• Thu. Jun 20th, 2024

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Bringing Your Support Animal to College? 4 Things You Need to Know

College can be tough for all new students, but it can feel even more difficult if you struggle with your mental health. Emotional support animals can make a world of difference, but what do you do when you leave home for college? Are there special policies in place to cover emotional support animals?

This post will take you through four of the key things you should understand before moving out for college with your ESA. We can’t cover everything here, but we can certainly provide you with a head start. Let’s jump in.

1. All Colleges Have Different Policies

The first thing you need to understand is that every college is different. One college may require emotional support animal certification, another may not. One institution may be completely accepting of emotional support animals in all forms. Another may ban them from the classroom. Though it may seem unfair, colleges are effectively businesses, and they reserve the right to enforce policies as they see fit.

Having said that, students are covered by the Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAA). This means that tenants possess the right to be accompanied by emotional support animals in their homes. This includes college dormitories. However, this does not cover the entire campus, which brings us to our next key point.

2. You Might not be Permitted to Bring them to Class

While the FHAA legally covers students to keep their ESA in their dorm, classrooms are an entirely different story. This is because ESAs are different from service dogs, which are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). A student could bring a service dog anywhere with them. An ESA does not possess the same freedoms.

What is the difference? A service dog is usually defined by its ability to perform specific tasks on behalf of the individual. Emotional support animals provide general support but aren’t trained to perform any physical support. Your college must allow your ESA to accompany you to the cafeteria or library, but they may not allow them in class.

3. Your College May Ask for Proof of Necessity

Your college will likely require evidence to support your claim. This can often be as simple as providing them with the original referral letter your healthcare professional made. This can come from a therapist, psychologist, doctor, nurse, or social worker. Provided you have the original documentation relating to your ESA, you should be fine.

If, for any reason, you lost these documents, contact the original healthcare professional for a new letter. You can then send this to your college as evidence. Your college should be specific about what they require when they request evidence, so follow their instructions. All colleges operate differently, so make sure you understand your school’s specific policy before gathering evidence.

4. Your Support Animal May Cause Friction With Your Roommate

In most college dorms, you will be sharing a room. Your roommate may not expect the introduction of a furry friend, and you can’t guarantee how comfortable they will be with the arrangement. Roommate spats over ESAs aren’t unheard of. This largely relates to the behavior of the animal. If it isn’t sufficiently trained, it will likely cause problems for both of you.

If the presence of your ESA does cause tension, make sure to speak to your colleagues about it. Sometimes, room swaps can be arranged if a compromise cannot be made. You shouldn’t be made to feel like an inconvenience simply because you require an ESA, but some accommodations may have to be made.

Double-Check Everything with College Staff

Ultimately, all of this information is variable based on your specific institution. Ensure to read up on the relevant policy regarding ESAs, and let them know ahead of time that you intend to bring one. It is entirely possible to navigate college with an ESA, but preparation is key!

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