Wichita State University has experienced an increase of students requesting emotional support animals on campus.
“It kind of ebbs and flows, but we have seen a little bit of an increase as more students are aware that this is an opportunity that they can receive an accommodation for,” said Wichita State University Associate Director of Business Operations Mandie Craven.
As of January 2019, Craven said about eight students have emotional support animals on campus. It’s an increase of about five animals compared to several years ago.
“When students come to college, there are a number of changes. There are a number of stressers and people process change and stress differently,” Craven said. “Some people exercise, some people read and some do better with an animal to help support them through those changes.”
Rhiley Wall, 21, is a senior at Wichita State. Her emotional support animal, a 4-pound Yorkie named Winston, lives with her in her dorm.
“He is here for me to help with my anxiety. Sometimes it gets kind of stressful living on my own. He is just kind of like my personal cheerleader. It’s nice to come home after a long day to someone who just wants a ton of love and affection from me,” said Wall.
Wall said, at first, it was somewhat uncomfortable to introduce Winston as her emotional support animal.
“Sometimes people go, ‘What’s wrong, like oh no,’ but I want to break the stigma with that because like sometimes we just need a little extra help,” she said.
There are rules Wall must follow to have and keep Winston on campus.
“First, they have to bring documentation of their disability to my office and then also in that documentation there has to be a recommendation from their psychologist or therapist or whoever is making the recommendation that they need an emotional support animal,” said Wichita State University Director of Disability Services Grady Landrum.
Landrum then reviews the material and makes sure the recommendation for an emotional support animal is legitimate.
“What we want to do is make sure we are getting accurate documentation from someone who has been with the person for a period of time and not just talked with them one time and said ‘oh, yeah you need a dog on campus,'” he explained.
Landrum is quick to add there is a significant difference between an emotional support animal, a service animal and a pet.
Service animals are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Emotional support animals are not trained, but do offer companionship.
Because of that, emotional support animals are not typically approved outside of WSU housing.
Service animals are either dogs or miniature ponies. Emotional support animals can range from all sorts of animals including birds, dogs, snakes, etc.
WSU has only housed dogs, cats and rabbits as emotional support animals. However, officials said nearly any animal is fair game
“So long as the animal does not infringe on the business practice, such as if an elephant cannot fit in our building, so that would not happen or they are not a danger or detriment to the community so a venomous snake could be,” Craven said.
Wall said she’s encouraged to see more students applying to have an emotional support animal on campus. She’s thankful Winston is there to help get her through different challenges.
“Him and I are buds forever and ever. Wherever I go, he will go with me. That’s the plan,” Wall said.