Support animals, comfort pets, and service animals or assistance animals, all these terms are beginning to be rampant within the residence life administrators and disability offices on college campuses across America. These animals, act as aids for people with disabilities. Many homes today have pets some pets are asked for by the kids just to have a pet. While some children actually suffer from post traumatic stress and other forms of depression need assistance animals to aid their disability or ease them when the kids have a stressful day in school. More than 75 percent of American children own a pet, also about nineteen million students are admitted into a post secondary institution (Huss, 2012). There sure is a difference between a pet and an assistance animal. A pet is not what this paper is about it is about assistance animals, emotional support animals or service animals that aid people with disability. Americans with disability act and section 504 of the rehabilitation act prohibits discrimination of students or persons based on disabilities.

Administrators and college authorities have to be careful to keep their institutions out of court and lawsuits based on comfort pets, assistance animals, and service dogs. Von Bergen, (2015) said “mentally disabled students have increasingly petitioned colleges with no-pet policies to permit them to bring their animals on campus because they need a companion or emotional support animal to make college life easier and to reduce their stress, loneliness, depression, and/or anxiety” Campuses that are refusing and flying the ‘no pet rules’ are getting sued and exposing themselves to lawsuits. Increasing numbers of students are requesting accommodations for emotional support animals (ESAs) in higher education settings. Since the legislation pertaining to this type of service animal differs from the laws governing disability service animals, colleges and universities are faced with developing new policies and guidelines (Kogan, Schaefer, Erdman,  & Schoenfeld-Tacher, 2016, P. 1).

Service animals are somewhat allowed in some college campuses, emotional support animals are somewhat allowed in some college student housing and some student jobs, but pets are not allowed in any campus location. Von Bergen (2015), defined service animals as “any dog [some exceptions for a miniature horse] that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability”. In contrast, an emotional support animal (ESA) also provides assistance related to a psychological disability, but is not required to have any specific training (Schoenfeld-Tacher, Hellyer, Cheung, & Kogan, 2017, P. 2).  


Von Bergen (2015) said, “For centuries people have noted that animals can have a positive influence on human functioning, and conventional wisdom has long supported the use of animals in promoting human wellbeing (p. 18). Knowing how stressful the college life experience can be for college students, it is important for administrators in higher education to allow the accommodation of assistance animals, comfort pets and service dogs on campus. The rate of mental health cases amongst students on campuses keep increasing and more and more students are being depressed due to various academic or family related issues. So having assistance animals or comfort pets to soothe the emotions of depressed students on campus will aid retention and graduation rate of college students. This will also keep the institution away from lawsuits as regards disability act.

Although higher institutions have counseling services for students, science has shown that assistance animals and comfort pets may contribute a great deal to ameliorating depression issues in students on campuses. Some students have issues with handling stress, depression and anxiety. According to Adams, Clark, Crowell, Duffy, Green, McEwen, Wrape, & Hammonds (2017), 100,736 students at the 139 colleges and universities contributing to their report sought counseling during the 2014-2015 academic year, with 79,331 students attending at least one counseling appointment (p. 50).  According to these researchers, (56.91%) of the students had anxiety issues, (46.63%) of the students had stress issues while (45.93%) of the students had depression issues. 

Research has also shown that students coming for counseling increased by 29.6% while the amount of students scheduling appointments for counseling also increased 38.4% (Adams et al, p. 50). They further found out that in the past one year, 58.4% of students complained of overwhelming anxiety, 36.6% complained of difficulty performing academic tasks due to depression, and 9.8% considered suicide.

Considering these facts about the challenges students face as regards anxiety, stress, post-traumatic stress and depression on campus, it is important that administrators make a policy to accommodate comfort pets on campuses. Although there are counseling centers in existence on college campuses, it is apparent that there are more and more students who are requesting to come to campus with their comfort pets to sooth their stress, anxiety and depression issues. Some students suffer from post-traumatic stress disorders and need these assistance animals to balance out stress in their day-to-day life activities on campus. It is quite obvious that a student dealing with any of these issues of anxiety, depression or stress cannot cope well with academic rigors or the complex circumstances a college student faces in college. In as much as research has shown that assistance animals and comfort pets make a great impact of psychological and emotion well being of college students, then more higher educational institutions should accommodate the policy of comfort pets being allowed on campus and in residence hostels.


“Given the somewhat overlapping terminology and recent proliferation of service dogs and ESAs, stories abound of people taking advantage of unclear policies” (Schoenfeld-Tacher, Hellyer, Cheung & Kogan, 2017, p. 4). To discourage college students from taking advantage of calling their pets assistance animals, emotional support animals or service animals, administrators in colleges can take the steps below.

  • One way to limit the time spent on the issue is to require that students themselves take as much of the responsibility as possible.
  • Requiring students to register their animals in advance and provide all records relating to the animal prior to the animal coming on campus is one step to discourage students from making last minute decisions to keep an animal.
  • The use of “comfort pet councils” made up of students and faculty members that enforce written guidelines puts some of the burden on students rather than just administrators.
  • Enforce that students with comfort pets follow-up on vaccinations and sterilizations.

(Huss, 2012, p. 297, 298, 299)



Adams, T; Clark, C; Crowell, V; Du y, K; Green, M; McEwen, S; Wrape, A; & Hammonds, F (2017)  The mental health benefits of having dogs on college campuses, Modern Psychological Studies 22 (2). retrieved from: http://scholar.utc.edu/mps/vol22/iss2/7 

Aimee C. Adams, Bruce S. Sharkin, Jennifer J. Bottinelli. (2017) The Role of Pets in the Lives of College Students: Implications for College Counselors. Journal of College Student Psychotherapy 31(4), pages 306-324. 

Huss, R. J. (2012). Canines on Campus: Companion Animals at Postsecondary Educational Institutions. Missouri Law Review, 77417.

Kogan, L, R., Schaefer, K., Erdman, P., & Schoenfeld – Tacher, R. (2016). University counseling centers’ perceptions and experiences pertaining to emotional support animals. Journal of College Student Psychotherapy, 30 (4), 268-283. doi: org/10.1080/87568225.2016.1219612

Schoenfeld-Tacher, R., Hellyer, P., Cheung, L., & Kogan, L. (2017). Public Perceptions of Service Dogs, Emotional Support Dogs, and Therapy Dogs. International Journal Of Environmental Research And Public Health, 14(6), doi:10.3390/ijerph14060642

Von Bergen, C. W. (2015). Emotional Support Animals, Service Animals, and Pets on Campus. Administrative Issues Journal: Education, Practice, And Research, 5(1), 15-34.

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