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Exploring Service Animals at Willamette

Sean Olson

Contributing Writer

Photo from the Willamette Archives

What draws the line between pets and support animals? We’ve all seen these adorable creatures on campus. Maybe they were walking around Jackson Plaza or your roommate has one. It’s undeniable that service animals are a prevalent part of Willamette’s culture.

There are two categories that define support animals: service animals (SA) and emotional support animals (ESA).

“Service animals are not pets” states Jeff Larson, the director of accessible education services. This statement references Title ll and lll of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which define service animals as animals that are trained to perform specific tasks for an individual. Surprisingly, Willamette housing guidelines only allow dogs and miniature horses to be service animals. Dogs are the most common type of service animal because they are trainable, intelligent and have a long history of working alongside humans. Additionally, because they are relatively small and portable, they are suited for service work. Miniature horses are an alternative option for anyone who may have religious restriction/allergic reactions to dogs, other dogs related conflicts or simply love horses. Miniature horses can be trained to perform many of the same tasks as dogs including pulling wheelchairs, providing stability for individuals with mobility impairment or guiding individuals who are blind. Although numerous residents and Jeff have not seen a miniature horse their entire career, if you see one on campus, that’s probably why.

Emotional support animals on the other hand are animals that provide comfort and support to individuals with emotional or mental health conditions. These animals do not require any standardized training and can be other types of animals including cats and rabbits. Emotional support animals are not a one size fits all solution and may not be appropriate for every student with a mental health condition. Students should work closely with mental health professionals and other support resources to determine the best course of action for their specific needs. In order for emotional support animals to qualify, they must receive an approval by the Willamette Office of Accessibility Education Services (AES).

The benefits of emotional support animals and service are great and numerous. Human interactions with animals can reduce stress and anxiety, and improve the mood and overall well-being of a student. For students who may be depressed, having an animal companion can even provide fewer symptoms .

However, there are also challenges associated with having emotional support animals on campus. One of the biggest concerns is allergies. Certain students may have an allergic reaction to service animals. Additionally, some students may feel uncomfortable or afraid around certain types of animals.

Support and service animals also require time, energy and care for already busy Willamette students. Animals require a budgeted quantity of food and other dietary goods on a daily basis, as well as veterinary care and cleaning. Additionally, the animal must be housebroken (i.e., trained so that, absent illness or accident, the animal controls its waste elimination) and not be disruptive to other students. This can be a significant responsibility, especially for students who are already dealing with academic or personal challenges. However, for many of the students with EMS or service animals, the support of these little partners is worth any cost. For the larger Willamette community, support and service animals are valued as part of our community

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