Science has long supported the benefits of pets on human emotional and cognitive health. For veterans readjusting to life after serving, elderly patients in nursing homes and hospitals or children with autism or epilepsy, service dogs provide stability and comfort.
But what about for college students who are populating campuses with a rising number of emotional-support animals? These animals may be therapeutic, but they pose a detriment to a college environment where students come to learn.
To clarify, there is a distinction between service dogs, which are trained to perform specific functions, such as alerting owners to noise, pulling wheelchairs or responding to seizures, and emotional-support animals.
Emotional-support animals, which include cats, rabbits, snakes and guinea pigs, are not trained to recognize emergency situations and develop responses. They can be handled by anyone and therefore are not inclined to help only their owners. For other students with pet allergies, phobias of certain animals or just an aversion to these animals, having roommates, floormates or classes with pet owners can become a nightmare.
Jan Hoffman of The New York Times enumerates several instances where the problems caused by emotional-support animals and their ardent owners have compromised the comfort and well-being of other students. Several disability lawsuits waged against universities for rejecting students’ claims to animals can selfishly drain money away from a school. One student with depression and a pacemaker was awarded $40,000 because her school would not allow her guinea pig. According to Michael Masinter, professor of law at Nova Southeastern University, schools are more inclined to allow emotional-support animals because “property damage is cheaper than litigation.”
While colleges offer housing, it is still not a home. To impose a pet-friendly environment on all students, including the smells, sounds and potential damages that come with these animals, at the whim of a minority of students is unfair.
Some may decry this is a form of discrimination, but these are simply rules students must follow if they enjoy the privilege of living on campus. Dorm room regulations, such as not having candles or tapestries, may seem restrictive to some, but they serve to protect these buildings and their residents.
The debate over allowing emotional-support animals reflects a larger issue of responsibility. Are students willing to compromise the health, safety and peace of mind of other students just to satiate their own desires? Subjecting animals of all sizes, temperaments and capacities to the cramped, often rambunctious and dangerous dwellings of dorm life is exceedingly cruel. Social animals like cats, dogs and even guinea pigs require frequent attention, which is almost impossible to have from owners who attend class, extracurricular activities and enjoy a nightlife.
It’s also worth noting that people can lie and say they need emotional-support animals because they simply want to have their beloved pets in their dorm rooms. This, in turn, discredits people who actually need service animals for legitimate health reasons.
There is a fine line between needing a support animal and benefiting from one. If a student believes they cannot function without an emotional support animal that is not a service dog, they might have to re-evaluate their mental health situation. While there can always be improvements, BU provides several resources for struggling students including the University Counseling Center and the student-run High Hopes Helpline.
With a burgeoning population of over 17,000 students, the University must consider new ways to accommodate the needs of its student body. Yet colleges are a place of learning above all else, and must uphold rules that guarantee the safety and comfort of the majority of students, not just those inclined to becoming pet owners.
Kristen DiPietra is a senior double-majoring in English and human development.