WICHITA FALLS, TX - Officials at Midwestern State University are dealing with an increase in students wanting to bring their emotional support animals to live with them at school. We're not talking about service dogs who are clearly defined and trained to help people with physical disabilities. This is a little more of a gray area because emotional support animals help students on the inside.
Emotional support animals are usually prescribed by a mental health professional to a person with a disability and are part of a treatment process for depression, anxiety or mental health disorders. The thing is - anyone can get an emotional support certification online for about 100 dollars. But those types of certifications won't fly at MSU. For the university, itself, to meet the qualifications of the American Disabilities Act school officials have to have extensive information from the healthcare provider about the student's treatment, including diagnosis and functional limitations.
Problems have arisen on campus when students have brought large animals like Great Danes to live with them as emotional support animals. Also, some students don't keep their animals on a leash, which is a city code. Students have brought exotic snakes, rats and squirrels to live on campus under the heading of an emotional support animal. There are also roommate conflicts and potential flea and allergy issues to take into consideration. Debra J. Higginbotham, Director of Disability Support Services who is also a licensed counselor, says that deciding to get an emotional support animal is not something to be taken lightly.
Once the emotional support animals are approved, they are allowed to be on campus for the duration of the students stay. Higginbotham says that students need to be aware that if they are suffering from depression, anxiety or any other mental disorders it may affect their ability to take care of a pet - especially if the pet is sick or lost and that it's important to think long and hard before taking on that responsibility.