A Reassuring Responsibility: Claremont's Love for Emotional Support Animals
Elinor Aspegren | Oct. 6, 2017, 2:29 a.m.
If you attend the 5Cs, you’ve likely seen a dog or two on campus with a student. Maybe you have a friend with a cat, or a rabbit, or a snake.
Most of these animals aren’t just there to provide companionship – they have specific functions as emotional support animals. An emotional support animal, according to Harvey Mudd College's assistance animal policy, is a “dog or other animal that is not trained to perform specific acts directly related to an individual’s disability. Instead, the animal's owner derives a sense of well-being, safety, or calm from the animal’s companionship and presence.”
Most ESA owners get their animals from the Claremont animal shelter Priceless Pets. The shelter's communications director, Ashlee Price, said students need to be dedicated and responsible to own one.
“We love that students are getting involved and adopting, but we also want to promote responsible pet ownership,” she wrote in an email to TSL. “We encourage the students to volunteer their time before adoption, to get to know the animals and make sure that owning a pet is right for them. It is not an impulse decision to be made!”
Ace Elliott PZ ’19 has experienced living with an emotional support dog both on and off campus. She got her dog Peppa in 2015 and now lives in a house off-campus.
“In the dorm, she’s stuck in a tiny room all day, but the proof that is that when you live on campus, there’s so many people willing to take care of her," she said. “Now that I’m off-campus, I have a backyard and she has a lot of space to roam and be free.”
For Elliott, having a dog at the 5Cs provides not only emotional support, but also a way to reorient herself.
“I can be having a really hard day or be working on a really difficult paper, and I can hug her and love her,” she said. “I could spend an entire day doing schoolwork but having a dog forces me to go outside and forces me to be mindful of myself.”
Elliott said that the process of getting Peppa was fairly straightforward. She talked to her therapist about getting a service dog after transferring schools. Pitzer College's guidelines were pretty easy to follow, she said.
According to Pitzer's director of academic support services, Gabrielle Tempestoso, students need to be referred by a medical doctor and approved by them to get an ESA.
"A letter is then provided to our office and then we have a conversation about next steps," she wrote in an email to TSL. "ESAs are not allowed on campus until they have been completely approved through Pitzer Academic Support Services."
Veronica Crow SC ’20 said that the process at Scripps to get her dog Elvis was very similar.
“Last year, I had been sick a lot and I missed my dog at home; I thought I could handle an ESA,” she said. “The process at Scripps is that I just met with academic accommodations. They had me submit an application for your ESA online and they get approved.”
Scripps Academic Support Services echoed this statement in an email to TSL, adding that they are committed to ensuring that both students with and without academic accommodations feel at home on campus.
Crow has had Elvis since May, and said that having an ESA has made her more confident in herself.
The "responsibility makes me more productive and more self-assured,” she said. “He just makes me happy – he sleeps in my bed at night, he’ll just sit in my lap in class, so it’s just really nice just to not feel alone.”
Becky Chung CM ’20 lives with her cat Hobbes in the “cat dorm” Beckett.
“My therapist and I talked about potentially getting a dog, but we just thought a cat,” she said. “At the shelter, they knew I was looking for an ESA, and so they gave me Hobbes because he’s really dependent on people and he’s super cuddly and friendly.”
For Chung, Hobbes “alleviates a lot of the mental health issues” that she was struggling with at the beginning of the semester.
“He’s a reminder to always take care of – it’s like I’m a mom now,” she said. “It’s also a reminder to take care of myself too.”
Chung said her cat makes her more social as well.
"We threw a birthday party for him last year, because his birthday is May 4th," she said. "We had Star Wars decorations and invited the other cats in my dorm."
Leana Yearwood HM ’19 got her cat Bosco after volunteering at Priceless Pets since her first year. She said that Bosco ensures that she gets out of the bed in the morning – before, it wasn’t a guarantee.
“He’s soft and cuddly, and if I’m in the midst of a big, long homework binge, I don’t feel as isolated,” she said.
Yearwood suggested that students adopt their kittens before the school year starts, to cement formative developmental time in their lives, adding that students should start their paperwork before getting their animal.
“You want to get to a point with the paperwork that you can go out and fall in love with an animal on a whim,” she said.
Some students bring their family pet onto campus. Alan Peral PO ’18 spoke about the benefits of having his family dog Timmy on campus as his ESA.
“Especially on the weekends, I had no reason to get up," Peral said. "Nothing really motivated for me. And now I love him a lot so I can’t do that to him."
There are drawbacks as well, Peral acknowledged.
“I can’t really go out as much for extended period of time," he said. "I had to go to a conference in Atlanta a couple weeks ago, and I had to find someone to babysit him, which was a bit of an extra cost. So that’s something you have to be conscious of.”
Claremont McKenna College Policies for ESAs can be found here.
Pomona College Policies for ESAs can be found here.