University working to finalize policy for emotional support animals

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Alexandra Strausman/THE REVIEW
Kayla plays with her furry companion.

BY
STAFF REPORTER

Sophomore Kayla H. and her adopted cat—two-and-a-half-year-old Thalya—first “hit it off” this past summer. Kayla’s psychiatrist signed documents for the university’s Disability Support Services (DSS), prescribing the adopted cat as part of Kayla’s treatment. The pair currently resides in Ray Street C.

“This is a really good thing for anyone who wants to stay in school and not take medicine,” Kayla says. “It really saved me, because at one time, I thought I wouldn’t be able to go to college.”

Kayla, 19, is a biology major who transferred from Syracuse University earlier this year, where her disability was not deemed eligible for receiving an emotional support animal.

Use of service and emotional support animals—often on college campuses—is becoming a national trend. Animal therapy can provide an alternative to medication for various disabilities and illnesses.

The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects the rights of those with disabilities to bring service animals into residence halls and other facilities. The Fair Housing Act (FHA) protects against the discrimination of people with disabilities in housing-related transitions and ensures accommodations for those with emotional support animals.

Emotional support animals are required to stay in their owners’ rooms, says Jim Tweedy, senior associate director of Residence Life.

Anne Jannarone, DSS director, says DSS and Tweedy are three-quarters of the way through finalizing a policy for emotional support animals in residence halls. These will be the university’s first official rules regarding emotional support animals in residence life facilities.

Jannarone says there are currently 1,000 students on campus who are eligible to receive accommodations such as extra time on exams, assistance with note taking, Braille books and service animals. Jannarone and Tweedy forbidden to disclose the exact numbers of service and emotional support animals on campus, as ADA and FHA accommodations are treated as confidential information.

At Syracuse, Kayla did not argue with her (previous) university’s decision—but in November 2011, student Brittany Hamilton sued the University of Nebraska-Kearney for its failure to accommodate her and her emotional support animal in its residence life program. A trial to determine if FHA applies to university housing is set for May 26.

Anne Jannarone, DSS director, says she is curious to see if the jury finds that discrimination took place in Hamilton’s case—which she says would be a “good win” for persons with disabilities.

“I think this is going to be evolving, and once the Kearney case goes to trial, it will prove guidance for the rest of the country,” Jannarone says. “We’re confident—at least I am personally—that it is going to go against that university.”

Kayla says she feels alone at times and wishes DSS could put her in contact with other students in similar situations so that they could form a support group. Student confidentiality policies restrict DSS from providing such information.

Kayla says that DSS and university faculty members have been flexible and helpful. She says her RA also checks up on her and is educated about how to care for Thalya in case Kayla is unexpectedly unable to do so.

Kayla says that some people do not take her disability seriously because it is not outwardly visible. She finds it difficult to explain her situation and sometimes gets teased, she says—especially when others fail to understand Thalya’s significance.

“It makes me a weird outcast,” Kayla says. “Not a lot of people understand why I have the animal. They think, ‘Oh, you know, she just wants the animal because she likes cats, and they just let her have it.’ And I let them think that—but it’s a lot more complicated.”

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