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A Girl’s Best Friend: Emotional Support Animals on PSU’s Campus

By Shannon Kelly; For the Clock
On February 23, 2017

A Girl’s Best Friend: Emotional Support Animals on PSU’s Campus 

 

Shannon Kelly

For The Clock

skelly1@plymouth.edu

There is nothing quite as comforting as having a dog by your side, but for some college students, that dog (cat, bird, bunny, or even snake) can mean being able to make it out of bed and to class. Recently, emotional support animals, or ESA’s, have created quite the buzz on college campuses all over the country. An ESA is defined as a companion animal that a medical professional has determined beneficial or necessary to an individual suffering from a disability. These disabilities range, however, many college students are now seeking help from a furry companion, rather than suffering alone.

Stefanie DeSimone, a PSU senior living off campus, finds relief and support in her four month old German Shephard Poodle mix, Flo. “I suffer from anxiety and depression; I have since I was fifteen. Being on Flo’s schedule is something that’s helped me a lot.” For Stefanie, having Flo is not just having a pet, it’s something that she needs in order to get through her day. Now that she has Flo she can’t imagine not having the companion, structure and support the dog provides for her.

Her journey to find an ESA began about a year and a half ago when she decided enough was enough for allowing her depression and anxiety to get the best of her. “I went to college where there was no structure. They were just like ‘Go for it!’ All this went to my head because I didn’t have a schedule anymore. I was staying up crazy hours and I was partying. I just dug myself a hole into a really intense depression. Once I figured all that out I decided to get a dog because my sister has an ESA and I saw how her dog helped her. My mom was really supportive of it basically to get me through my senior year. It was a big decision.”

Once she decided to move forward, the search began for the dog that would help Stefanie gain and maintain stability in her everyday life. “I looked for a really long time. It all aligned for me, but I think I maybe went through ten dogs before I finally found the one I knew could work best with me. I wasn’t just looking for a dog to have a companion; I was looking for a dog to help me function. I was looking for an animal that I knew was going to help me in everyday life and help keep me on a routine.” But finding the dog that could help her most was no easy task.

Stefanie underwent hours of research to find which breed of dog would have the temperament that would fit with what she needed most. “I always say do your research and make sure you’re getting the right animal. Because it may not be, say, the dog you think you want. You might say ‘I need an ESA, I want an animal I can come home and cuddle every night but I don’t want to be up at seven a.m. taking a puppy out.’ You need to know what you’re getting yourself into.” This idea of picking and choosing qualities may be a different concept for some, however, an ESA is not just a pet, it’s there to provide emotional support to its owner. Flo came from a breeder who specifically bred dogs as service and support animals. Flo’s temperament was designed to be ideal for someone like Stefanie, who credits Flo’s laidback attitude as something that helps keep her calm, “Even another animal would not do the same thing as what she does for me.”

The final step for Flo’s approval, though, came from her Walk2Campus landlord. Stefanie explained that she needed to present a letter from her therapist to the company, who approved Flo provided that Stephanie understood the responsibilities of having a dog in a college apartment. “It’s simple to get an ESA, it’s an easy process. The problem is that if you don’t know what an ESA is, people will know and you’re going to get

caught for it. You have to show some sort of legitimacy.” This legitimacy, she explained, also related to responsibility. “Way more people will be in the animal’s life than you realize, you have to know how that will affect those people. You have to think about how you are on a college campus and not living in your own space. There’s a lot of things to think about. I think everybody should live with animals, but if there was a free pet policy then a lot of people would be getting into a lot more work than they thought they were, that can be an issue.”

Despite the work that went into finding Flo and that goes into caring for her, Stefanie knows that the benefits greatly outweigh the costs. With a smile, she said, “My life has completely changed.” 

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