By Jessica Espinoza
After a tough year and a half through the pandemic, Barry students and faculty alike understand the importance of caring for your mental health. While some people turn to working out, journaling, or the arts to help them destress during crucial times, others have found companionship in a furry friend.
According to the American Kennel Club Organization (AKC), an emotional support animal (ESA) is a type of support animal which is prescribed by a licensed mental health professional to a person with a disabling mental illness.
An emotional support animal is different from a service dog in that an ESA is not generally allowed into places where service dogs are allowed. This includes restaurants or shopping malls, for example.
Despite these limitations, Barry student Monika Herrera, a senior in pre- law, has been able to bring her very own emotional support animal on campus--her cat, Simba.
“I personally believe bringing my cat on campus has improved my college life and has helped me enjoy being here more,” said Herrera.
For students who want to apply to get an ESA, it is important to understand the difference between an ESA and a service dog.
Service animals “are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities,” according to the American Disabilities Act. Service animals can only be dogs, while an emotional support animal can be almost any pet that provides comfort to a person in need.
The training is what makes an ESA different from a service dog, which is trained to perform tasks like guiding visually impaired individuals around obstacles or helping a person who is experiencing a panic attack. In order to complete these tasks, the animals need to be specifically trained to mitigate a particular disability.
While emotional support animals do not undergo this training, a psychiatrist may recommend that a person get a pet to help decrease their anxiety or fight feelings of loneliness.
According to apibhs.com, research shows that, while holding or petting an animal, people experience a “normalized heart rate, blood pressure, and reduced depression.”
To obtain an emotional support animal, a letter of diagnosis from the owner’s doctor or psychiatrist is typically required.
Herrera, for example, had to complete the required steps in order to be able to bring Simba onto campus.
“I had to obtain a letter from a licensed counselor confirming I qualify for an ESA, and [I had to] complete a form with Accessibility Services that asked for my animal’s vaccinations and [the] letter from my counselor,” said Herrera.
She adds that the form is valid for one academic year, and she must renew it annually.
For Barry students who need a support animal, Herrera believes the process is easy. She adds that having an ESA helps both herself and her friends, as she lets them visit Simba whenever they need a little extra love, too.
Overall, Herrera believes that emotional support animals on Barry’s campus are important to campus life.
“Having animals on campus is a beautiful thing,” said Herrera. “It adds more of a community feel to campus being able to see people walking their dogs and playing with them outside.”