Going to college and getting a degree to launch a career is an opportunity that many people aspire and choose to pursue. People of all ages and backgrounds explore their college career options to find college programs that meet their needs. Academic support is key to students’ success, and many institutions offer a variety of supportive resources to current and prospective scholars. Financial aid, mentorship and advising services, subsidized housing, and campus employment opportunities are often made available as much as possible to dedicated students that are invested in their academic pursuits and goals.
For students of any age, distance from families and homes can be challenging, and adjusting to college life in an unfamiliar environment can be emotionally stressful. While commuting to college from home or moving altogether isn’t always possible or feasible, there are ways that students can bring some parts of their home with them. For many people, their pets represent familiarity, safety, comfort, and support. Many academic institutions are becoming more sensitive to the value pets hold for their owners and are implementing reasonable changes to accommodate students who can’t or won’t leave their beloved animals behind.
Of course, there also have to be considerations in place for other students and faculty. There are legal constraints around domestic animals being in public places and facilities, specifically regarding safety and sanitation. Still, colleges and universities have started taking a more flexible approach to allowing students to have pets on campus grounds so that all students, including pet owners, can have the best possible college experience.
The Americans with Disabilities Act, a civil law the protects the rights of disabled individuals, defines a service animal as “a dog that’s individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.” Certified service animals that undergo high-level training to accompany and assist people with disabilities are permitted full public access. This means that they can be with their owners anywhere at any time, even where other animals aren’t allowed, including restaurants, libraries, public modes of transportation, and other facilities.
Types of service dogs
Disabilities can range from physical, mental, psychiatric, sensory, or intellectual. Professional service animals can help disabled individuals go about their daily lives safely and benefit from a higher quality of life. Service animals are most often dogs, and several different types are trained specifically to help with certain impairments or disabilities:
- Guide dogs
- Hearing dogs
- Mobility assistance dogs
- Allergy detection dogs
- Autism service dogs
- Psychiatric service dogs
- Seizure alert dogs
Training service dogs
Service dogs are professionally trained to respond to specific commands and assist people with various tasks. They’re trained to protect their owners from unsafe or risky situations and alert them when something is wrong. They’re also a source of emotional support and comfort, and it’s natural for service dogs and owners to bond and form close codependent relationships.
Service dogs come in various sizes and breeds, but the best service dogs share some common traits that enable them to handle any situation, even stressful ones, expertly. The following are some of the canine characteristics that trainers look for in candidates:
- Naturally calm and patient in demeanor
- Friendly and loving towards human and other animals
- Willing to work hard and be active
- Equipped with innate intelligence and strong sensory abilities
- Adaptive to unfamiliarity
- Trainable, reliable, and obedient
- Able to handle stressful situations or crises
The training involved in getting an animal certified is rigorous and can be expensive. In general, it can take 1 to 2 years for service animals to get fully trained and qualified. There are special training programs run by professionals experienced in their field and have qualifications of their own. Some dogs are bred specifically for these purposes and are trained at a young age before being assigned or sold to an owner.
People can also train their animal of choice independently or with a professional trainer’s assistance and guidance. Some schools with veterinary programs will often support students with a trained service animal or an interest in becoming a professional service animal trainer and building a career in this field.
Service dog breeds
Some of the most popular breeds that are trained for special services include:
- Golden Retrievers
- German Shepherds
- Border Collies
- Great Danes
- Bernese Mountain Dogs
Other service animals
Although not as common as dogs, other animals can be trained to serve in this role for people with disabilities. Less conventional breeds that can qualify as service animals are the following:
- Miniature horses
- Boa Constrictors
- Pot-belly pigs
These special pets vary in natural skills and instincts, but to qualify as service animals, they must be capable of maintaining a calm demeanor while fulfilling their designated supportive roles. In an academic institution, these animals are permitted to be with their owners at all times, anywhere on campus. This includes dining halls, student housing facilities, classrooms, lecture halls, and libraries. No college or university is exempt from the Americans with Disabilities Act, and institutions, in general, strive to encourage all students’ equality and inclusion, including pet owners with disabilities.
Although the Americans do not require the Disabilities Act, many service dogs or other animals wear some form of identification, typically a tailored vest or ID tag, that demonstrates their qualifications. It’s unnecessary, but it can help let other people know a designated service animal in a public area where pets would normally not be permitted.
Unfortunately, it’s also possible for some people to abuse this right and make their pets appear as though they’ve been professionally trained and have earned the privileges of a genuine service animal. This issue has generated controversy over what should and shouldn’t be considered a service animal without unintentionally offending, inhibiting, or causing inconvenience to a person with a disability.
Therapy and emotional support animals
Emotional support animals are similar to service animals but not quite as qualified. These pets also get special training and can be granted special privileges when accompanying their owners in public places.
The laws around emotional support animals are a bit looser and subject to change depending on the situation but registered ESAs are frequently allowed on airplanes, schools, and other public facilities. For emotional support animals, eligibility for registration depends on the pet owner’s specific circumstances. The most eligible pets belong to owners who struggle with mental and emotional health issues such as:
- PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
- Other emotional or mental disorders
There are still options for people who don’t have a clinically diagnosed disability but still rely on their pets for emotional stability and therapeutic support to help them live their best lives. Some people struggle with debilitating conditions like social anxiety and depression.
Whether these conditions are clinically diagnosed or not, it can still be a struggle to function daily. It’s flying on an airplane or being in a public area in large crowds for some people. It can be especially challenging for others to adapt to an unfamiliar environment, such as a college campus.
Therapy and emotional support animals generally don’t require special training the way service animals do. The purpose they serve is just to be there for their owners and provide the love, comfort, and support that has such a positive and therapeutic impact on their owners’ lives. There are some slight differences between therapy animals and emotional support animals. The latter has the least privileges as far as being allowed in public areas and facilities. Therapy animals don’t usually undergo any specialized training, but they’re considered an integral part of sustaining the owner’s mental health and ability to function optimally.
Therapy and emotional support animals can come in various species, including mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and even fish. It really just depends on the owner and how they emotionally connect with their pet.
Academic institutions aren’t required by law to permit students to keep therapy and emotional support animals with them at all times. It’s up to the school’s discretion to decide what special circumstances warrant allowing students to have pets in dormitories, classrooms, and various campus facilities that are publicly accessible to students, faculty members, employees, and visitors.
Prepare and train your pet for college
Whether you have a medical condition that warrants having your pet with you on a college campus, or you feel emotionally dependent on an animal that gives you the support and comfort you need to leverage success, you may have more options than you realize.
When considering whether you can bring your pet with you to college, the best approach is to research the college you attend or plan on attending. Responsible pet owners should be respectful of those they live, learn, and work with, and never assume that everyone feels as comfortable and affectionate about animals as they do.
Remember that even though your pet, be it a dog, cat, pig, or hamster, might be a source of emotional support for you, others in the community or classroom might feel differently. Some people have allergies to certain animals, particularly furry ones, and others may have anxiety or phobias around animals, even with dogs or cats.
You wouldn’t want to put yourself or others at a disadvantage by bringing a disruptive or distracting animal into a classroom or in a shared living space. Even pets with friendly dispositions can be distracting in certain situations, especially in an academic setting where focus and concentration are key to effective learning and studying.
Focus on your pet
When considering taking your pet to an academic setting, consider your pet’s safety and emotional health as well. Not all animals are well-suited to public areas or large crowds of people, and when they get anxious or stressed out by an unfamiliar situation, they can act out in fear.
For example, dogs can behave very differently when they’re at home with you and people they know than in an environment that’s foreign and potentially stressful or confusing to them.
If you feel confident about your pet’s ability to handle new situations and be on its best behavior, you can reinforce these attributes when you’re doing some practice training. Here are some great training tips to keep in mind:
- Socialize your pet as often as possible, when it’s appropriate, and observe its responses to stimuli.
- If you have a younger dog with a lot of rambunctious energy that subsides when it’s had adequate exercise, figure out a schedule that allows your dog to get its energy out in time for a situation that calls for calmness and silence.
- If you plan to relocate your pet to student housing where you’ll be living, scope out the situation to make sure it’s suitable for the animal’s size and nature and amenable to the people you’ll be living with. The last thing you want is to find yourself in a living situation that’s problematic, chaotic, or traumatic for you, your pet, and your roommates.
Communicate with your school
Before making and committing to the decision to bring your pet to school with you, it’s best to communicate with the college’s administrative staff and be very clear on what they do and don’t allow regarding pets on campus.
Every college is different, some more flexible and lenient than others. You’re better off knowing exactly what the school’s policy is about domestic animals being permitted on school grounds, including dormitories, classrooms, libraries, and other student facilities.
Exceptions are often granted depending on the student’s circumstances, and many schools go out of their way to accommodate the special needs of their student body.
Their ultimate goal is to provide their students with the best possible academic experience, but not at the expense of other students and faculty members. Being transparent about your needs and preferences is the best way to figure out how you can get permission to have your pet with you during your tenure as a student.
Read rules and handbooks carefully, and verbalize any questions and concerns before making any decisions regarding your pet.
Everyone deserves to have a positive experience when they go to college. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience and privilege to be able to attend higher-ed classes that can help you earn a degree and find out what you’re destined to do for a vocation or profession.
When your emotional, physical, and mental wellbeing depends on a unique and beloved animal, it’s important to choose a sympathetic school and understanding individual needs. Many universities and colleges recognize and respect the value of their students’ mental and emotional health and are willing to make exceptions for students that need special accommodations for their pets.