Paws on Campus: How Emotional Support Animals Help Relieve Student Stress

Tiki, a shelter dog, with her owner Kylia LaMure (front) and classmate Martina Moussa (back). Photo courtesy of LaMure.

Thump, thump, thump. It begins with blood racing and temperature rising. Darkness. Then the sense of impending doom sets in. 

What can be worse than that?

Sophomore Maggie Vetter and her miniature dachshund Howie on campus. Picture courtesy of Vetter.

For sophomore English major Maggie Vetter, there is nothing worse than an anxiety attack.

“You feel like you’re gonna die and you’re never gonna feel better again. It sucks,” Vetter said. 

To help, she got herself a dog.

Specifically, an emotional support dog. Like Vetter, many students on Chapman’s campus also have emotional support animals (ESA) to help combat their anxiety and mental health struggles.

Emily Belote, housing assignments coordinator. Photo courtesy of Resident Life.

In the past few years, Chapman has seen a rise in the amount of support animal requests, according to housing assignments coordinator Emily Belote. Currently, 27 students at Chapman have registered emotional support animals. 

“I have worked in housing now for more than 15 years professionally, and there has been definitely a rise in requests for emotional support animals during that time,” said Dave Sundby, director of Resident Life. 

Dave Sundby, director of Resident Life. Photo courtesy of Resident Life.

According to a research study published by the American Psychological Association, the presence of an animal helps to reduce anxiety, improve mood, and stabilize emotions through the constant attention the emotional support animal provides. These animals are more commonly known for being dogs and cats, but can be any domesticated animal that provides comfort and support to its owner.

Vetter’s miniature dachshund, Howie, helped her during finals week last semester.

“I was very overwhelmed and I had him to snuggle to calm me down,” she said. 

However, these animals are not guaranteed access to classrooms.

According to Sundby, emotional support animals are required to be allowed in the owner’s living space to provide comfort, but teachers do not have to let them in their classrooms. This differs from service animals, which are trained to do specific tasks, and therefore, must be allowed everywhere with the owner, as defined by the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Still, these animals play an important role in helping students perform better in the classroom.

LaMure and Tiki in her car. Photo courtesy of LaMure.

Junior creative producing major, Kylia LaMure, has her own emotional support dog Tiki, whose breed is unknown because she was rescued from a shelter.

“I get really overwhelmed and sometimes I’ll have an anxiety attack,” said LaMure. “I come back to the dorm and chill for a second and Tiki is a really easy dog to hug. So I hug her and that helps.”

Emotional support animals make many others at Chapman happy too. Not just their owners.

LaMure has been contacted on her emotional support animal’s Instagram account by multiple people about how nice it is to have Tiki around on campus. 

One message said: “Following this account has literally improved my mental health.”

“That just makes me happy too,” LaMure said. “It’s not only me she’s helping, it’s a bunch of other students, even students I don’t know on campus.”

“She has been helping a lot of people, which is really nice,” added LaMure’s roommate, junior animation major, Ava McLean.

Ava McLean, LaMure’s roommate, with Tiki. Photo courtesy of McLean.

However, being a roommate to someone with an emotional support animal can be tough.

“I’m just scared of messing up with Howie,” said Vetter’s roommate, sophomore computer science major, Olivia Chilvers. 

LaMure’s roommate expressed similar sentiments about her dog.

“I don’t need the service animal so I don’t want to take responsibility for the animal,” said McLean. “The work Kylia puts in for Tiki is a lot.”

The owners need to get up early, take them outside to relieve themselves, feed them, and give them attention all day long. 

“Some of the animals get abused,” said LaMure. “The animal gets left in the dorm because they can’t bring it to classes or they don’t get walked enough. That’s not fair to the animals.”

LaMure walking her emotional support animal on campus. Photo courtesy of LaMure.

That’s why there is a vetting process at Chapman for emotional support animals.

There is a 10 page application to apply for an emotional support animal, which requires supporting medical documentation. According to Sundby, once it gets reviewed by student affairs and residence life staff, the documentation also gets reviewed by disability services, and if needed it can be reviewed by student psychological counseling services and the student health center.

“If students need an emotional support animal, we want them to have a means to do so, but within the boundaries of clear expectations and standards because students live in community with others,” said Sundby. 

However, some believe that the system to get an emotional support animal is easy to abuse because it allows students to bring their pet to campus when they don’t need it.

“There’s a lot of people who just want to have a dog or a pet with them, so they find a therapist or psychologist and they exaggerate why they think they need it,” said LaMure.

McLean agreed, saying, “It wouldn’t surprise me if some abuse the system.”

Tiki at a fraternity meeting with her owner Kylia LaMure, a junior. Photo courtesy of LaMure.

While Sundby agrees that sometimes, “it does feel a bit fishy,” it’s not for him to determine because “if the medical doctor is willing to provide documentation to support an emotional support animal, then it’s legitimate.”

While Vetter agrees it’s possible to sneak a pet through the system, she said, “Most of the people that you see that have them actually have their emotional support animals for a reason.”

LaMure felt strongly about the topic, saying, “I don’t want the opportunity for people who actually need it to be taken away just because some people want to have their dog with them because they think it’s fun.”

Sundby said:

“For me it’s thinking about how to balance the needs of the individual student with the needs of the community.”

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Sydney Scott is a sophomore studying journalism and data analytics. When she isn't writing, you can find her reading various books, discovering hidden places, or riding her favorite attractions at Disneyland.