Walking through the Colorado State University campus, students are likely to run into a dog in a vest. While many people are familiar with trained service dogs, another kind of support animal gets less recognition.
Emotional support animals can provide companionship, relieve loneliness and help with depression, anxiety and phobias, according to a publication from the Americans with Disabilities Act National Network.
“Regardless of what kind of day you’ve had, dogs are always forgiving and always want to give you love and attention and affection,” said Jasmine Marie, trainer and Denver coordinator for Human Animal Bond in Colorado.
HABIC is a program in the CSU School of Social Work that provides animal assisted activities as well as therapies using volunteers and their dogs. Some of their activities take place in schools, nursing homes and hospitals, according to Marie.
Unlike service and therapy animals, emotional support animals do not require any special training, according to Kathleen Ivy, an accommodation and advocacy specialist in the Resources for Disabled Students Office. Because they are not considered service animals under the Americans with Disabilities Act, emotional support animals do not have the same rights as service animals.
“People tend to think of therapy dog, service dog and emotional support dog as the same thing, and they are not,” Ivy said. “It’s three different things, and that’s confusing. They’re not synonyms.”
Because of this distinction, emotional support animals are only allowed to stay in the person’s residence.
On campus, students with physical or emotional disabilities can file for an accommodation with RDS in order to have an emotional support animal live with them in the dorms. This requires verification of the person’s disability as well as the connection between the disability and the animal, according to Ivy. This can come from a professional, such as a psychiatrist, who is able to diagnose.
Once approved, any common domestic animal can live with the student as long as they do not disturb residents on the outside or show any signs of aggression.
“If someone got a dog and the dog was very unhappy about being left in their room and barked all the time, that would be a problem and they could be asked to remove the animal,” Ivy said.
As more people learn about emotional support animals, the number of people using them on campus has increased, according to Ivy.
Students experiencing school-related stress can also benefit from time with animals, according to Marie. There are several programs on campus that allow all students to interact with animals as a way to reduce stress and anxiety, including De-Stress With Dogs, Pet Night and Pups on the Plaza.
Ivy created De-Stress With Dogs after reading about a school in Canada with a similar program. Volunteers, including CSU faculty and staff, bring their dogs to the Lory Student Center and the Durrell Center so students can play with them and relax before final exams. The event takes place every semester on the Wednesday and Thursday before finals week and runs from 6 – 8 p.m. each night.
“Often if (students) are going to miss something from home they’re going to miss their pet,” Ivy said. “So I thought this might be really good for our campus and it turns out everybody really likes it.”
CSU freshman Tyler Greenly attended De-Stress With Dogs last semester, and enjoyed spending the night holding puppies and interacting with other students.
“It was nice to talk to people and see everyone who’s freaking out about finals and stuff,” Greenly said. “I feel like the only thing I disliked was that there were a lot of people for the amount of dogs. So it was kind of crazy, but it was still cool.”
In April, HABIC will bring therapy dogs to campus for Pups on the Plaza as a way to help students reduce stress before summer, according to Marie. Pet Night takes place once a month in the dorms, and also allows students to interact with therapy dogs.
Ivy said it is important to remember that service dogs are working and being used for a specific purpose: providing unconditional love to students with emotional disabilities.
“Everybody needs to have a reason to get up in the morning,” Ivy said. “You can’t just stay in bed depressed if you’ve got a dog that you love that loves you that needs to be fed and walked.”
Collegian Reporter Emily Vavra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @vivalavavra.