The campus once home to no more than three animals at any given time now has at least 12 residing in Dort and Goldstein. Four dogs, one rabbit, one snake and six cats. While pets are prohibited in on-campus housing, emotional support animals (ESAs) and service animals are permitted if a therapist or counselor prescribes an ESA or if a service animal is medically necessary to treat a physical disability.
Any animal that is domesticated, manageable in public, and not prone to creating a nuisance can be an ESA. Service animals, however, can only be dogs, and must be trained to help with a specific disability.
ESAs have seen a substantial increase on campus over the past few years, with more than a 300 percent increase in animals overall. This trend is not just seen here, but nationally as well. Anxiety and depression have been diagnosed among college students at increasingly rapidly in the past few years, leading to an increase in students asking to bring their cat, or dog, or even snake on campus. To accommodate the rise in dogs, ADA coordinator Meighen Hopton, Dean of Student Affairs Tracy Murry, Associate Dean Mark Stier, Director of Facilities Alan Burr and Co-Presidents Shelby Statham and Paige Pellaton collaborated on a project to build a dog park directly behind Goldstein.
Outer fencing for the park will cost $4,000 dollars. With future plans to install picnic benches and outside furniture, the price tag will continue to climb. In an email interview, Stier said the additional installations would allow students to study and socialize while their ESA or service dog is in the park. The entire project has been and will continue to be funded through the housing department with residential funds.
Service animals can only be housed in Dort and Goldstein, making the space behind those buildings the most efficient location for a dog park. “As we move forward and the increase for ESA/service animals increases, we will reserve those suites closest to the park for students who have been approved,” Stier said.
There are some basic rules to be aware of before using the park. “The big rule is for people to clean up after their dogs, and that they must be present while their animal utilizes the park,” Stier said. “An official list of rules will be posted within the next week or so right in the dog park itself. We purchased several signs for the community so that it is very clear [what] the community expectations [are] for using the park.”
Furthermore, off-campus students who bring their ESAs or service animals to campus are unable to use the park. “For the safety of our animals and students only those animals who have officially completed the application process and submitted up to date vet records are permitted in the dog park,” Stier said.
Despite these limitations, students largely consider the dog park to be a step toward an animal-friendly campus. “All of the dogfish finally have a place to hang out!” said first-year Cassandra Detrio-Darby, roommate of an ESA owner.
Information for this article was taken from nytimes.com and nsarco.com