MU
Oak Leaves

September 29, 2017

therapy dog



Emotional Support Animals Benefit Students on Campus 


Teresa Masteller  


Manchester University’s residence halls could be fast becoming a modern-day Animal House. Some students at Manchester benefit from live-in emotional support animals as they take on the everyday struggles of university life.

Mia Miller, academic coach and disability support coordinator at Manchester University, says that an emotional support animal, commonly referred to as an ESA, is “an animal that has been determined to offer an emotional support service to a person with a disability.”

ESAs are very different from service animals. Service animals are trained to perform certain tasks: they might open doors, or pick up certain items for their owner. ESAs do not receive any kind of specialized training. “They’re very different in their scope of skills,” Miller said.

Service animals fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), while ESAs fall under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). Under the FHA, a person with a disability cannot be turned away from a place of residency with their ESA. In addition, a person with a service animal can have that animal accompany them anywhere they go, but ESAs are only permitted to be in the owner’s dwelling.

Not just any student can get an emotional support animal. “Any person who has a diagnosed disability is eligible if they have a third party, a physician or psychiatrist, that recommends that an ESA would be beneficial for that person’s emotional mental health,” Miller said. “The third party writes a recommendation for an ESA and provides why it would be helpful.”

The third party also needs to fill out the required paperwork and present the other supports that the student has used to help manage their diagnosis; an ESA is usually not the first method of assistance. After all the required paperwork is turned in, a committee then reviews the request.

Harley Ramsey, sophomore English education major, is the owner of an emotional support cat named SnowBelle, often referred to as ‘Snowie,’ whom she rescued from a kill shelter. “I got her back in 2015 as an early Christmas present from my mom,” Ramsey said, “and she's been the best present I've ever received! She’s about two or three years old and my pride and joy. She always knows when I’m feeling down.”

Emily Centofanti, senior biology-chemistry major, says she discovered ESAs by accident. “My friends and I were talking about how great it would be if we could bring our cats to campus,” she said. “This led to me thinking about what I had read before about how having something to take care of was good for depression and anxiety. This spurred me to look into the ESA and service animal policies at Manchester. I saw the potential it had to help my mental health. My anxiety and depression can take dives at random times and animals in general had always been a point of happiness for me.”

Centofanti met her ESA in October of last year. She has a cat off campus back home, but she says, “he is too old and wouldn’t handle the transition well.” Even before her ESA request was approved, she began visiting shelter after shelter to find the perfect kitten for her situation.

After her request was approved, Centofanti and two of her friends set out to visit Fulton County Animal Shelter, where Centofanti finally found her perfect ESA. The kitten, whom she quickly renamed Dexter, calmly crawled into the arms of her and her friends. He was a tolerant and calm kitten, which is exactly was Centofanti was yearning for.

After learning that Dexter had been abandoned in a box with his siblings in the industrial district by the shelter, Centofanti couldn’t shake him from her mind. She rescued him that same day. “Dexter is goofy, weird, needy, and has a couple of screws missing, but I couldn't have asked for a better buddy,” she said.

Dexter is now 14 months old. “He helps me by giving me something to focus on and take care of," Centofanti said. “Even when things seem to be spiraling out of control, I always have the constant that he needs food and water, and that's stabilizing.”

Ramsey agrees. “It teaches you more responsibility on how to take care of something other than yourself,” she said.

Both Ramsey and Centofanti have found challenges in living in the residence halls with their ESAs. “Snowie is a special case because she came from an environment where she had other cat friends to play and socialize with, whereas here she doesn’t," Ramsey said. “It took about a full two weeks before she was finally adjusted.”

Dexter also had problems adjusting. Although he and Centofanti are staying in the same room in East Hall that they did last school year, Dexter also went through a two-week adjustment period where he would meow loudly at random times of the night.

There are many things to think about before committing to having an animal in the residence halls. “Besides typical things like him knocking items over, I am always concerned with the animal odor in the small space,” said Centofanti, who manages the odor with frequent litter-box changes and three air fresheners scattered around the room. “But on a larger scale, fire drills have become more complicated and I worry about what would happen if I weren't there.

“The campus-wide power outage last year,” she continued, “was also further complicated with having an animal and having to find us a temporary room.”

Dexter’s many health issues were also something that Centofanti didn’t expect. “There are the added stresses of making sure he is well taken care of despite my hectic schedule and being out of the room often as a science major," she said. “You don't really consider things like the pet's health being such an important factor until it leads to you cleaning your entire dorm room floor-to-ceiling with bleach.”

Even with all his health issues, Centofanti says Dexter makes university life easier for her. “Mental health isn't something that is taken seriously even though it should be, and that's what Dexter helps with, even though a lot of people might not get it,” she said.

 Ramsey encourages students to consider their own situations. “If you're reading this and thinking that you might fit the criteria to have an ESA, do not hesitate to contact Mia Miller about seeing if you are eligible!” she urges. Miller can be contacted at MLMiller02@manchester.edu.

Both Dexter and SnowBelle declined to comment.