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Yale College braces for expected influx of student 'emotional support animals

Colleges have faced lawsuits for refusing to allow students to have "emotional support animals" in campus dormitories. (Yelizaveta Tomashevska/Getty Images)

Students are not allowed to live with pets in dorms at Yale College — unless the pet happens to be an “emotional support animal.”

Emotional support animals are allowable under University Policy 4400 on “a case-by-case basis in a reasonable accommodation for a documented disability.”

Last year, there was only one registered support animal on Yale’s campus, a kitten named Sawa, the Yale Daily News reported. There are currently 14 emotional support animals at Yale College, the liberal arts undergraduate campus for Yale University.

And that figure is expected to grow, said Sarah Chang, associate director of the Resource Office on Disabilities.

“If what has played out at other schools is true, then yes, [there will be] a lot more,” Chang told the student newspaper. “I do think we’re going to see a large increase in numbers, definitely.”

How is the college preparing?

In anticipation of the increase, all members of the Class of 2021 were asked in their first year if they are OK with sharing a suite with a student who has an emotional support animal or a service animal.

The definition of an emotional support animal is a wide one, and they require no special training, the report states.

Skeptics question the effectiveness of the animals.

“There isn’t research that speaks directly to emotional support animals. There’s little directly on that that I’m aware of,” according to Molly Crossman, a Yale doctoral student in psychology who has studied the mental health benefits of people’s interactions with animals. “Although we generally agree that science informs policy, often it just doesn’t work out like that.”

Still, Yale and other colleges have policies to allow emotional support animals because it is required under the Fair Housing Act. According to the Act, “persons with disabilities may request a reasonable accommodation for any service animal, including an emotional support animal.” The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibits discrimination based on disability.

“Those two laws are basically the reason we weren’t inspired to create the program,” Chang told the Yale Daily News. “We were mandated to create the program. All universities have to follow those laws.”

Any lawsuits?

Some colleges have faced lawsuits for resisting emotional support animals.

For example, Grand Valley State University paid $40,000 in a settlement after a student sued the university for preventing her from keeping an emotional support guinea pig on campus in 2013.

In 2015, two students received $140,000 in a settlement with the University of Nebraska at Kearney after they were denied “reasonable accommodations” to keep two emotional support dogs.

And in 2016, Kent State University paid $145,000 for a similar lawsuit.

Following these lawsuits, many colleges decided to implement policies to allow the emotional support animals, the report states.

What is an emotional support pig?

Some students, however, have taken it to an extreme.

A student at Washington State University brought a 95-pound pig into her second-floor dorm room. The pig proceeded to chew on and destroy the room’s carpeting, furniture and closet doors, the New York Times reported in 2015.

“The other students thought the pig was kind of cool, but less cool when it began to smell,” Hannah Mitchell, the dorm’s residential director at the time, told the Times. “We talked about bathing it. But dorm bathrooms aren’t built for washing animals.”

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