Columns

Johnson ’19: Pets should be for everyone

By
Staff Columnist
Monday, September 26, 2016

One way that I have tried to adjust to college living is through creating a home-like ambience in my small dorm room. I have twinkle lights, an aroma diffuser, soft rugs and blankets. But the portraits of different cats on my walls don’t quite compare to a real living cat. I can only dream of the comfort and consolation a soft ball of fur would bring to my makeshift home.

For the lucky students who already have a pet at home, it can be extremely difficult to leave that companion behind when moving away to college. When someone forms a distinct relationship with an animal and relies on it for quiet comfort, it can feel like leaving another family member. Perhaps unknowingly, people let animals become emotional stability agents. A break from that long-term relationship can upset an emotional balance.

The college atmosphere can also be unsettling as one struggles to juggle social, academic and extracurricular circles. On top of that, the stress of living apart from those who influenced one’s development can lead to serious and overwhelming emotional upheaval. Emotional support animals in college can help alleviate these pressures; in doing so, they can benefit a student’s overall experience and well-being, as emotional health affects mental health, physical health, academics and everyday living.

Brown’s Student and Employee Accessibility Services policy only allows emotional support animals for students with disabilities, as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA defines disability as having a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits … life activities … or being regarded as having such an impairment.” That definition is broad enough to include ambiguous mental illness, but by using a disabilities-only requirement for an emotional support animal, SEAS excludes students with undiagnosed or unrecognized mental illnesses or disorders.

It is scientifically proven that some animals relieve stress. Interactions decrease cortisol and increase endorphins. On a biological level, animals benefit all humans — even those without diagnosed disability. It is wonderful that SEAS allows emotional support animals at all to students with clear and self-recognized disabilities. Though it might be to a much milder degree, it is also true that every student experiences some form of stress and turmoil at college. Allowing all students access to an emotional support animal would only result in healthier minds and a healthier Brown.

The Class Coordinating Board’s heavy petting days for finals period is a student recognition of animals’ stress-relieving powers. Other universities, including Harvard and Yale, have campus therapy dogs that hold office hours for students, offering a more long-term relationship. Yet nothing is quite the same as an animal that is exclusively yours. Residential pets for students who wish to have them would provide sustained stress relief and ensure long-term improvements in emotional health. Mental health awareness is increasing in universities on a national level. We have come to recognize the significance of the mind’s health, especially in an environment full of young people living independently with enormous academic and social stressors. If we also know that domestic animals have a positive power to increase mental stability, we should work to pair the two together. A solution has never been more lovable.

Grace Johnson ’19 can be reached at grace_johnson@brown.edu.

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