Grand Valley State University Student Wins $40,000 Settlement to Keep Support Guinea Pig

(Photo: Shutterstock.com)

A student attending a Michigan college whose ownership of a guinea pig on campus was restricted, brought a lawsuit against the school and recently won a $40,000 settlement.

Kendra Velzen, who was attached to the animal and wanted it to live with her at Grand Valley State University for “emotional support,” said in her complaint it helped her to deal with her disabilities, like chronic depression and use of a pacemaker, Mlive.com reported.

GVSU gave Velzen, 28, temporary permission when she requested the animal live with her in August 2011 and later approved the request. But she claimed the university’s agreement with her prohibited the animal from being brought into common areas, to class and in areas where food was served.

The case brings up the issue of the difference between service animals and therapy animals. WWJ reported more on this side of the story:

Cathy Klotz, executive director of Intermountain Therapy Animals, said there’s an important difference between therapy animals — which provide emotional support — and service animals, which are used for essential functions like sight or alerting their companion to an oncoming seizure.

Intermountain Therapy Animals has 350 regular therapy teams and 3,000 teams registered around the world who visit hospitals, schools and homes for therapeutic purposes. Of those 3,000 teams, 98 percent are dogs, a few are cats, and there’s “an occasional mini-horse,” Klotz said, but none are guinea pigs.

“You can bring them in [guinea pigs] to see patients or school classrooms, but as a service animal? I’ve never heard of it,” Klotz said. “That doesn’t mean it can’t happen.”

MLive reported GVSU saying that if Velzen applied to live in campus housing again, it would accommodate her request to keep the animal, or another of a similar size and for the same purpose, with her. What’s more, the university also said it would be working with the Fair Housing Center of West Michigan to incorporate support animals into its on-campus housing policy.