Emotional support animals help students who live on campus: Students share their thoughts on the application process and false ESAs

Kutz' six-month-old cat Bentley is her emotional support animal, who she could not imagine life without.

Rachel Dvareckas, Herald Contributor

Pets play an important role in the lives of humans. They are often treated like friends or children, and some even go to work with their owners. These animals include emotional support animals and service animals.

Dogs or small horses are usually used to detect seizures, notice when the blood sugar of a diabetic changes and help those who are visually impaired get around. In these situations, the animals must go through intense training starting at a very young age in order to qualify as service animals.

On the other hand, emotional support animals, known as ESAs, provide therapeutic comfort to those suffering from poor mental health, PTSD, autism and Asperger syndrome. These animals do not need the training that service animals need and can range in types of animals.

The RWU campus is open to emotional support animals and service animals. Students must request residential accommodations for an animal, but just showing proof of a diagnosis qualifying one for an animal does not guarantee acceptance. Decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.

“To qualify as a disability covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the student must have a current condition that substantially limits a major life activity and the accommodation requested must be deemed reasonable and appropriate,” Student Accessibility Services (SAS) says.

Sarah Testa, a freshman marine biology major, has a small dog named Kira as an emotional support animal. Testa lives in a single and Kira is only allowed in that room and outside.

“The process with SAS was surprisingly painless! They were really kind about the whole thing and eased me through the process of applying,” Testa says of applying to have Kira at the school.

Kaila Kutz, a senior, has a six-month-old cat named Bentley as an emotional support animal. Kutz had a very different experience with applying to have Bentley.

 “It was an incredibly difficult process and it was spread across multiple departments. It seemed like none of the departments communicated with one another about the process. I was denied originally even though my psychiatrist filled out the paperwork because the administration did not think the answers were sufficient,” Kutz says. “I was never informed of many things that were required, such as the neutering process.”

Testa and Kutz had very different experiences registering their emotional support animals with the school, and as such Testa said she would not change the process, but Kutz believes it needs to be streamlined.

“The process is consistent with best practice and applicable law allowing a residential student to request an exception to the University’s “No Pet” policy based on a documented diagnosis/disability,” SAS says on the fairness and efficiency of the process.

Emotional support animals are extremely beneficial to the people that really need them. Unfortunately, there are people who bring their pets with them everywhere under the guise of being an ESA, when in reality they do not have a medical reason to have one.

“Taking advantage of a system that helps people with their struggles is simply not right. While I love my pets and would miss them terribly, my anxiety and PTSD are simply too much to handle without my ESA.” Kutz says. “I have heard so many times that people are planning to bring their pets under the guise of an emotional support animal, and to me, it just feels like an invalidation of my mental illnesses.”

“If they are lying about needing an animal, I definitely don’t agree with that,” Testa said. “It takes validity away from those who do.”