Going to college can cause a lot of anxiety for some students. But a few are discovering they can bring a pet to campus to relieve stress or depression.
Belle, a 6 year old chocolate Lab laps up water in her bowl. She shares a dorm room with her owner, Lauren Becks and another female roommate on the campus of Otterbein University. Becks says Belle waits patiently until she returns from campus activities.
“Even if I do have to leave or I have a long day of work or exams or labs. Just coming back into the room and having someone so excited to see you, she just goes berserk when I come home," said Becks.
Becks is a junior studying equine pre-vet and biology. She says she suffered from anxiety in high school and knows how it can consume her life.
“During finals week you just need something to help you calm down and get away from everything. So when I found out about the assistance animal policy, I looked into bringing my dog down here and it just worked out that I could have her down here with me," Becks said.
Director of Residence Life at Otterbein, Tracy Benner says this is the second year the assistance animal policy has been in effect at the school. It follows the Federal Housing Act policy that allows assistance animals, sometimes called emotional support animals in housing.
“The accommodation process starts with a student having a conversation with the disability services coordinator and this is only for students who have diagnosed disabilities who need something special so they can live in housing successfully," explained Benner.
Benner says right now 4 students have pets in their dorm room, out of 1250 on-campus residents.
Belle is not the only pet Lauren Becks keeps in her dorm room. She also cares for a fish, turtle and salamander. Belle though gets to go to classes.
“She’s just by my side the entire time. If I’m in class, I’m having a rough day, I think that she can feel it. She’s just beneath my feet. She sleeps below the desk. She’ll come over and give me kisses," said Becks.
Director of Residence Life Tracy Benner says there are few limitations on what type of assistance animal a student can have on campus. Dogs, rats, reptiles, and hermit crabs have lived in dormitories. Benner says snakes are not allowed. One student brought one and it was taken away.
“It needs to be an animal under the control of the student. So if it was wild in any way, or if the student wasn’t able to control it. It needs to be housebroken," said Benner.
19 year old Julia Tegge, a sophomore at Otterbein shares her dorm room with Zeus, a 2 year old Foxhound, Coonhound mix. She says her roommate and suite mates get along with Zeus.
“Without him it would be a lot harder for me to live on campus. Last year I really struggled with getting out of bed especially during the colder months and going to class. It’s really hard for me to do things without having a reason to get out of bed in the morning," said Tegge.
The University of Nebraska recently settled a lawsuit brought by the U.S. Justice Department and agreed to pay two students $140,000 because it had denied them pets on campus. The university will now allow students to have assistance animals in their campus housing.
While more students are living with pets on college campuses, it’s still only a small percentage. At Ohio State only 25 students have pets in their dorm rooms out of about 13,000 who live on campus. Coordinator for the Americans with Disabilities Act at OSU, Scott Lissner says the university has allowed assistance animals for 25 years under ADA.
“We have more students with mental health issues coming to college. We have less stigma. I won’t say we have no stigma, but we have less stigma. So those requests are more likely for those reasons," said Lissner.
Lissner says now that the rules are clearer about who can have an assistance animal on campus he expects to see more pets coming to college. Fortunately, so far there have not been any disputes when an animal moves in with a student.