The Mills administration has revised its rules this year for students who have Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) after animals were left alone for extended periods.
The new rules strongly recommend ESA owners have two emergency contacts instead of one. According to Cassie Eskridge of Student Access and Support Services, this is because of past circumstances.
“In the past, we have had incidents where the only alternate caregiver listed was unable to help or completely unavailable. Adding a second contact helps ensure we can identify someone to provide care for the animal,” Eskridge said. In addition, ESA animals are not permitted to be left alone overnight.
Other more minor changes clarified the expectations of ESA owners to ensure the health of animals, owners, and others on campus.
“This year we requested each student provide updated verification when an animal’s vaccinations expire during the year for the safety of all our animals on campus,” Eskridge said.
Another addition focused on ESAs in public spaces outside, asking students to be mindful of the animal’s impact on others.
“While many folks love greeting and meeting someone’s ESA, we also have many people managing severe allergies and phobias to animals,” Eskridge said.
Eskridge said that the changes were implemented for the safety of the animals and mindfulness of the greater housing and campus community. This was echoed by the resident assistant for one of the ESA halls, Tessa Kaput.
“The rules became more strict because the impact of owning an animal is felt by the entire residence hall community,” Kaput said. “Most of the changes arose out of specific situations that have come up in the halls and just trying to be proactive about solving issues before they arise.”
The implementation of the revised guidelines has brought about discussion in the on campus ESA community about both new and pre-existing rules. This year is Tatyana Soto’s first time having an ESA on campus, and she was aware of the modifications.
“When I was applying and getting all my paperwork through they said that they’d usually have me sign an agreement, but then they had a new one sent out over August,” Soto said.
Matilda Moore had a returning ESA, so getting her ESA set up this year, “was a really low-maintenance process.”
“I think that, for the most part, [the guidelines] are reasonable,” Moore said. “Some things are kind of annoying to me, like I remember the first year… you had to have somebody who was not on campus who could take care of your ESA in an emergency… but now they changed that a little bit, because this time when I did it they said someone on campus or 5 – 10 miles away, so that was nice.”
This is Thea Moran’s second year with an ESA on campus, but Moran ran into an unexpected obstacle with the guidelines when trying to get a rabbit as an ESA last year.
“When I emailed housing they said they only accept cats and dogs. That seemed really weird to me for two reasons: first of all, according to the law, any animal can be an ESA and have all the rights that come with that,” Moran said. “And the other reason is that you think they would appreciate you having smaller, quieter, less destructive animals that are happier in smaller spaces in their dorms [in comparison to cats and dogs].”
Eskridge responded to this question of policy, speaking for the department of Student Services and Accessibility.
“In our ESA policy, as with many policies/practices, we are balancing competing needs and concerns on campus,” Eskridge said. “With advice from our legal team, we feel we have adequate facilities to support folks who have a cat or dog as their ESA, while also ensuring space for students who need to live in an animal-free environment.”
The ESA program, which is only five years old, continues to expand each year, with this year adding 19 ESA rooms in Warren Olney alone.
“The whole ESA thing is very new,” ESA owner Mi Park said.”[We are] trudging through uncharted territory.”