Pets on Campus: What Does the Law Say?
5 min read
We’ve all seen service dogs aiding their owners around campus. Universities have been required to accommodate the needs of physically disabled students for a very long time, including the allowance of guide dogs or other service animals on campus.
In the past few years, however, students with mental health issues have also started to ask colleges to allow them to bring their companion animals on campus. Having an emotional support animal (ESA) can help some individuals to achieve a better quality of life, reducing their loneliness, depression, anxiety, and academic stress.
Owners in possession of a valid ESA letter, provided by a doctor or mental health specialist, have rights that allow them to live with their emotional support animal, even in no-pets-allowed properties. This has been the case since 1988, when the Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAA) passed, leading to ESAs being allowed to access all housing and flights, not unlike service animals. But what exactly is the law when it comes to campus accommodation?
Many universities are still uncertain of what to allow and not allow, leaving us with a grey area and an incredibly fertile ground for disability discrimination lawsuits.
ESAs On Campus: The Law
FHAA protects the rights of emotional support animals and their owners.
This is the skinny on what the law says about emotional support animals on campus: they should be categorically allowed, but it’s not always that easy.
According to the FHAA, students with mental health conditions have the right of living with their ESA on campus, as no exceptions are made for the type of housing allowing emotional support animals. However, despite in-campus housing not noted to be an exception to this rule, a few courts have had to deal with this issue over the years.
Many campuses have "no pets" rules when it comes to their student housing. The reason for this is simple: pets on campus might cause disruption, health, and safety hazards if the proper infrastructure is not in place. Not to mention, the FHAA protects the rights of emotional support animals and their owners when it comes to their living arrangements, but not when it comes to the full-access of campus facilities.
Overall, not all facilities can support every animal a student can request for an ESA. It largely depends on the age and construction material of the campus building, the size, and type of the companion animal. Maintaining a safe environment for all students is the top priority for all universities and colleges.
Despite of all this, student requests for ESA-friendly campus accommodations keep soaring, while students who decided to take their colleges to court over the issue continue to win lawsuits. As a result, campus policies are rapidly changing, with many colleges and universities adopting favorable policies openly allowing ESAs in housing.
The best way to know if your dream college will accept your furry friend is researching their ESA policy directly. You can find a list of the most pet-friendly colleges in the U.S. here.
ESAs On Campus: The Process
It's good to have an agreement not only with the university but with the people you are going to live with.
If your dream university has made the cut as one of the ESA-friendly institutions, the next step is figuring out the steps needed to have your furry companion move in with you.
As with the law, this process will vary from institution to institution, but a few general steps always apply:
Request what you need
You should be submitting a special form asking for a campus accommodation that will cater to your emotional support animal. This request should include a statement from your doctor and be submitted to a Disability Services professional on campus.
Have your ESA letter ready
You should have an ESA letter ready to show campus staff how you qualify for an emotional support animal, provided by a licensed mental health professional. At this stage, you should also make sure to have your pet’s veterinarian records ready for inspection.
Talk to the campus staff
You should meet in person with a campus staff member so you can review the request form together. This is the time to go over guidelines and expectations – from both sides.
Have everyone agree
Chances are, you and your pet won’t be living alone. All roommates of the ESA owner should sign an agreement accepting the situation, with everything that having a pet entails.
Don’t Forget About Your Responsibilities!
If you are thinking about bringing your pets on campus with you, there are also several responsibilities to remember.
The cost of having a companion living with you can often be quite steep for a college student. Appropriate food, fresh water and veterinary care are all non-negotiable. If adequate living space and playtime is not provided, these neglectful actions may qualify as animal abuse, and your ESA rights could be taken away.
You are also expected to pay for all potential damages to the campus facilities your furry friend may cause. Owners are liable and fully responsible for their pet’s misbehavior. In addition, the most popular types of pets – dogs and cats – are not very suitable for living on campus. They need space, their own territory and periodic peace. In addition, dogs need to be walked several times a day, which is also not always possible at a rapid pace of student life. And even more so, do not bring a dog or cat that used to live in your house.
For animals, relocation and a new place of residence are severe stresses that can cause serious illness. Better to take someone who is more adapted to any kind of relocation. Choosing which animal to get on campus, students most often stop at rodents or non-toxic reptiles. Rats or hamsters will be great friends, and they don’t need a lot of space.
Having a companion throughout your college journey can make the experience much more fun and serene, especially when dealing with exam stress and other mental health issues. Just make sure you are fully prepared before you and your furry friend begin the move!