Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to clarify quotes from sources.
By Jenna Wheeler, Head Designer
While walking across campus, sitting in classes, or hanging in dorms, students around campus may be noticing more animals on campus. Shenandoah University has implemented new policies concerning both service animals and new “emotional support animals.”
Holli Phillips, Shenandoah’s director of learning resources and services, explains there are differences between the emotional support animals and service animals.
“Emotional support animals can be used for depression, anxiety, and homesickness,” Phillips said. “[Service animals] are animals that must perform at least one task for a person with a disability.”
Last May, a student requested an emotional support animal, so the University put together a task force made up of Holli Phillips, the department of residence life, physical plant, Laura Saville who is the executive assistant to vice president administration and finance, an occupational therapist, and an animal rescue expert to determine the guidelines.
Phillips said that the task force was implemented “to make sure the student and animal are happy and healthy. That balance is crucial,” she said.
According to the new University guidelines, an emotional support pet must be in good health, and is suggested to be 30 pounds or less. The pets must also have a yearly vet clearance and must be housebroken and obedient.
While there is no pet deposit, damages to residence halls made by an emotional support animal are solely the responsibility of the student owner.
Additionally, the owner of an emotional support animal is required to check in with Phillips every few weeks to “check on the health of both the student and the pet.”
Service animals, however, have different requirements and can be either dogs or miniature horses. “These animals are allowed everywhere, in every building on campus. But emotional support animals including [but are not limited to], dogs, cats, turtles, and hamsters are only allowed in the residence halls and outside, but not in any academic buildings. They cannot be venomous animals or eat living things.”
Controversy falls on the rules of an emotional support animal versus a service animal. Kierstan Ellis, 20, is a sophomore and a familiar face on campus. She and Katie, her black lab service dog, depend on each other.
“She is my eyes,” Ellis said of Katie. “It takes a while for my eyes to adjust to the lighting of the fluorescent indoor lights and the natural sunlight.”
Katie is trained and obedient with Ellis’ commands, but can get distracted if other animals are not properly trained.
“I feel that if people need [an emotional support animal], then by all means, they should have one. The point of an emotional support animal is that it shouldn’t be public at all.”
Ellis said that she hopes that more awareness comes with this recent policy and that students become aware of the differences between emotional support animals and service animals.
“As Shenandoah becomes a diverse community of beings—furry and all—please know that not all animals on campus serve for the same purpose or have the same responsibilities,” she said. “If you have a question or concern with any of the animals on campus, I encourage you to bring them to the Learning Resources Center to Holli Phillips. We are all working towards a common goal of safety and happiness here at Shenandoah.”
The full policy is available here.