Emotional Support Animals Visit During Finals
Ally Noble ‘18
Every year, Merrimack College partners with the organization Pets and People to bring an amazing team of therapy dogs and their owners to campus. This year, during finals week, they will be visiting campus from 12-1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 8 in the McQuade Library.
Merrimack brings dogs to campus around midterm and final exam periods to help students destress and bring them some puppy-inspired joy. Studies show that petting and playing with animals can decrease the body’s production of stress hormones. The calming nature of animals corresponds with a rise of their use for both finals time and everyday emotional support.
Emotional support animals, typically dogs, but also cats, rabbits, and even peacocks, are used by people with a range of physical, psychiatric, or intellectual disabilities. In order to be prescribed an emotional support animal, the person seeking such an animal typically needs to have a verifiable disability.
Given how stressful college student life can be, more emotional support animals are now present at Merrimack. Savanna Hill, a sophomore at Merrimack, has an emotional support animal accompany her on campus. “I absolutely love having my puppy on campus,” Hill says. “I got my dog going into my senior year of high school, trained her and got her certified as both an emotional support dog and a therapy dog. She spends half of her time with me at school, and half of her time with my mom in her kindergarten classroom.”
Emotional support and therapy animals are not the same as service animals, which are highly trained animals that perform specific tasks for individuals with disabilities. For example, guide dogs assist the visually impaired while other service dogs are trained to warn people who are about to have a seizure. Federal laws protect the use of service animals in all kinds of public spaces, but the status of emotional support animals—and the legal rights of their owners—is less clear.
It took a while for Hill’s dog to be approved as an emotional support animal on campus, but she finds the wait to be worth it. “Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get her to be certified with the school until this year,” Hill explains. “But this year has been great with her. She helps with my stress levels, and is a great cuddle bug when I’m just hanging out. My roommates love her because who doesn’t love coming home from class to a puppy?”
When talking about dogs, the phrase “man’s best friend” always comes to mind. In the case of emotional support dogs, they really are their owners best friends. Emotional support dogs could also be important friends to stressed out Merrimack students, too, if they stop by the library to visit with some adorable dogs during finals week.