Emotional support animals

Alex Gogan, Staff writer

Bringing your favorite pet to school is every college student’s dream.

For some students, it’s a reality. But they have to document a special need first.

Such is the case with sophomore biology major Fiona Kelley and her cat Dobby, who is classified as an emotional support animal.

A service animal is a highly trained companion that assists its owner with a specific task or set of tasks, she said.

It might guide a blind person or provide warnings to a person subject to medical emergencies.

Emotional support animals like Dobby provide comfort to people suffering from potentially disabling anxieties. Because they serve special purposes, they are allowed to reside with their owners in campus dorm rooms or apartment units.

“I was in a dorm my freshmen year, and usually the other residents were great,” Kelley said. “But sometimes they would try and feed him things under my door, things he shouldn’t have… like croutons,” Kelley said.

She said a therapy animal is the only other kind allowed on campus. She said that the animals have to be licensed by a psychiatrist or other professional in order to be a therapy animal.

Kelley has had Dobby since he was 2 days old, and they share a very special connection. “When I am stressed out, he gets stressed out,” she said. “And Dobby needing me puts me back into what my priorities are.”

She said, “I have an eating disorder, anxiety and depression. Animals have always been therapeutic for me.”

“Dobby helps me get out of bed every morning. I take care of him and he takes care of me.”

Starting college did not go as planned for Kelley. She just found it too overwhelming.

Her freshman year, she had to take a medical leave of absence to get professional help.

When she returned again with Dobby this this year, he helped with the transition. And she said she’s doing much better as a result.

Kelley also said housing has been very supportive of her having an emotional support animal, which has to be cleared by a doctor. But she said, “There is a huge stigma around having an emotional support animal. A lot of people think I’m entitled about it, and that I’m using my medical reasons to get an animal on campus.”

That’s not the case at all, Kelley said.

“This animal helps me live my day to day life,” she said. “Sorry you can’t bring your dog with you to college!”

Kelley said, “It’s really annoying when people think Dobby is not here for a legit reason, and it is even more annoying that Dobby will only eat the most expensive dry food from the pet store.”

And yes, she said, “I pay for all this animal’s expenses out of pocket.” She said it’s unfortunate that people aren’t better able to identify the three different types of assistance animals and the important purposes they serve.

“It’s really aggravating when people get the three mixed up,” she said.

She said some people do abuse the privilege when it comes to emotional support animals, claiming to need a support animal when one is definitely not needed.

She finds that aggravating, noting, “It gives the rest of us a bad rap.”