[Image retrieved from sbu.edu]
By Kelly Haberstroh
With an increasing amount of students diagnosed with anxiety or depression in the past couple of years, the need for a therapy animal on campus has become more essential.
Two students with therapy animals on campus were diagnosed with anxiety. Nathan Cass, a junior visual and performing arts major, said he was depressed and had been contemplating suicide a couple of times. RaeAnn Thomas, a sophomore psychology major, would avoid studying for tests because she was having panic attacks in her dorm room.
According to the students, both housing and disability services have been accommodating about the process of students moving a pet into their dorm.
According to Adriane Spencer, Disability Support Services coordinator, students need the proper documentation from their doctor, along with a housing accommodation request form found on MySBU.
Spencer said St. Bonaventure University has to be lenient with allowing students to have pets on campus because there are disability laws to follow for the state. As long as a student has the proper documentation, the university is required to allow pets.
In regard to students who are allergic to or have a fear of animals, Nichole Gonzalez, executive director of Residential Living and Conduct, said, “I deal with it on an individual basis. I try to accommodate everybody as best as possible.”
Students with therapy animals have had mostly positive responses, according to Cass.
“Very few people I’ve met have ever said anything negative about me needing my service animal,” said Cass. “Those most negative I got was someone who threatened to kill my cat because of their own distaste for cats.”
Due to this, Gonzalez has made changes in room assignments given the need for an animal.
When asked if she had to move dorms or have any accommodations made, Thomas said, “I had to move to a different dorm because of unforeseen circumstances, but I could have had her in a room with a roommate, or roommates, if I so chose.”
Gonzalez also said students who live on the same floor as someone with a therapy animal are not informed there is a pet in their building.
“It violates confidentiality, but at the same time, students are going to find out there is an animal in their building,” said Gonzalez.
The resident assistant on Cass’ floor was allergic to cats, so Cass informed him about having a pet in his room. Aside from that, Cass said, “No real special accommodations were made aside from me putting up a sign to let people know the cat was in the room.”
According to Cass, the change in lifestyle has had a positive effect on his experience at Bonaventure.
“I know for me having the responsibility to take care of another life really matured me and helped me get over my depression,” Cass said. “I’m a lot happier. That is also in part due to my relationship now, and my change of lifestyle, but the cat has been the only constant of it all. He has drastically improved my mood about being on campus and at school compared to before.”
However, other students have had complications within their daily lifestyle.
“It’s definitely been helpful for me in the sense that I have pretty much overcome my anxiety and I can study for tests,” Thomas said. “It’s also been a challenge because I don’t have freedom to just do whatever I want. I have to plan around finding someone to watch her or while she is at doggie daycare at the Howl-iday Inn.”