The use of four-legged friends on campus to stave off emotional issues has not increased despite supportive laws and wider knowledge, according to University of Wisconsin officials.
Emotional support animals help people who struggle with anxiety and depression through their furry charms and can range widely in species and size. While their visibility on campuses around the country has grown, UW housing officials said the rate at which people apply for animal accommodations has remained roughly the same.
Under federal law, landlords, including university housing, must make accommodations for those with a documented need for an emotional support animal, regardless of pet policy.
Normally UW housing only allows pets in the form of fish, but residents may apply for a permit through the McBurney Disability Resource Center, said UW housing spokesperson Brian Ward. He said his department has seen an increase in questions regarding therapy animals, but the number who follow up with an actual application has not risen markedly.
“They go through a process and we go to physicians who have to say this is a requirement for a student,” Ward said.
He said the process is the same as the one used to apply for a service dog.
Once a student is approved for a therapy animal, housing examines each case individually to determine the best dorm possible for students. Ward said they usually do not have many issues involving the animals.
Liz Morrison, Dogs On Call vice president, said the presence of dogs and even cats can be very effective in relaxing people. Dogs On Call brings dogs to hospitals and schools to help relieve the anxiety before treatment or when studying for an exam. They frequently visit UW dorms before finals.
“What we found is that students come rushing to see the dogs, especially those who are away from home for the first time,” Morrison said.
She said people will often stay for the entire three hours dogs are visiting a dorm, with many laughing and sometimes crying. She said many students reported a significant decrease in their stress levels, some even claiming to have done better on their exams after petting the dogs.
Morrison said for some students, the added work that comes from taking care of a dog is worth the emotional payout.
“We have people who follow us around from place to place, so there are people who long to be with dogs,” Morrison said.
Morrison, who owns two therapy dogs, said while the novelty would probably wear off from owning a dog, there certainly exists a segment of the population who will always benefit from dog ownership.
She said she believes this is especially true for those who have grown up with dogs and now find themselves facing the often times daunting setting of university campus.
“People know when they come in, they’re going to get some unconditional love and their stress levels will go down,” Morrison said.
The difficulties of owning a dog, especially during the winter, are not all that great, Morrison said. Dogs adapt well to the winter and even those who are bothered by it can always wear a jacket, she said.
Houses and apartment buildings around campus are required to accommodate anyone with a legitimate need. Steve Brown Apartments, which controls such buildings as Brownhouse and Lucky Apartments, and has a number of dog owners, declined to comment but said they adhere to the law. Aberdeen Apartments and The HUB also declined comment.