Caring for an Emotional Support Animal while Living on Campus:
Are you up for the challenge?
My name is Mike Ritter (which conveniently rhymes with “my critter”) and I am the Accessibility Resource Coordinator at MWSU. More importantly, at least in this context, I am a dog dad and I wanted to share some insights with you as you begin your journey toward having an emotional support animal in your dorm. Part of our commitment at MWSU to creating a supportive environment for students with emotional support animals is to create an environment that takes into consideration the health and well-being of the animals as well. The responsibility of caring for an animal while balancing the other aspects of your life as a college student should not be taken lightly. Maybe it is a good idea to “paws” for just a minute and think it through. Yep, I went there.
Not unlike their human counterparts, domesticated animals are living, breathing, thinking, emotive creatures that require a healthy environment in which to thrive. Often noisy and lacking in sufficient space and sunlight, the typical residence hall on a college campus was not designed to be a nurturing environment for animals. Not surprisingly, the same conditions that create anxiety in humans often create anxiety in animals. Under stress, animals are more likely to exhibit behavioral problems and less likely to be able to provide emotional support.
A student wanting to request an allowance for having their emotional support animal living in their dorm room should be fully aware that caring for an animal is a huge commitment that will require a significant amount of time, attention, nurturing, patience and financial resources. Did I mention patience? Just as it takes a student a certain amount of time to adjust to living on campus, an emotional support animal will go through an adjustment phase as well. To make a successful transition, your animal will need you just as much as you need them. Push, pull. Give, take. Ying, yang. Symbiosis. You get the idea.
My point is, for your animal to be able to provide you with emotional support, you will first need to meet their needs. Dogs, for example, have biological needs including: proper nutrition, fresh water, sufficient exercise, fresh air, sleep, indoor shelter, safety, temperature control, gentle grooming and gentle veterinary care; emotional needs including: security, love, trust, consistency and benevolent leadership; and social needs including: bonding with people and other dogs and play (Beckhoff, 2017). Regardless of the species of your emotional support animal, it is important that you do your homework and learn as much as you can about the type of environment your specific animal will need in order to thrive.
So, are you really you up for the challenge? Here are some questions to consider before requesting an allowance to have your emotional support animal living in your dorm:
- Will your dorm room be an environment that is safe and quiet and provides for a happy and healthy life for the animal?
- Will you be able to provide fresh food and water for your animal on a daily basis?
- Have you talked to your veterinarian about the specific nutritional needs of your animal?
- Will you be able to clean your animal’s food and water bowls on a regular basis? Contaminated bowls will lead to health problems for your animal.
- Will you be able to take your animal to the groomer on a regular basis? Regular grooming (haircut, mat removal, teeth brushing, plaque removal, toenail trimming, bathing, etc.) by a professional groomer is expensive but is essential to the health and well-being of your animal.
- Will you be able to take your animal to the veterinarian for regular check-ups and other appointments as needed?
- Will you be able to take your animal outside for exercise, recreation and socialization on a regular basis?
- Will you be able to clean up after your animal when it has an accident in your dorm room? Even animals that have been house broken will sometimes have accidents. You will need to have cleaning supplies on hand to clean up after your animal when this happens.
- Will you be able to take your animal outside several times per day so that it has an opportunity to take care of its toileting needs? Keep in mind, we have 5 months of winter per year with wind, ice, snow and cold temperatures.
- Will you be able to pick up your animal’s feces and dispose of them properly? This is required of all students living on campus with animals.
- If your animal uses a litter box, will you be able to clean it on a daily basis?
- What will you do if your animal fails to adjust to life on campus and is not thriving in the residence hall environment?
- What will you do if your animal becomes ill and loses its ability to control its bowels and bladder? It happens.
- Do you have the financial resources to pay for food, medicine, vaccinations, licensing, etc.?
- What if your animal’s food attracts mice or insects? It happens.
- What if caring for an animal causes you more stress than it alleviates?
- Are you comfortable with other students knowing you have a disability? Having an animal in your dorm where pets are not allowed will identify you as a student with a disability.
- What will you do if you have a roommate or suite mate who is allergic to animals?
- What will you do if you have a roommate or suite mate who is from a culture that prohibits them from having contact with animals?
- Who will take care of your animal in the event you have a medical emergency or other crisis that prevents you from being able to care for the animal?
- What will you do with your animal during weekend breaks and semester breaks? Animals cannot be left unattended in the residence halls.
- What will you do if you decide you no longer want the animal?
In short, there is LOT to consider before making a request to bring an emotional support animal into your dorm. Animals rely on us (their human counterparts) for EVERYTHING and we do not get to take a break from their care. 24, 7, 365. Yep, that’s the deal. That is why it is critical to consider the level of commitment and responsibility required and to have a solid plan of care in place for your animal ahead of time.
Have questions? Wanna chat? Talking about animals is one of my favorite things so feel free to reach out via email or stop by my office.
Accessibility Resource Coordinator (and dog dad)
Ready to take the next step and request an allowance for having your emotional support animal in your dorm? Here is the link to the form. https://www.missouriwestern.edu/reslife/wp-content/uploads/sites/38/2018/06/MWSU-ESA-18.pdf.
Beckhoff, Marc. “A Hierarchy of Dog Needs: Abraham Maslow Meets the Mutts.” Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/animal-emotions/201705/hierarchy-dog-needs-abraham-maslow-meets-the-mutts. Accessed on 6/27/2019.