Does having animals on campus improve our community? Yes, according to an article, “Ushering in animals on campus with open arms,” published last December by iPulse, Lynn University’s student-run news organization.
While some Lynn community members agree that a companion animal can lift spirits, they also are quick to add that research does not yet support this claim on college campuses. And, with the number of service and emotional support animals more than tripling at Lynn—from seven to 24—in the last academic year, university administrators have taken note.
Matthew Roche, Lynn compliance manager and ADA compliance coordinator, is one. “Lynn is ahead of the curve regarding offering a Therapy Dog Thursdays program and seeing requests for service and emotional support animals,” he said. “More important, though, we’re eager to evaluate whether the presence of these animals will result in students’ grades increasing, less frequent use of counseling services, and alleviating other symptoms.”
Roche, who oversees the process for registering animals on campus, makes certain that students are prepared to take care of an animal full-time.
“Dogs [and other animals] are a big responsibility, and I need to be confident any animal on campus will receive proper care,” Roche said. “We recognize that transitioning to college can be tough, so we also want to help students try to become engaged on our campus before taking on the additional responsibility of, especially, an emotional support animal.”
So, what exactly is a service animal versus a support animal? Heidi Spirazza, Paws 4 Liberty co-founder and recent January Term guest speaker, explained.
“Service animals support an individual with a disability protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, whereas the Fair Housing Act protects emotional support animals,” she said. “A key difference is that a service animal is specially trained to complete tasks for their owner. These dogs typically accompany their owners everywhere, and they are under the control of their owner at all times. In Lynn’s university setting, emotional support animals accompany their owners in the residence halls under the Fair Housing Act.”
According to Spirazza, whose organization connects U.S. veterans with service animals, service animals can help veterans and others with disabilities increase confidence in going out—even to class.
“During training, we emphasize bonding to increase the trust between an animal and its owner,” she said. “For example, in a classroom setting, a well-bonded dog may ‘block’ the owner from others by standing or sitting perpendicular to them, so that no one can approach too quickly. In a ‘cover’ move, the dog will sit facing its owner and can be trained to nudge the owner if someone is approaching. Service animals increase the quality of life so much by getting our owners out there. It helps protect them from social isolation.”
Other uses for service animals include leading blind or visually impaired people, waking owners from night terrors, sensing owners’ low blood sugar, or preventing panic attacks, especially in individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder.
“The most common misconception I run into is people not understanding why someone—who doesn’t appear to have a disability—has a service animal,” Spirazza said. “I like to remind people not to assume that someone is taking advantage of needing a dog. It’s also helpful to know their rights, and yours, regarding the matter.”
According to Roche, that includes being able to ask two questions: Do you have an animal because of a disability? And, what is the animal trained to do in relation to your disability?
Beyond these two questions, Roche encourages people to be respectful to the dog, its owner, and to contact him or Campus Safety with any questions.
“At the end of the day, we respect all guidance provided by the ADA and Fair Housing Act,” Roche said. “A safe and comfortable place to learn, live and work requires support and understanding from everyone on campus.”
And, as for the future of animals on campus?
“Until research proves otherwise, I will continue encouraging students to visit the Counseling Center first,” said Roche. “Sometimes students can get the same benefits by talking with someone trained to help them through their concerns, or even by volunteering off campus with organizations like Big Dog Rescue and Tri-County Animal Rescue. Other students just need help getting connected to organizations on campus that help them get out there and stay involved.”
Roche also recommends that students visit the Center for Student Involvement or try out programs like FriendLink, offered by the Institute for Achievement and Learning, to find like-minded peers.
In the near future, Roche hopes to have Lynn pilot a program called PEERS, created by researchers at the University of California Los Angeles.
“The PEERS program would help students identify a mentor on campus and work with them over several weeks to address the same types of symptoms we see animals on campus for,” he said.
Roche also confirmed that while pets are allowed on campus, university policy does not permit them in university buildings or facilities. That means Fido is welcome to watch sporting events, as long as he’s outside the gated area.