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Campuses Debate Rising Demands for ‘Comfort Animals’

Anxiety, followed closely by depression, has become a growing diagnosis among college students in the last few years. The calming effect of some domesticated animals has become so widely accepted that many schools bring in trained therapy dogs to play with stressed students during exam periods.

But as students with psychiatric diagnoses are asking to reside on campus with their own animals, schools with no-pet housing policies are scrambling to address a surfeit of new problems. How can administrators discern a troubled adolescent’s legitimate request from that of a homesick student who would really, really like a kitten? If a student with a psychological disability has the right to live with an animal, how should schools protect other students whose allergies or phobias may be triggered by that animal?

The topic is being hotly debated by college housing and disability officialsin the wake of discrimination lawsuits filed by students who were denied so-called emotional support animals. Last month, on the eve of a trial in a case closely watched by administrators, the University of Nebraska at Kearney settled with the Justice Department, agreeing to pay $140,000 to two students who had been denied support animals, and spelling out protocols for future requests. Recently, a federal judge refused to dismiss a similar case against Kent State University.