Posted July 15, 2015 by Sonya Abbott 

No Bones About It: Therapy Animals on Campus

In recent years, the role of animals as therapeutic support for individuals with emotional imbalances and/or disabilities has become a topic of increasing debate. Granting students with emotional disabilities the support they need instills an inclusive culture on all campuses and demonstrates a growing understanding and appreciation of equal opportunity.

cat and dogLawsuits, revised college campus guidelines, and a growing awareness of the emotionally disabled have contributed to an expanded understanding of and accommodations for emotional support animals on college campuses.

In 2011, a Fair Housing lawsuit was filed against the University of Nebraska–Kearney for discrimination against students with psychological and emotional disabilities. The issue was two-fold. At that time, the American Disabilities Act did not recognize or define “therapy animals” that may be used for emotional support, only dogs trained and certified as service animals for people diagnosed with a disability. However, the Fair Housing Act defined therapy animals as “any used as treatment for a diagnosed condition” and asserted that “facilities that ban pets [could not] prohibit reasonable requests for service or therapy animals.”

Ultimately, it was the University of Nebraska–Kearney’s “Psychological Documentation Guidelines” that were found to be too demanding of students with psychological or emotional disabilities. They required exhaustive documentation regarding everything from dates and schedules of past and future doctor’s visits, lists of prescribed medication and the schedules for intake, and a painstaking clinical summary of everyday activity that would be impaired by the disability and how it would be affected by the college living environment.

To further this, the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 states that service and emotional support animals are considered assistive aids, and federal policy requires people with disabilities be offered reasonable consideration to “an equal opportunity to use or enjoy a dwelling.” Currently, no federal restrictions exist on the species of animal in an emotional support role. Institutions such as the College of William & Mary and Meredith College have and continue to revise their policies for service and emotional therapy animals on their respective campuses. Policies include regulations regarding animal handling and care, as well as a list of reasonable exceptions and exclusions—to include the animal posing a direct threat to health or safety of others, etc.—that can be appealed through their campus system.

With the federal regulations regarding emotional therapy animals relatively open, college campuses continue to evolve their campus regulations to ensure the safety and well being of all students on their campuses.

How does your institution regulate therapy animals on campus?
Sonya Abbott

Sonya Abbott is the Assistant Event Coordinator at Madison Union at James Madison University.

Sonya is a member of the Student Accountability Board in the Office of Student Accountability Restorative Practices and the Madison Union Sustainability Committee. Her interests include diversity inclusion and operations management.

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