Among those with mental disabilities it is common to seek help and companionship with an Emotional Support Animal, or ESA. Mental disabilities differ from physical disabilities but still impact a person’s daily activity, making it difficult to live a normal life. John Hopkins Medicine states 18% of adults aged 18-54 have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and 9.5% of adults 18 and up have been diagnosed with a depressive illness. Both studies being around the time adults start college, many students are either medicated or rely on ESAs.
“[Under] the federal Fair Housing Act, housing facilities must allow service dogs and emotional support animals, if necessary for a person with a disability to have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the home,” Lisa Guerin, graduate of Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California at Berkeley said. CWU has a “no pets” policy in residence halls, however that does not apply to support animals and ESAs.
The federal laws provide protection for those with ESAs and exclude them from paying the various pet fees or deposits for different housing options. There are those that make it even more difficult by claiming to have an ESA or support animal in order to avoid paying to have their pet live with them or just to take them into different places. This makes it extremely difficult and frustrating for those with actual ESAs to be trusted. Determining if an ESA is the right option for you can be challenging and to find the right fit for you can take a long period of time. How do you know if an ESA is an appropriate accommodation for you? If you’ve been diagnosed with a disability, either mental or physical. Along with that, if the animal you’re requesting to live with you would provide alleviation for the current disabilities you’ve been diagnosed with.
There is a lengthy process that can take up to several weeks to complete to have an ESA live with you in CWU’s residential halls. First you must complete the online request forms with CWU Disability Services. This will include documentation by a therapist or doctor of your disability. It is important the documentation states the connection between the disability and the accommodation of an ESA that is being requested.
Next, disability services will review your request and contact you to set up a meeting. During the meeting, disability services will determine if an ESA is an appropriate accommodation. If it is decided it is, they will send the ESA request to Housing.
The final step is a meeting with the director of Housing Operations to discuss the request. Later, after the decision is made, CWU Housing contacts the student to inform them if the request has been approved or denied.
There are other rules for an animal to be considered an ESA or support animal. According to an official emotional support animal website where you can get an ESA prescription letter by medical professionals, any domesticated animal can be qualified to be an ESA. But the animal must be manageable in public and not create a nuisance in a home environment. They can technically be any age to be an ESA, however CWU requires the animal to be at least one year old to live in residence halls.
Now you may be wondering why I, a first year student at CWU, care or know about ESAs. The reason must be because I have one, right? And surprisingly enough, no I do not have one. So why listen to me? I may not have one right now, but I’m working towards getting one for my mental disabilities. For the longest time I did not even know there was such help as an emotional support animal. I thought I was in the battle against mental illness alone. This is why I want to inform people of the possibility and the process of requesting to have your ESA live in on campus housing.
“Institutions that unlawfully reject such requests are finding themselves in court and charged with disability discrimination,” said C. W. Von Bergen from Southwestern Oklahoma State University. More and more universities are acknowledging that mental disabilities are just as much of an impact on people as physical disabilities and are starting to allow ESAs on their campuses. Still, there are people out in the world who don’t understand the need for that bit of extra help from a furry friend.