ESA: Support in a different form

Jaden Solis, cuddles her emotional support animal, Caspurr, outside of South Hall during the fall semester.

Jaden Solis is one of many students with an emotional support animal (ESA) on Eastern Kentucky University’s campus. Solis, a sophomore accounting major, has had her ESA Caspurr since November 2020. Caspurr is a 1-year-old domestic white haired cat. 

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), an ESA “is any animal that provides emotional support alleviating one or more symptoms or effects of a person’s disability.” Support includes providing companionship, helping with anxiety or depression and certain phobias. Although ESAs help with some disabilities, they are not trained like service animals; therefore, they do not have the same privileges.

Registering an ESA on campus takes only four steps. First, students must go online to complete the Center for Student Accessibility’s (CSA) application for services. This application gives the CSA background information about the requestor and the reason for requesting an ESA on campus. Once the CSA application is complete, the requestor must send the center documentation that verifies their mental health diagnosis.

Students must then complete another form called the animal verification form. In this form, a medical professional prescribes an ESA for the student and details its importance to the student’s success in college, said Kelly Cogar, senior director of the Center for Student Accessibility.

Lastly, if the animal the student is requesting receives vaccinations, the student must also submit an updated vaccination record. 

ESAs can be any type of animal, such as turtles, dogs, cats, ferrets and certain types of birds. The CSA restricts boa constrictors and animals that can transmit diseases to humans. Boa constrictors are denied due to the safety of other animals on campus.

“If they (boa constrictors) were for some reason to escape their tanks, they could harm another emotional support animal or a service animal because that is their nature,” said Cogar.

The Center for Student Accessibility receives approximately 75-100 applications per month, and 30% of those applications are for ESAs, said Cogar. There are 180 approved ESAs on campus, but the number rises daily. 

Solis suffers from anxiety and depression. Solis said over the last year with Caspurr, her mental health has improved greatly.

“I don’t have panic attacks as much, but when I do he (Caspurr) hops up into my lap and lets me love on him,” Solis said.

With having an ESA on campus, there are rules that must be followed. ESAs cannot be left overnight. Approved animals must also stay in their assigned spaces unless being taken out to exercise or relieve themselves. Animals must be housebroken, and failure to do so will result in the removal of the animal from campus. Handlers must be able to provide for their animals. This includes food, water and keeping up to date on vaccinations.

“Every student who requests an emotional support animal has to review their responsibilities and sign an acknowledgement form that they understand those responsibilities, and if they break any of those regulations or policies, then their animal can be removed from campus,” said Cogar.

Solis currently lives in South Hall. The process of choosing a room this year changed for her because she likes to have a room to herself. In South Hall, Solis lives in a single suite. This means that she has her own room, but shares a kitchen, bathroom and living room area with three other students. 

“I prefer a room to myself so that I can lock Caspurr up when I need to,” said Solis.

At the beginning of the semester, Solis watched her suitemates with Caspurr a lot. Not knowing her suitemates well, Solis was very nervous about how they would react to Caspurr. Solis said that her suitemates are great with Caspurr, and that she trusts them.

Solis also said when choosing a dorm room, EKU Housing was very accommodating. EKU Housing allowed Solis to pick her room in South Hall before any other student was able to select their room.

For more information on ESAs and other accessibility accommodations, go to accessibility.eku.edu.

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