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Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals in US Colleges: Enhancing Inclusivity and Support

August 18, 2023

In recent years, the presence of service animals and emotional support animals on college campuses in the United States has become increasingly prominent. These animals play a vital role in supporting students with disabilities and promoting their well-being. This article delves into the challenges and benefits of integrating service animals and emotional support animals within the college environment. Additionally, we’ll explore the process of applying for animal accommodation within educational institutions and highlight the distinct roles and contributions of these animals to student success.

Differentiating Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals

Service animals, including psychiatric service dogs, and emotional support animals each serve unique and critical roles in supporting individuals’ well-being. Service animals, such as guide dogs for the visually impaired or alert dogs for those with hearing impairments, undergo specialized training to perform tasks that aid individuals with disabilities. However, there’s another category of service animals that deserves attention – psychiatric service dogs.

Psychiatric Service Dogs: A Specialized Form of Assistance

Psychiatric service dogs are a subset of service animals that play a pivotal role in assisting individuals with psychiatric or mental health conditions. These dogs are trained to perform specific tasks that mitigate the effects of their handlers’ mental health challenges. For example, they might be trained to interrupt panic attacks, provide deep pressure therapy during moments of anxiety, or remind individuals to take their medication.

Moreover, psychiatric service dogs provide emotional support and companionship, serving as a constant source of comfort for their handlers. Individuals grappling with conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety disorders, or depression often find solace in the presence of these dogs, who offer not only unconditional companionship but also practical assistance that enhances their daily functioning.

Emotional Support Animals: Providing Comfort and Companionship

While emotional support animals don’t undergo the same extensive training as service animals, they are no less valuable in their contributions to individuals’ mental well-being. Emotional support animals offer comfort and companionship to individuals dealing with emotional or psychological conditions. They are not limited to dogs – emotional support animals can be various species, chosen based on the individual’s preferences and needs.

These animals offer a unique form of support by simply being present. Their calming presence can help alleviate stress, reduce feelings of isolation, and provide a sense of stability. Their non-judgmental companionship creates a therapeutic bond that significantly contributes to the emotional resilience of their handlers.

Differentiating Roles, Similar Impact

While both service animals and emotional support animals play distinctive roles, their impact on individuals’ lives is profound. Service animals, including psychiatric service dogs, empower individuals to overcome physical and mental barriers by performing essential tasks. They enable their handlers to navigate daily life with greater independence and confidence. In contrast, emotional support animals contribute by fostering emotional well-being, providing comfort, and offering an unwavering source of support.

Benefits of Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals on Campus

Service animals make a profound impact on the lives of students with disabilities. They assist in navigating campus environments, from attending classes to moving around independently. Emotional support animals, while not trained to perform specific tasks, provide emotional comfort and alleviate stress, contributing to students’ overall mental well-being. The presence of these animals on campus fosters an inclusive atmosphere that values diversity and supports students’ needs holistically.

Challenges of Integrating Animals on Campus

While the presence of service animals and emotional support animals is undeniably beneficial, challenges exist. Some individuals may have allergies or fear of animals, making it essential to strike a balance between accommodating those who benefit from animals and ensuring the comfort of all students. Establishing clear guidelines and policies helps address potential disruptions and conflicts that may arise due to the presence of animals on campus.

Applying for Animal Accommodation

Navigating the process of animal accommodation within colleges is a crucial step to ensure that both the needs of students and the regulations of educational institutions are met. This process involves specific steps to ensure the legitimacy and necessity of these animals, and it often starts with obtaining a letter from a licensed mental health professional.

Students seeking accommodation for service animals, including psychiatric service dogs, must present a letter from a licensed mental health professional. This letter serves as a formal endorsement of the animal’s role in assisting with the student’s disability. It outlines the specific tasks or functions the animal is trained to perform, demonstrating the animal’s essential contribution to the student’s well-being and daily functioning.

For those looking to acquire such a letter, the National Service Animal Registry (NSAR) offers a streamlined process. NSAR is an organization that provides registration and certification services for service animals and emotional support animals. Through their services, individuals can obtain the necessary documentation that validates the legitimacy of their service animal.

The NSAR process involves the following steps:

  1. Online Application: Individuals start by submitting an online application on the NSAR website. This application typically includes details about the individual’s disability, the tasks the service animal is trained to perform, and any relevant medical information.
  2. Review by Mental Health Professional: NSAR’s team reviews the application and may contact the applicant’s licensed mental health professional to verify the need for a service animal.
  3. Letter Issuance: Upon approval, NSAR provides a letter from a licensed mental health professional that outlines the individual’s need for a service animal. This letter can then be submitted to colleges or other relevant institutions as part of the accommodation process.

In addition to obtaining a letter, colleges often provide verification forms that students need to complete to initiate the accommodation process. These forms serve to establish a clear and organized approach, ensuring that all relevant parties are aware of the presence and purpose of the animal on campus.

By obtaining a letter through a reputable service like the National Service Animal Registry, students can streamline the process of securing accommodation for their service animals. This helps educational institutions assess the legitimacy of the animal’s role and ensures that students with disabilities can fully benefit from their animal companions while adhering to college regulations.

Differentiation and Campus Access

Service animals are permitted in a wide range of campus areas, including classrooms, dormitories, and other facilities, in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Their training equips them to perform tasks that enable students with disabilities to participate fully in college life. In contrast, emotional support animals have more limited access, often restricted to housing accommodations due to the Fair Housing Act (FHA). This differentiation ensures that the presence of animals aligns with their intended functions and regulations.

Contributions to Student Success

Service animals significantly contribute to students’ academic achievements by providing assistance in a variety of ways. They may retrieve items, guide individuals with visual impairments, or alert those with medical conditions. Emotional support animals, through their presence and companionship, alleviate stress and loneliness, fostering a positive environment that enhances students’ mental health and emotional resilience.

Legal Considerations

The legal framework surrounding service animals and emotional support animals in educational settings is primarily governed by the ADA and the FHA. These laws ensure that students with disabilities have equal access to education and housing accommodations. Understanding the rights and responsibilities of both students and educational institutions under these acts is crucial for promoting inclusivity and complying with legal obligations.


The integration of service animals and emotional support animals within US colleges is a testament to the commitment to inclusivity and support for students with disabilities. As these animals become essential companions on campuses, it is imperative to navigate the challenges, understand the legal framework, and celebrate the myriad benefits they bring. By providing clear guidelines, fostering awareness, and offering appropriate accommodations, colleges can create an environment where students thrive academically and emotionally, supported by the presence of these remarkable animals.

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