“You’re really going to have a kitten in a dorm room?!”
That’s usually the reaction I get when I tell people I’m getting an emotional support animal (ESA), spoken in an incredulous tone and accompanied by an expression of disbelief. Which is valid--ESAs are not for everyone! Still, they are great for a lot of people. If you think you might want an ESA in college, I’m here to clear up the process a bit and add my own experience/advice to the blogs. But first, a disclaimer. Even though it can be a long process, it is absolutely worth it. If this is something you really want, then it’s definitely achievable and manageable. Remember that the college wants the best for you and will work with you. Use your resources and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
The whole ordeal of getting approved is, I won’t lie to you, pretty overwhelming (at least, for cats and dogs. I’ve heard it can be quicker for other animals). There are a lot of steps to take and papers to sign and meetings to be held. This is to ensure that the animal will be cared for and happy, which is extremely important. The college and the place of adoption need to make sure you’re serious about this, and responsible enough to see it through. The first steps include registering with the Office of Disability and Access (ODA) and submitting the accommodation request. Additionally, you need to have the proper documentation from your medical provider. Then you’ll have an initial meeting with ODA. Now the waiting begins! The housing committee has to vote to approve the ESA. Personally, I think this is the most difficult part. It’s hard to simply be patient and relax. And the not-knowing can be anxiety-inducing. Nevertheless, having pets is always going to come with challenges, and it’s good practice to get used to it. Just try to remember that it’s out of your control, and that things will work out as they’re meant to.
Once the housing committee votes, you’ll get an email on the outcome. This is the step I’m currently at--I just got approved. Next week, I have a follow-up meeting with ODA to go over responsibilities and rules. Once I get the rest of the paperwork in, have a room inspection, and get the final go-ahead, I can adopt the ESA and bring her home. Now that we’ve covered all the steps, I have some advice to remember before embarking on this process.
The first thing I wish I’d known earlier is this: you have to be prepared for potential complications. The more you keep that in mind going in, the better off you’ll be. For example, I fell totally in love with my kitten, but now have to wait at least an extra month to bring her home because of some unforeseen health complications.
Two: you have to have a pre-established relationship. I thought you got approved first and picked the ESA second. Turns out, it’s the other way around. This way the college knows that the animal is a good fit and will actually be beneficial to you. In the same vein: don’t get too attached to any one animal at first. Bear in mind the possibility of its getting adopted before you can get approved. Keeping an open mind is the best way to avoid heartbreak. You can also try asking the shelter to put the animal on hold for you to adopt until you get approval. Most places will try to work with you!
Three: as the opening line of this post probably demonstrated, some people might be a little apprehensive about it. At first, this made me second-guess myself--don’t do this! If you know that an ESA is right for you and will help you, then do it. It’s a personal decision that only you are responsible for, so don’t let unsolicited, albeit well-intentioned, opinions bother you too much.
Four: you don’t necessarily have to have a single room for this to work. I initially thought this, which made the whole thing seem insurmountable. I was shocked at how many people are interested in a roommate with an ESA. My roommate even accompanied me to meet the kitten and helped pick her out.
And last but not least: to reiterate, having a pet obviously comes with a lot of responsibility and isn’t always easy. Getting an ESA in college is really about weighing the benefits and the costs. Do your research, and think it through. For some, the responsibility might add too much stress. For others, the mental health benefits completely outweigh any downsides.
That was a lot of information! I hope this helps clear things up about getting an ESA. I’ll leave you with a picture of my adorable calico kitty, Mabel.
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