Running around happy that his owner is awake, the rabbit excitedly leaps and twists in his cage, which brings a big morning smile to the face of his owner – this reporter.
Soon, the rabbit, Patches, is doing circles waiting for his veggies to be prepped and washed for his great morning feast. There will be blueberries in his puzzle feeder and cabbage in his ceramic blue bowl. His regular pellets that have been put into his purple bowl do nothing to distract him from the excitement for his veggies.
This reporter then slides Patches to the side of the cage and places his veggies in the bowl. In seconds, I can hear the little crunching sounds Patches makes as he eats, and it calms me.
It may seem like a small moment to some, but Patches is an emotional support animal, and there are many students on campus who also have them, like Violet Tetrault.
Tetrault recently got her paperwork done and is bringing her male cat, Venom, to live with her on campus.
“He helped me when I was having panic attacks, kind of being on my chest, or in my arms. Kind of regulates my heartbeat as I kind of match with him,” she said.
But Tetrault said getting him here “was rather hard.”
“I had to go through multiple people, multiple documents. They have been kind of vague about the situation, and not very obvious,” she said of school officials.
She said she wishes that there were more bold and easy accessible instructions on how students can acquire their ESA.
Mackenzie Sturgill is another student with ESAs on campus.
She has three Himalayan Dumbo rats.
They are very social animals and thrive with friendship from the same species. Their names are Fizzgig, Mokey and Ludo, and are all very sweet rats. Sturgill has had them for around eight months, and she said they help her in countless ways, but primarily just being a calming influence on her.
But having ESAs on campus can cause some anxiety too, Sturgill said. She talked about worrying what might happen if something like a fire were to happen in a dorm and how a purple sticker on her door needs to be there to let rescuers know there are animals in the room.
“If the purple dot you are given for your ESA isn’t on your door, in some sort of emergency your room will not be checked for your animal,” she said.
Gerry Volpe, the VTSU director of Disability Services, has been working on the Castleton campus for the Disability services since 2018. He spoke about the importance of emotional support animals to students.
“While assisting students with requesting an Emotional Support Animal is a fairly small percentage of my job, it can be an important aspect of students being able to access living on campus and to the whole experience of being a residential university student,” he said.
“In general, what I love most about my job is being able to help students to access all aspects of our university. The ability to have an Emotional Support Animal as an accommodation can be an important part of that for some residential students.”
But when it comes to getting ESAs on campus and having them on campus, Volpe admits it can be hard.
“While we do not have a large number of problems with ESA’s, some issues do come up. The most common issue that arises is that some students do not fully understand the unique challenges of caring for an animal while living on a college campus. Sometimes these challenges can cause stress on the student, the animal, or the community,” he said. “Often these challenges can be worked through but sometimes the student decides that they or their Emotional Support Animal might be better off with it living at home. The biggest challenge for me personally is that not all students who request an Emotional Support Animal qualify for one as an accommodation and in those situations, I have no choice but to communicate that to them. This can be hard but thankfully it is getting less frequent as healthcare providers better understand when and how an Emotional Support Animal should be part of treatment and as VTSU develops better resources to share with students and health care providers to guide them.”
That said, Volpe added that he realizes how vital these animals are for students.
“Emotional Support Animals can be an important part of a person’s treatment plan that is developed with their mental health care provider. While I am not an expert, there appears to a be good deal of scientific evidence supporting a variety of therapeutic benefits. Anecdotally, I can say that I have worked with several students who do not believe they would have been able to live on campus without their Emotional Support Animal,” he said.