by Nada Kendis
When I was a freshman and came to live on campus, my mother made me give my pet cockatiel, big brass cage and all, to my Grandmother for safe keeping. It was hard giving up the comfort and company of my pet when I first moved from home. And unfortunately, my grandmother forgot to feed him, and the first two months of my freshman year was spent mourning.
For decades, promising pedants have had to forgo their pets to achieve an education, but in the spring of this year, that all changed.
In April, a federal court ruled for the rights of students and their pets. The new ruling says that housing providers must provide “reasonable accommodation” for emotional support animals. Now, with a doctor’s note, an incoming student can bring their pet to school. At the same time, options are opening up for students who have acquired a pet while living off campus.
So it’s official: researchers have found that students that have pets actually do gain from the responsibility. Pets provide support, companionship, and stress relief. Studies of pet ownership have even been linked to improved social capital, which means it’s easier for pet owners to make friends, and ultimately pet ownership is linked to better health. Now the federal government has provided students with an option; bringing their pets to school for emotional support.
One of the biggest and most widely acknowledged benefits of pet ownership, particularly dogs, is the increase in exercise for students. Studying is so sedentary that having a four legged friend to nudge you out of your chair for a walk is a great balancer, and it keeps your jeans from getting too tight.
Part Time Pets
UCF and the Orlando community are longtime supporters of the benefits of pets for students. UCF partners with Pet Rescue by Judy almost every month for the Rent a Pup program.
If you want to spend some time with a shelter dog, just present your school ID and you have a furry friend for at least fifteen minutes. It’s a great way to meet potential pets and learn about the responsibilities that come with them.
Pets as role models
Many students say the responsibility of a pet helps them stay on track. One student claims her dog gives her discipline: “I can’t stay out late partying because I have to get home to walk the dog, and I can’t oversleep for my 7:00 AM biology lecture because he needs to go out then too.”
InventorSpot reports that at other pet friendly campuses, such as Emory in St. Petersburg, the administration observes the same positive effect: pets make better students. UCF housing representative Meredith Varner promises that “the university is implementing a program that should begin accommodating pets, possibly as soon as fall of 2014”.
This is an opportunity for students with pets because now, with a doctor’s note as proof, anyone can acquire housing that allows them to have a pet for emotional support. At other schools where they already accept pets, college roommates have an option to decide if they want a roommate who has a pet. That seems like the best of all worlds, because you get all the comfort and none of the hard core responsibility.
Transfer students and upperclassmen also have access to the new option if they have a pet. For example, if a student commits to a pet, and then changes schools, or needs to move to pursue graduate school, they have the option to bring that pet to live on campus. Yes, they need that doctor’s note, and some places may enforce this more than others, but it does provide a new option, and new options reduce stress.
Stress comes at students from unexpected angles. For example, one student told me how the affiliated housing complex that she lives in officially doesn’t allow pets, but they don’t enforce the policy. So one student sees another get a pet, and follows suit. Then, when there are many students with pets, the management comes through and hands out hefty fines; in essence forcing students to pay to involuntarily abandon the responsibility they took on: it’s a bad lesson and bad karma. But now it ends because student’s who acquire a pet can fight back with the law on their side. And personally, I’d rather pay a doctor to write me note than pay a fine.
The way the new law works
What is says
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development released this notice in April.
The new ruling says that housing providers must offer people with disabilities a “reasonable accommodation” for emotional support animals under both the Fair Housing Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1974.
What it means
Any student, with a doctor’s note as proof, has a right to housing that allows them to have a pet for “emotional support”. Yes, the need for emotional support is now legally considered a disability. So when the doctor’s note says you need emotional support; you are “technically” considered disabled, and you get to keep your pet.
Of course, not every pet is ideal for a student. The pet has to be comfortable living in apartment-like conditions too. I mean, Hello, don’t bring your outdoor cat and expect him to suddenly live indoors, but if the situation is suitable, all can benefit.
While smaller dogs or cats seem to give the most health benefits, and also adjust well to living in a small apartment type house, there are other pets to consider if you are not ready to commit to multiple walks a day: contemplate a gerbil or a hamster. Or even a bird.
Pets and Planning
As graduation approaches, students who have pets must remember to make plans early. Allow ample time to look for where you will live next with your pet. Figure out how much time your new schedule will require and plan for a short commute if possible. Keep in mind that a work day doesn’t typically allow time for pet care. You have to make that happen.
Do some legwork and scout around your destination area; you can even do a lot of that legwork online. Know where pet friendly parks are, and locate a good veterinarian in your new location so you are ready for any problems when you arrive. Remember, while you may quickly find housing that allows pets, it takes some extra time to actually find a place where you and your pet will thrive.