Emotional Support Animal In A Dorm

Can You Have An Emotional Support Animal In A Dorm?

dog on a couch

College can be very stressful for students. Between leaving behind old friends and possibly living away from home for the first time, many things can tell a student’s mental health. 

Many colleges have mental health resources like on-campus therapists or support groups, but sometimes these aren’t enough. For students who need extra help, the emotional service dog may help manage these feelings. 

If you live on campus, you may be concerned about whether or not you can bring your emotional support animal with you. There’s a lot to consider, so keep reading to determine whether you can keep your emotional support animal in your dorm. 

The Difference Between Emotional Support Animals And Service Dogs

Both an emotional support dog and a psychiatric service dog can alleviate the symptoms caused by a mental health condition. Still, they each serve distinct purposes and have different protections under the law.

Purpose

Service dogs support people with mental health conditions or a disability who need these trained dogs to serve a specific function in their life. Service dogs working with a handler who suffers from testing anxiety likely would be prepared to anticipate an anxiety attack during an exam, warn their handler that one is coming, and get help from the professor if something seems wrong. 

An emotional support animal would not train to respond to the handler’s anxiety, but it would be present to provide comfort during a test.  

ADA Protections 

Even though individuals with disabilities can use both emotional support animals and psychiatric service dogs to help treat mental illnesses, they are not under the same protections under federal law. 

Psychiatric service dogs are recognized as service dogs under the definition provided by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). For an animal to be considered a service animal, it must be “a dog that individually trains to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability.” Any animals outside of this definition are not considered service animals and have no federal protections under the law. Handlers have to defer to state and local laws for guidance on where their animals are welcome outside of their home. 

Emotional support animals don’t fit into the ADA’s definition of a service animal since they can include different species of animals. They do not have to train to perform specific tasks related to their disability. 

What Do Emotional Support Animals Do?

Emotional support animals provide emotional support for people. They can offer companionship and comfort during times of emotional distress. Because there is no training required for an animal to be an emotional support animal, the number of services they can provide are pretty small. But because there is no training requirement, many animals can become emotional support animals, even already-owned pets!

These animals differ from other assistance animals, like therapy animals, because they are not required to be able to recognize distress in their handler and respond accordingly.

Please read here for more information about what an ESA is and what they do.

Do Colleges Allow Emotional Support Animals on Campus?

Colleges can allow emotional support animals on their campus if they want to. The Americans with Disabilities (ADA) Act only requires that service dogs be permitted to be in public spaces. Since emotional support animals are not service animals, they do not get this protection.

dog with student

How to Get a Registered Emotional Support Animals 

Now that you know what a support animal is and how it can help someone emotionally, you may be asking how to get one to help yourself. Keep reading for a step-by-step guide on how to get your own ESA.

Decide If You Need An Emotional Support Animal

If you are not seeing someone for an emotional or psychiatric condition, it may be best to look into one. Asking your primary care provider (PCP) may help you get an emotional support animal. While you cannot petition for emotional support animals on your own, you can begin the process by asking for help from your PCP.

Speak with a Licensed Mental Health Professional

For your support animal to be legally recognized, you have to have an emotional support animal letter from a mental health professional declaring that you have a condition that requires the assistance of an emotional support animal to manage. 

Having this documentation is essential to get the full benefits of having an ESA, especially when it comes to securing housing with an emotional service animal

There are other mental health professionals other than a therapist or a psychiatrist that can provide you with the letter. For this letter to be deemed legitimate, the letter must include three things:

  • The name the of the individual who is being cared for by the professional 
  • A clear statement that the named individual has an emotional or psychiatric disability 
  • The mental health professional must recommend in the letter that an emotional support animal will assist the individual

The letter will not include the specific condition you are dealing with in the letter. Just make sure the information provided is enough to declare you as someone who requires an emotional support animal. 

If you think you’ll need help getting a letter, resources can help you.

Can Emotional Support Animals Live In Dorms

Yes! Because of the protections provided by the Fair Housing Act, housing providers have to allow support animals to live with you. This means you can bring your emotional support animal to live in your dorm. You may have to present an ESA letter signed by a licensed mental health professional to get your emotional support animal into the dorm for the semester. You must have the correct documents to consider your animal a legit ESA

However, suppose your ESA starts causing disturbances or behaving aggressively towards other people who live in that dorm. In that case, the school has the right to request that you remove your emotional support animal from the dorm.

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