Getting Emotional Support Animals At Lynchburg University

Kira Kaseloo’s former Emotional Support Animal Zeke. Taken by Kira Kaseloo

Kamryn Schnieder ~ Copy Editor

     There have been ongoing discussions at the University of Lynchburg about the implementation of emotional support animals. 

     An Emotional Support Animal (ESA), according to Dr. Emily Wood, a counselor at the University o, is an animal with “the purpose … to help provide comfort and support to someone who struggles with mental health issues.” Almost any animal can be an emotional support animal, but are not the same as family pets, which according to the University’s Emotional Support Animals Residential Policy, “is defined as an animal kept for ordinary use and companionship.”

     Despite ESAs being more for emotional and mental comfort than physical comfort, the Counseling service is not too involved with the registration of ESAs on campus. Instead it is handled by disabilities services. However, Wood recommends “talking to your physician and psychiatrist about your personal mental health issues and whether or not an ESA would be appropriate. […] If an ESA is recommended … it would be important to think of the long-term responsibility the ESA would require. It would also be important in considering what type of ESA would be appropriate for you,” if you are debating getting an ESA. 

     It is wise to also recognize that an ESA is not simply a pet. Wood added, “I think it’s important to consider all the ways the ESA will impact your life positively and negatively … students get excited about having an animal with them and all the positive impacts they might bring, they fail to look at the responsibilities of taking care of an animal.” She also comments that a common issue with ESA in the past is students “struggling to take care of [their] needs and [their] health,” which makes it “difficult to care for an ESA.”

       Kira Kalesoo is a sophomore music education major who used to have an ESA and is applying for another. Kalesoo’s ESA was a cat names Zeke, who she decided to “return … to my parents house because he’s very social and missed his big brother.” During her first application, Kira was rejected. Her second application, once Zeke was older, was during the COVID lockdown. She said “it was tough to try to get all the paperwork when you cannot just go see your doctor. Overall it was tough, but worth it in the end.” Although she ended up having to search for a new ESA, Kalesoo explained, “Zeke is the best cat I could have as an ESA. He loves people. It was comforting that whenever I had a flare up of any condition I could just scoop him up and calm down.” 

     Kalesoo also advised those looking into getting an ESA to “[r]ead everything and make sure you understand. Start early so all paperwork is in before deadlines.” She also reinforced the concern to understand how much work an ESA will be. She added that individuals “…make sure you are willing to do whatever is right for them.”

     Emotional Support Animals are not Service animals, and although both are approved by the University’s Center for Accessibility and Disability Resources, a trained service animal is given special privilege and access as medical equipment according to the American Disabilities Act, while an ESA has limitations and restrictions.

     If you are interested in registering an ESA, contact the Center for Accessibility and Disability Resources, and read the relevat paper work at https://www.lynchburg.edu/academics/disability-services/registration-intake-accommodations/animal-policies/emotional-support-animals/

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