University News

Brown to clarify policy on emotional support pets

U. to outline policy allowing animals in living spaces for students with registered disabilities

By
Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 16, 2016

While the Office of Residential Life has allowed students with registered disabilities to keep emotional support animals in residence halls for several years, Student and Employee Accessibility Services will publish a clear policy on the matter to its website later in the semester, wrote Catherine Axe, assistant dean for student life and director of SEAS, in an email to The Herald.

SEAS currently has fewer than five students on campus with emotional support pets. To qualify for an emotional support animal, students must file a request with SEAS. Possible related issues such as roommate assignments, animal size and breed are addressed on a case-by-case basis, said Richard Bova, dean of residential life.

Universities have been reluctant to allow emotional support pets in dormitories in recent years. The University of Nebraska and Kent State University faced lawsuits in 2011 and 2014, respectively, after denying student requests for emotional support animals.

These lawsuits solidified the argument that emotional support animals are an accommodation that must be provided under the Fair Housing Act.

The Fair Housing Act states that “It is illegal for anyone to advertise or make any statement that indicates a limitation or preference based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or handicap,” according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s website.

ResLife made the decision to allow support animals on campus as the legal and cultural understandings of the subject were developing across the country, Axe said.

“I really think that decision and our first request to have animals on campus coincided. It made sense and raised awareness,” Axe said.

Emotional support animals are not considered pets; they are accommodations for students who need them, Axe added. Students with emotional support animals must agree to a policy that dictates certain rules and regulations. For example, owners may not take their animals inside other students’ residence halls or rooms, inside classrooms or in dorm lounges. The animal is only allowed inside the owner’s room and in outdoor public spaces, she said.

This differs from the rules for service animals, which are allowed to accompany their owners in all areas of campus. Service animals usually act as an accommodation for students with vision or hearing disabilities.

“I think the (animal’s) presence is how they’re providing the support,” Axe said.

Research shows that animals help people connect with others and cope with feelings of loneliness, said Linda Welsh, a psychotherapist at Counseling and Psychological Services. There are other health benefits, too, such as lowered blood pressure, she added.

As a dog-lover herself, Welsh thinks that support animals help “people structure themselves” by maintaining them and walking them on a regular basis. They are something else to care for and add meaning to their lives, she said.

“A lot of times our stress is about being too caught up in our own thinking, and sometimes I think an animal can help us get outside of that,” Welsh said. “There’s a lot of unconditional positive regard that we get from an animal.”

Students with emotional support animals must be approved to have their animals on campus. The lengths of time for which students choose to keep them on campus vary. Some students keep animals for a couple months, while others live with an animal through multiple academic years.