The number of emotional support animals (ESAs) on college campuses is increasing. Schools now allow animals in dorms under the guidelines stated in the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act. Students said that their ESA alleviates the stress and anxiety of college, the American Psychological Association (APA) reports. Other colleges and universities will likely experience an increase in ESAs on campus. The question is whether or not this will actually reduce college stress.
The effects of ESAs on humans are still being studied. PLNU alumna Emily Miranda graduated with a degree in psychology and spent years studying this topic. She previously attended Carroll College, the only U.S. college to offer a major in anthrozoology, the study of the human and animal bond. Miranda has a unique perspective on ESAs due to her time as both an anthrozoology major and a psychology major. She said, “Studies show that petting a dog can lower blood pressure, feelings of anxiety or stress.”
Miranda also differentiated between service animals and ESAs. Service animals are trained to perform specific tasks that benefit a person with a disability and can go wherever their owner goes. On the other hand, ESAs are not trained and don’t have a registry. They are only offered entrance into housing situations and airplanes.
University of Missouri psychology professor, Jeffrey Younggren addressed the responsibility of doctors and mental health professionals when prescribing ESAs. Younggren studies the legal and ethical problems of ESA certification, which he said is increasingly easy to obtain. His opinion is that it “isn’t something a mental health professional should be doing.”
The research is mixed on how ESAs affect students in the long run. Younggren is an APA Council of Representatives member, psychology professor and a clinical and forensic psychologist. From his experiences, he believes that some people abuse ESA certification in order to have their pets with them at all times. He disagrees with giving special considerations for college students, regardless of additional stress. Younggren said, “Draw the lines where the laws are being abused. It’s the abuse that we have to stop.”
California State University, Long Beach alumna, Jennifer Macias owns Cleo, a miniature dachshund and certified ESA. Macias got Cleo certified because it reduces her anxiety attacks and claustrophobia on planes. Macias is applying to graduate schools and plans to take Cleo with her. Although Cleo helps her handle college stress, Macias won’t bring her into classrooms. She said, “It could be beneficial, but for other people, it could be a distraction.”
Her connection with Cleo relieves her stress, which Macias said increases her personal work productivity. She said, “ESAs serve a purpose because they have a connection with their owners.” Macias referred to the topic of ESAs as a gray area. The situation varies for each person and animal species.
ESAs are becoming more common in planes and housing, and colleges and universities could be next. The stresses of college could either be alleviated or enhanced by having a furry friend on campus. While laws simplify the process of certifying an ESA, the mental health benefits are still being studied. If you see any dogs on your Thanksgiving flight home, you may see them in your classroom next.