Emotional Support Animals help residents stress less

Having a pet on campus is something every resident living at a university dreams about. Whether it’s a dog, cat or rabbit, having a furry companion with you would make the college experience even better.

Of course, having an animal on campus aside from fish is against the rules of Oakland University Housing with the exception of service animals. Service animals are pets that are trained to help someone to live with either a physical disability or, in the case of emotional support animals (ESA), a mental illness.

“Service animals are not just pets,” said Hannah Brzezinski, a junior biology major. “It’s a lot more than having a pet here, the difference between an ESA and a pet is that an ESA is here to do a job.”

Brzezinski until recently had an ESA with her on campus in the form of a three-year-old cat named Misfit. As her ESA, Misfit helped Brzezinski deal with anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. Brzezinski said having an animal around is a lot better than having a person around in these cases.

“Being able to pet an animal helps recenter you,” she said. “Misfit being around helps ground and calm me down.”

You may hear this and think all you need to do to have your family pet on campus is claim you have anxiety and then bring Molly to your room, however, there is a lot of steps in being able to have a service animal on campus.

First, the student needs to get permission from a psychiatrist or therapist saying he or she needs a service animal. After that, the student needs to apply through the Disability Support Services office and go through an interview with a representative there. From there, the student will go through Housing and the residence director of his or her building for the final approval.

Lynn Hartman, who also has an ESA on campus, went through this process last year with her dog Shenzi.

“I got her originally to help with transitional anxiety from grade school to high school,” Hartman said regarding her border collie companion. “She was already sort of in the ranks to behave in a service dog way.”

Shenzi helps Hartman deal with her anxiety and day to day Shenzi helps her with depression.

“She forces me to get out of bed and go outside and exercise,” Hartman said. “It makes me smile because she’s a super funny dog.”

These service animals and emotional support animals that are on campus are doing important work. While it may be sad that we all can’t have our favorite companions with us in the residence halls, we should salute the hard working animals that help make our friends lives easier.