Why Animals are Important to Students of BSC
Birmingham-Southern is used to seeing animals roam our campus, from cats to foxes. In recent years, we have seen even more animals come to our campus, but they are living in the dorms rather than simply taking shelter in the bushes. While emotional support animals (ESA) and service animals are not a new addition to campus life, there has been a definite spike in the past couple of years.
Director of Residence Life and Director of Accessibility, W David Miller, has also noticed this trend, but said that it is nation-wide.
“I would say that Birmingham-Southern is on par with other institutions,” Miller said. “We house close to 90% of our student population. To see a dog or cat on campus, you turn your head, so it is a little more visible than it might be otherwise at a bigger institution.”
Miller thinks that this trend is due to the fact that the Fair Housing Act was clarified a couple of years ago, which made it clearer and a little bit easier to have an ESA. However, by making ESA much more accessible, the general public seems to not fully comprehend the significant impact that an ESA can have on a student who may be suffering with a mental illness, such as depression or anxiety.
“I think that there is a misconception that anyone can get an emotional support animal. That is not the case,” Miller said. “It’s not simply ‘I want a dog.’ Emotional support animals are here for a purpose.”
Junior Marissa Amsden adopted an ESA, a cat named Delilah, last January. She said that she has seen a significant impact on her life since.
“I had a really hard adjustment to college life, and my family is 11 hours away,” Amsden said. “I’m really close with my family, and I felt like there was something that I needed that was missing.”
Amsden said that she has received ample support from friends and family, which made adopting a cat the best decision. She said that she has friends that love to come to and check in on Delilah, so she knows that Delilah is being looked after and getting attention.
“Cats, I think, are pretty easy because they’re fairly self sufficient,” Amsden said. “Delilah really hasn’t interfered with my school work other than the fact that I can’t do [homework] in a room that’s with her, otherwise she’ll end up walking on my laptop. I’ve just learned to go to the common room.”
However, Amsden still recognizes how much work owning an animal is between buying food, keeping the litter box clean, giving the animal enough attention and, of course, keeping her happy and healthy.
“Don’t go for the first animal you see because you think it’s cute, Amsden said. “You need to understand that it’s a commitment that you’re making to the animal for years to come.”
Another animal that many students have noticed on campus this year is an all-black German Shepherd named Fitz that goes everywhere on campus, from the caf to classrooms. Fitz is a service animal, which serves a very different purpose than an emotional support animal.
“A lot of people who even own emotional support animals don’t understand that service animals are allowed places that [emotional support animals] are not,” Austin Cooper, owner of Fitz, said.
A service animal has a definite function to serve someone with a disability, so service animals can go to any public spaces to assure that this service is being provided to the owner at all times.
Freshman Austin Cooper has type one diabetes, and Fitz is able to alert Cooper of low or high blood sugar through sense of smell before it reaches dangerous levels. Cooper only had Fitz as a service dog for around two months before moving to BSC, but Fitz spent a year in training to prepare.
“A dog needs to be trained for public access, [such as] behaving themselves in public area, no barking, or loud noises,” Cooper said. “You train them to be used to all situations, [even] to lay down under table to be out of the way.”
Cooper said that his transition to BSC, even with an animal, was relatively easy, especially since he was able to get a room to himself in New Men’s.
Miller said, “we will try to accommodate the student and the animal in an environment that is best for them and try to make those housing assignments based on that.”
The furniture in New Men’s can now be moved around the room, rather than attached to the wall, which Cooper said has made the living arrangements perfect to fit both him and Fitz comfortably. Miller said that the Department of Accessibility is willing to make this accommodations in order to better the lives of both students and animals on campus.
“If there is an accommodation that helps a student be successful in college, our first goal is to provide it,” Miller said. “If students have questions, talk to Department of Accessibility.”
However, bringing an animal onto campus must be for a real benefit to the student, not simply to have a pet. Both Delilah and Fitz serve real purposes to their owners, who have different diagnoses that require an animal on campus. If a student chooses to bring an animal on campus without it being approved through the Department of Accessibility, there are ramifications.
“The animal is required to be removed within 48 hours. We want the student to have the chance to find an appropriate location and not just dump it off at a humane society,” Miller said. “We try to work with students so that it is treated humanely.”
Both emotional support animals and service animals are important to the students of BSC, and when other students try to have an animal on campus for fun, it negatively affects those who have an animal for a purpose.
“Everyone is getting them because of a need, [otherwise] it is kind of abusing that ability to have a pet and label it as an emotional support animal,” Amsden said. “It makes people who need that support to look as if it’s just a frivolous thing.”
Feature photo courtesy of Marissa Amsden.