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College Students Request Pets For Therapy

Digested from “Campuses Debate Rising Demands for ‘Comfort Animals’”
The New York Times (10/4/15) Hoffman, Jan

As anxiety and depression among college students increase, so has the request for pets in campus housing. Schools have acknowledged the stress relief animals can provide, and they're including programs that provide trained therapy dogs during high-stress periods, such as finals. But allowing pets to reside with students has proved tricky for some colleges and universities.   

For one, there’s the potential for property damage, such as chewed or stained carpets, as well as excess odor. Second, other students may be allergic to specific types of pets. Campuses that allow pets have set up separate washers and dryers for pet-related items to prevent cross-contamination with students who have such allergies. 

Third, schools need a system to separate therapeutic need requests from “I want a doggy” requests. Schools are using medical history to determine what constitutes a therapeutic need.

But college housing officials who have denied support animals are finding themselves in hot water, as proved by two recent cases involving the University of Nebraska-Kearney and Kent State University. In the Nebraska case, a federal judge ruled that denying pets for therapeutic needs violates the Fair Housing Act because it discriminates against a disability. 

This may mean that schools err on the side of “yes” to avoid costly litigation. But schools that are accepting pets should establish acceptable pet behaviors, such as welcome contact and designated bathroom areas, and size limits.  

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