The Southern Human Animal Relationship Experiences (SHARE) group hosts dog therapy/pet visitation sessions from 1pm to 2pm in the afternoon every Thursday in Pinky E. Thrift Hall. At the sessions, students can meet two dogs, Ace and Buddy, who comfort and entertain anyone who stops by. They serve as emotional support dogs for students on campus who may need a break from their busy day.
However, some students may require more than one hour weekly visits to satisfy their emotional needs. This is why, through the Fair Housing Act, students are allowed to have emotional support animals live with them on campus. Unfortunately, there is much debate about what the qualifications should be for students who wish to register for an emotional support animal.
Tracie Abraham, the director of Residential Life and Housing, exclaims, “[For] emotional support animals...you can look up a website...pay $200 and get a certificate from a doctor that will say, ‘I need an emotional support animal’ and those are the types of loopholes that we’re trying to prevent...We do realize that some students may need...emotional support animals...but then you have some that will abuse the process so...we’ll have [a] policy in place where there’s a process that you have to go through...The University of Legal Council [is] reviewing the policy to update it. It’ll be ready for summer of twenty nineteen,”
Abraham isn’t the only one apprehensive about allowing the current policy to remain in place.
Destiny Banks, a junior from Natchez, Mississippi shares her sentiments about emotional support animals living on campus. Banks affirms, “I feel like it’s okay because some people really do have mental illnesses...that keep them from living everyday life, so in cases like that I can understand people having emotional support animals that would have to live with them...But, I also notice a lot of people feel like they [can] get a pet just because and if they...claim it as an emotional support animal then they...abuse the process. I think [the certification process] should be harder just to keep people from abusing it.”
When asked about the presence of emotional support animals on campus, William Waddell, a sophomore biology major, admits, “I don’t think we should have them because when you have a bunch of animals and students trying to take care of them it can be really messy and...I believe it’s unfair to the people they’re rooming with to bring an animal in there...Coming from a person who has a family member [with] an emotional support [animal] it didn’t take him very much to get it...so ultimately I think that we should not have [them].”
Whether students agree with it or not, the fact remains that properly certified emotional support animals are legally allowed to live on campus. However, the common towards the simplicity of the certification process draws concern.
With the promise of an updated policy underway and students wary of their peer’s abuse of the current system, it begs the question: Is an emotional support animal any different from an average house pet?