Bringing comfort to campus: service and emotional support animals

Students face all sorts of stress everyday. A popular way of dealing with this stress is getting an emotional support animal. Owning a pet can be beneficial to a student’s health and social life. 

There are many students on campus who have chosen to get an animal to provide them with emotional support. These students are required to obtain special permissions to keep their pet in the residence halls.

Emotional support animals come in many forms. Cats, birds, and even tarantulas can be emotional support animals. The most common, though, are dogs. 

Dogs have extremely accepting attitudes towards owners and provide a variety of health and social benefits.

The classic example of beneficial canines are guide dogs, trained to help those who have impaired sight. A more general example would be a simple interaction with your pets at home. 

According to a Harvard Medical School Special Health Report in 2015, even something as simple as petting a dog can “reduce the petter’s blood pressure and heart rate.”

Dogs can also help with your social life. In a 2015 study titled “Pets can help their humans create friendships, find social support”, health editor Patrick Skerret found that walking a dog helps people build connections with others. For students, making connections like these can make or break the college experience.

This concept holds true with other animals as well. 

The Boston Globe found that “cat owners enjoy a 30 percent reduction in heart attack risk” and even that “watching swimming fish lowers blood pressure.”

Sarah Clark is a Health Studies major currently attending the University of Central Missouri. Her emotional support cat, Evie, helps her manage generalized anxiety, generalized panic disorder, and major depression. 

“It has allowed me to calm down and be in a better mind set with Evie there. She has allowed me to be calm when I start to have a panic attack or [get] into a [funk] with my depression,” Clark said.

Having experienced the benefits of owning a pet, Clark hopes that UCM will widen their policies to include pets beyond service animals. “I think students could benefit a lot more if UCM took another look at their policy from a different perspective,” Clark said.

For now, UCM only allows service and emotional support animals on campus. Clark also gave some advice to students looking into getting an emotional support animal .

“Getting an ESA is a commitment and something that goes on for life,” she said. “While I enjoy the benefits of having one, serious thought has to go into it, and research needs to be done to make sure it’s the best method to improve your life.”

The Office of Accessibility Services handles requests, like Sarah Clark’s for Evie, and takes students through the steps. Advance notice of the request is strongly encouraged to make the process as smooth as possible.

Students aren’t allowed to just bring their pets on campus. Aside from instances such as taking them for a walk in Selmo Park, pets on campus are limited to service and emotional support animals. 

Also, according to University policy 1.2.221, “Students with disabilities who wish to bring a service animal to the University campus – including residential facilities, classrooms, and other University facilities – may do so without prior approval.” 

If you are interested in applying for an emotional support animal or in getting a service animal, contact the Office of Accessibility services by visiting them in the Elliot Student Union 224, emailing access@ucmo.edu, or by calling (660)543-4421.

To learn more about University policy, visit the ucmo.edu webpage.

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