more exotic companions — ferrets, snakes, bearded dragons — all of which would have been promptly exiled from a campus residence no more than a decade ago, have become widely accepted features, at least among officials who work to accommodate students with disabilities.
These creatures are meant to comfort students with anxiety, depression or some other mental health issue. They are distinct from service animals, which are legally defined as only dogs or miniature horses that can perform tasks for their handler — think a guide dog for the blind.
Misinformation and skepticism abound when it comes to both emotional support animals and service animals. How can college administrators differentiate from the student down the hall who needs to pet his cat to ease a panic attack versus the student who just wants to room with Fido?
Students don't need to provide documentation to have a service dog. But they do need a letter from a mental health professional justifying the need for an emotional support animal.
This type of verification can be easily fudged, however, as online services can — for a certain price — connect students with a psychologist who would provide them with such a letter, which has led to officials being much more diligent about potential abuse of the system.