When a student leaves for college, they may also leave behind their furry best friend. However, emotional support animals and service dogs are living in dorm rooms and walking around Plattsburgh State to provide physical and mental support for their owners.
According to Student Support Services, there are 19 registered emotional support animals and three registered service animals on campus this semester.
Michele Carpentier, assistant vice president of Student Affairs and director of special programs, said before the end of 2016 no pets or animals were allowed on campus. Since then, these numbers tend to fluctuate between academic years from repeaters and new students.
“Some years, we’ll have three or four students with hearing impairments and other years we’ll have none,” Carpentier said. “It’s just a random thing, and it’s hard to tell because it depends on who comes to the school.”
Carpentier said that under the Americans with Disabilities Act, PSUC can’t require students to register their service animal with SSS, but they encourage any to do so. However, any emotional support animal on campus is required to register.
Also under the ADA, service dogs are not required to wear a vest or marker, making them indistinguishable from off-campus pets.
“Because people see a service dog, they say, ‘Oh, well I can have my dog,’ and that’s just not the case,” Carpentier said. “We’re working on helping people understand that your pet on campus is not a service animal.”
A service animal is an animal that has been trained to perform a certain task for their owner, typically with a physical disability, while an emotional support animal, or ESA, is any animal that gives comfort but is not trained to perform any specific tasks.
In New York State, a service animal can only be a dog or a miniature horse, while an ESA can be any domestic pet. Service animals are permitted to accompany their owner anywhere on campus, but ESAs are not allowed in academic or public buildings and restricted to residential spaces only. Due to these campus policies that reflect this, repeat offenders could be asked to leave.
“The animal still has to follow directions,” Carpentier said. “If the animal was putting holes in the wall or tearing up mattresses, they could be asked to be removed. There is an appeal process, but we haven’t had that happen so far.”
Hailey Smith is a freshman biomedical major at PSUC with a service dog, a 5-year-old goldendoodle named Race. Smith and Race live in Adirondack Hall.
“When he’s not on duty, he’s very goofy and excitable,” Smith said.
Smith said she got an infection from a spider bite, causing a type of nerve disease, characterized by pain, muscle spasms, skin flares or paralysis.
By the time Smith came to PSUC, Race was already trained as her mobility assistance dog.
“When I first got my disease, I couldn’t walk, so I trained him to help me when my parents weren’t home,” Smith said, explaining how Race provides her with support. “He can lay on me to put pressure and calm my nerves, or he can desensitize me to get my nerves used to touching things again.”
Smith said that while Race’s interactions with other emotional support dogs has been positive, it’s sometimes hard to keep him focused while on duty with other non-trained animals on campus.
“He loves other dogs, but it’s a lot easier for him to focus if other animals are focused on what they’re doing too,” she said.
Sophomore philosophy major Kristina Lollo is still raising Cooper, her 5-month-old labrador-pitbull-hound mix in Mason Hall. Lollo suffers from anxiety, depression, bipolar disease and PTSD.
“He helps me with a wide variety of things,” Lollo said. “I’d been searching all summer for a service dog, and I finally found one that matched my personality.”
Before she got Cooper, Lollo didn’t have a therapeutic outlet to relieve her stress and anxiety for her first year of college.
“Having [an ESA], I feel like I’m doing a lot better,” she said. “We’re in the fourth week of classes, and I haven’t had a mental breakdown yet.”
Nian Wan is a PSUC medical technology major with Fleury, her 10-year-old maltese. The pair commute to campus from their home in South Burlington, Vermont. When Wan goes to her lab classes, Fleury rides in a large dog stroller, sometimes sporting a mini white lab coat and pink doggy goggles for her safety.
“She’s very friendly and social,” Wan said. “She’s really a ham.”
Unlike Smith who needs her service dog for a physical disability, Fleury functions as a psychiatric service dog for Wan’s depression and PTSD.
Wan said she received electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT, as a treatment for her depression, but sometimes suffers from short-term memory loss.
“If I forget where the car is, [Fleury] actually knows where it is,” Wan said.
Wan advocates for students to be allowed service animals and ESAs on campus for the benefit of academic purposes.
“A dog tends to force one to be social,” she said. “It makes mental illness less scary.”
With the permission of service animals and ESAs on campus, Carpentier hopes students can find the comfort they need during their time at PSUC, even if it walks on four legs.
“Sometimes I worry about them, but I’m hopeful that we’re able to provide a good environment for the animals and students.” Carpentier said.
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