"Hi, my name is Becca, nice to meet you! That is such a cute dog!"
"Thanks, I got her at the humane society this weekend!"
"Oh wow, does she live in the dorm with you?"
"Well, that's what I'm trying to work on, she needs to be approved as a comfort dog first."
"What is a comfort dog?"
...And from there opens a whole can of worms.
The story above is an experience that I have had with other classmates on numerous occasions already, and I have only been at college for eight weeks. I'm not sure if Furman is an incredibly dog friendly campus, or if all these dogs live in the dorms, but I'm ready to get to the bottom of this question "why do so many students have dogs on campus?"!
Before I continue on the subject of comfort animals, I will make it known that some of the pets on campus are outside the realm of "therapy pets". I have seen a few legitimate service dogs, whether for students that are visually impaired or suffer from epilepsy or other similar disabilities. Also, I have checked the campus rules and learned that in the on campus apartments, as long all four roommates consent, pets are allowed to live in the apartments.
The subject that I am trying to address is that the seven or eight puppies I have seen around freshman housing, are referred to as "comfort pets" when asked. So to begin, I did my research. For reference throughout this article, an "emotional support pet " is "a companion animal that provides therapeutic benefit to an individual with a mental or psychiatric disability. The person seeking the emotional support animal must have a verifiable disability, and the reason cannot just be a need for companionship."
Anxiety, as well as depression, is a growing diagnosis among college students over the past few years. Following these diagnoses, the calming effect of pets has been widely accepted, so much that college campuses bring in domestic pets for stressed students to play with. Along with the growing acceptance of pets as sources of comfort, the request for these domestic pets to reside on college campuses has grown as well. However, in some cases, the permission for a comfort pet has been denied, leading to lawsuits filed against the schools. But how can administration discern between the legitimate request of a college kid with an emotional disability, and the homesick kid who just really wants a kitten?
This may not be happening on your campus, but I do know it to be true on Furman's campus, as it has become a widely debated topic among our students, saying "Are people trying to pass off their pets as therapy pets?" "How does a comfort pet actually improve the situation" "How can I get my dog approved??". In that sense, I thought that I would turn this article into a debate among other students. What are the benefits of comfort pet? Does the pet not introduce more stress by say, having another mouth to feed and another life to look after? Can anyone have their pet approved as a comfort pet, or do you have to have documentation of a disability? Leave your thoughts in the comments or share and fuel the debate about comfort pets!