Editor's Note (The View From Here)

Furry Friends

Is your college or university animal-friendly? Should it be?

This issue of College Planning & Management includes the results of our annual campus housing survey (beginning on page 8). In addition to collecting and presenting statistics on what is being built and what amenities are included in new and renovated residence hall facilities across the country, we also ask about what the changes and challenges are for residential life directors. Notably this year, respondents indicated that the presence of emotional support animals, or ESAs, in campus housing is increasing.

What exactly is an ESA? Is it “just” a pet, or is it a legally protected creature that must be allowed to live in your housing facilities?

Under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), as well as most state laws, a service animal is an animal that has been trained to perform work or tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability. ESAs—also called therapy or comfort animals—have not been trained to perform specific work or tasks. Instead, they provide a benefit solely with their presence. The ADA requires public accommodations to allow service animals to accompany their owners anywhere the owners can go; it provides no protection for ESAs. The Fair Housing Act, however, does require colleges and universities, both public and private, to allow service animals and assistance animals, including ESAs, in campus housing.

While the requirements of individual institutions may differ, all students requesting the authorization of an ESA must have been diagnosed with an emotional or mental disorder, and their ESA must be recommended by a doctor.

Allowing animals on campus and, in particular, in residential facilities, can lead to some concerns, including noise, odors, property damage, allergies, and even injuries (such as bites and scratches). Rules vary at institutions that permit students to bring their pets to live with them on campus, from what types of animals are allowed (personally, I wouldn’t want a roommate who keeps a tarantula), to limiting the right to upper-classmen, to requiring a damage deposit.

For students who can’t imagine living without their companion animal, whether prescribed for their mental/emotional well-being or solely because they have always lived with a pet, accommodations are being made. It’s a balance between providing a welcoming, supportive environment for your students while managing the safety and comfort of all residents.

This article originally appeared in the College Planning & Management April/May 2019 issue of Spaces4Learning.