The number of emotional support animals on Texas Tech and universities and colleges campuses around the country is on the rise. Here, students living on campus have anxiety or a medical condition exacerbated by it, while others suffer from depression. To deal with these conditions, students are registering to have an emotional support animal in their rooms.
“They’re everywhere,” Tamara Mancini, senior assistant director in the university’s Student Disability Services office, says. “It’s not just one hall I can say, oh yeah, they’re all contained into this hall. It’s not.”
Mancini says the number of students requesting an emotional support animal has risen dramatically in recent years. In the fall of 2014, eight students requested an ESA. In the spring and fall of 2016 that number had skyrocketed to 52. Since January of this year, she’s gotten 48 requests, with seven more pending.
Other universities and colleges across the country are seeming similar increases. And discussions at national conferences frequently center on why.
“Any national conference that we go to, it’s always like, ok let’s talk about ESAs and everybody wants to hear that conversation,” she says.
Most of the ESAs are cats and dogs but Mancini has had requests in the past for a flying squirrel, which was rejected, and a hedgehog, which was allowed. Most of the requests come from female students.
Service animals, for Texas Tech students who are blind, deaf, mobility impaired or having medical alert issues are mostly dogs. These animals are regulated by the American with Disabilities Act, These students do not need to register with Mancini’s office.
Emotional support animals are governed by the Fair Housing Act and are for students who have anxiety, depression or a medical condition made worse by anxiety. The disabilities office must get a letter from a doctor.
“Any medical provider that is working with that student that can verify that they have a condition that would warrant an emotional support animal, or an assistance animal, then they would register with us,” Mancini says.
And sometimes there are questions about the medical provider’s letter.
“Yes we’ve had some paperwork that’s from California, but the student is from San Antonio…that may have just been something you paid for on the internet,” she says.
Madeline Garcia, a senior in the music department who suffers from generalized anxiety and depression, lives off campus, Her emotional support animal Toothless is an 18-month-old bearded dragon. He’s registered through the National Service Animal Registry. She takes Toothless out with her to help her feel calm and take the focus away from her.
“Taking him, it helps me to have something else to think about,” she says. “I get a little bit overwhelmed sometimes in bigger crowds.”
There have been instances, Mancini says, when a roommate of someone with an emotional support animal in Texas Tech dorms has an allergy to cats or dogs, or is just scared of dogs. Then things get tricky as there has to be an accommodation of an accommodation.
“If you and I were roommates and you were allergic to my cat, but I needed it for emotional support, then housing would work with us and either move me and my cat or move you,” Mancini explains.
Students with emotional support animals are required to keep them in their rooms and to keep their rooms clean and to pick up after their animals when they take them outside. Some students, however, play fast and loose with the rules.
“We have had some students take them to sit on the side while they play soccer,” Mancini says, “No, no rec center, no intramural games. It really is for your in your home environment.”