Omair Ali

Perspective Editor

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Emotional support animals (ESAs) are an emerging phenomenon that is providing as a means of enhancing the quality of life of individuals facing mental health conditions. However, the apparent misuse by the clinically-sound populace– those with no diagnosable conditions– is inappropriately disturbing others and is negatively impacting those who need ESAs

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, emotional support animals are not viewed as therapy service dogs that are intended for those with a legitimate disability, whether physical, psychiatric, intellectual, or other forms of mental disability. ESAs, however, require a clinical diagnosis from a certified psychologist for a mental health condition, such as depression, to meet the eligibility criteria.

ESAs don’t require training either, unlike service animals, which makes it easy for anyone to obtain a with even a remotely concerning mental health concern to obtain a certificate.

As the ESA industry emerges, there is a growing demand for ESA certifications from people, including those who lack reasonable accommodations to request such services. Individuals can pay to obtain an ESA letter, an approved clinical diagnosis, and be on their way to an ESA certification. Limited regulation of this service, coupled with the pay to play system of obtaining an ESA license, has not been a rate-limiting factor for people to gain access to what appear to be invaluable perks, such as free passage of their pets on flights and stay in apartments with no pet policies, protected by the Fair Housing Act and Air Carrier Access Act.

Abuse of these rights takes away from the legitimacy of ESAs altogether, which appear to have legitimate lifestyle benefits for those with emotional challenges. Businesses and residence facilities can also accommodate for ESAs, but up to a certain point before it starts to take a toll on them: the more people abuse the system, the more businesses and residence facilities will feel the need to limit accommodations, even for those who need it. As such, some airlines companies have begun to change policies that include tighter access of pets on flights.

Emotional support animals and their owners can also disrupt social order by restricting the freedoms and choices that some have regarding the presence of animals in their vicinity. That’s why it is important for only patients with legitimate problems to use these advantages.

Benedictine University carefully and reasonably accommodates for the allowance of ESAs.

“The University is committed to the implementation of the approved accommodation of a service or support animal in student housing,” According to the statement.

The policy, as it appears, should not deter any students from requesting reasonable accommodations for their health condition. The question that remains, however, is whether students will continue to follow the protocol for appropriate approval of ESA accommodation.

With the rise in ESAs on campus, it is possible that the inclusion of ESAs will become a growing concern for many universities, including Benedictine University. That is why a careful balance of accommodation with intolerance of abuse is needed to make the use of ESAs as appropriate and effectual as possible.

Ultimately, we need to protect students who truly require ESA accommodations, and these individuals should continue to have the opportunity to always seek out the best comfort that is available to them during college.