Service animals can make a stressful experience easier to handle. If you’re headed to college, you need all the support you can get. You’ll be making new friends, living in a new environment and learning to manage a heavy workload. That means you need to bring your favorite blanket, that picture of home and your support animal. Your university should allow you to bring your animal, but you need to be aware of your rights.
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What’s the Difference Between a Support Animal and a Service Animal?
In legal terms, a service animal has been trained to provide specialized services to someone with a disability. Currently, only dogs and miniature horses are recognized as service animals. They perform tasks like guiding the blind, detecting seizures and picking up objects for their owners. In 2013, a new category for support animals was legally recognized. Emotional support animals do not require special training, nor do they need to perform specific tasks. If you have an emotional or psychological need for animal companionship, you’re entitled to a support animal.
So far, no court has ruled on what types of animals can be used as emotional support companions. Theoretically, you could bring a llama to college with you, although it would be difficult for you to care for a llama’s needs while living at a university. Most support animals are dogs or cats, but you could bring a smaller animal as well. A fish, hamster or lizard companion might be the help you need to get through a difficult year.
Can I Live in College Housing with My Support Animal?
Colleges and universities are required to follow the Fair Housing Act. This means they cannot discriminate against residents based on age, sex, race, national origin or disability status. The courts have interpreted this to include psychological or emotional needs for a support animal. You can move into a college dorm with your dog, cat or other animal. Your housing administrators can impose reasonable restrictions on you. They might ask you to live on a specific floor, clean your animal’s housing every day to reduce odor or look for solutions if your animal makes excessive noise.
Can I Take My Support Animal to Class with Me?
From a legal perspective, your emotional support animal is a necessary tool for managing your disability. If you used a wheelchair, you would be entitled to take your wheelchair anywhere you needed to go. Support animals have the same protection. A legal case against Palm Beach College ruled that students can take their service dogs anywhere on campus. Even a professor or fellow student doesn’t like your animal, they cannot discriminate against you. They can ask you to follow rules that don’t create an undue burden. For example, you might be asked to sit in a certain location so your animal can rest without blocking an aisle.
You have a legal right to the emotional and medical care that you need. Schools know how courts have decided on this issue in the past. That’s why emotional support and service animals are allowed in any university in the United States.