New policy allows emotional support animals in residence halls

A new policy regarding emotional support animals was established this week, via a WMU press release.

"Western Michigan University recognizes the importance of Service Animals as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) and the broader category of Assistance Animals under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), which provide physical and/or emotional support to individuals with disabilities," the release states. 

While service dogs, trained to complete tasks and assist owners with disabilities have always been allowed on campus, the University allows emotional support animals to live on campus as well. While they'll be able to stay with students in dorms, according to WMU's Animals on Campus Policy, unlike service dogs, emotional support animals cannot accompany students to their classes.

Not exclusive to dogs or cats, emotional support animals are often referred to as "comfort animals," alleviating the symptoms of a condition or disability. Often times an emotional support animal will accompany those dealing with mental health issues like depression, anxiety, or PTSD. 

The rise in diagnoses of mental health conditions amongst college age young-adults has left many resorting to emotional support animals for treatment. Now, administrators will have to discern a legitimate request, from a homesick student who really just wants to bring their animal with them to college. 

"There are people that need (emotional support animals) to keep them healthy," says Jayne Fraley-Burgett, Director of Disability Services for Students. "Emotional support animals work for a lot of people with severe mental health conditions. It could save those individuals lives."

The decision whether or not to allow a certain animal from living with a student goes through Frayley-Burgett's office, and will be determined on a case-by-case basis says Frayley-Burgett. 

"What we have to do as an institution is have an interactive process with each student, it's not black and white," Frayley-Burgett said. "If it's not being treated right, or that animal doesn't have the space to live, than that person is going to be stressed out too."

The roughly two week decision making process will be made by Disability Services for Students as well as Residence Life, who will notify housemates of the animal, surveying students for any potential allergy. Emotional support animals will not be allowed to accompany students to class.

For more information about the WMU Animals On Campus policy, click here.

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