Written by Kenneth Ashlock, Associate Director of the Office of Student Disability Services, addressed to The Murray State News
We felt it was necessary to write this letter in response to the article “Students seek solace in furry friends on campus,” which appeared in the Aug. 24 edition. The features editor, Emily Williams, interviewed Kelsey Ross, senior from Paducah, KY, as well as Laura Beckers, assistant professor in the Department of Biology, as part of her research. Both individuals made reference to having/allowing emotional support animals in the classroom.
Although it is not uncommon for individuals to use the titles of emotional support animals and service animals interchangeably, there are some distinct differences that should be noted, especially in terms of where it is permissible for animals to be on campus.
Emotional support animals are not specifically trained to perform a task; therefore, there are some limitations associated with having an emotional support animal on campus. The Fair Housing Amendments Act influences how emotional support animals are governed, which includes on-campus housing options at Murray State University. Since emotional support animals are not trained to perform a specific task, they are considered an accommodation and are not used for accessibility purposes. Therefore, the animal(s) is limited to the owner’s living space.
It is not permissible for an emotional support animal to accompany their owner to class, to an on-campus job, to the cafeteria, to the library, into a residence hall (other than the one building they have been assigned to live in while staying on campus), into another resident’s room within their assigned residence hall, etc. Emotional support animals are typically dogs or cats, but may also include other types of animals that provide therapeutic benefit to an individual with a mental or emotional disability.
Service animals, however, are animals that are trained to perform a specific work or task. A common service animal most are familiar with is a seeing-eye dog, a dog which is specially trained to serve as a navigator or ‘sight’ for an individual with a visual impairment. There are only two types of animals that the Americans with Disabilities Act has approved for use as a service animal (dogs or miniature horses). Therefore, a cat, for example, could not be considered a service animal. Service animals are not considered an accommodation; rather, they are required for accessibility purposes. Service animals are generally allowed to go wherever their owner goes (i.e. the animal may be taken to class, to an on-campus job, etc.)
Service animals are a necessity for some individuals to have access to virtually every facet of campus. With the significant increase in animals on campus in recent years, we as a university community need to think about the impact it is having on different components of campus life.
Our classrooms (in most instances), for example, are not equipped to handle a large number of animals at one time. In fact, we are doing a disservice to those students who need the accompaniment of their service animal by encouraging other individuals to bring their animals to class. Comfort and companionship do not equate to a trained work or task.
It has become apparent in recent years that emotional support animals do indeed provide therapeutic benefit to individuals with a mental or emotional disability; our office would be glad to meet with any student to discuss the process of requesting this valuable reasonable housing accommodation to help them adjust to living on campus.