By Sara Avalos
Even though they may benefit their owners, emotional-support animals have recently come under scrutiny.
In a recent study done at Yale University, Molly Crossman, a researcher who studies human and animal interactions, said there was little evidence backing the idea that emotional-support animals are actually effective. This study may change how people view the animals and if people will consider them to be service animals.
The University of Iowa residence halls, under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Fair Housing Act, are required to make accommodations for people who need emotional-support animals.
Emotional-support animals can be almost any animal, and they range from dogs to cats to even rabbits. Anne Matthes, a marketing manager at Housing & Dining, said that during the past year, there were approximately 20 assistance animals in the dorms.
There are many concerns about service animals because they do not have to go through training to get certified as an emotional-support animal.
“Room damage is the most common concern, and the student is responsible for all clean up and damages,” Matthes said in an email to The Daily Iowan.
Other concerns that Housing & Dining has with the service animals, Matthes said, is noise complaints from students about the animals.
“Occasionally, a student has had to have a follow-up meeting with hall staff to address noise complaints,” she said.
Although emotional-support animals are different from service animals because they are not trained, they provide comfort to people who may be under stress.
UI senior Matthew Birely, who has had a cat as an emotional-support animal for more than a year, said he is not sure if the study done at Yale University is completely true.
“It might be statistically right, but there’s no way you can really study a person’s emotions,” he said. “You can’t tell people that their animal is not effective because only that person knows their feelings.”
Birely said he has a close bond with his cat, Bo, and Bo comforts him when he’s feeling anxious or stressed.
“A pet is like a friend — if you’re having a panic attack, you’d want have a friend there to help you with it rather than being by yourself,” Birely said.
Even though animals might comfort people when they are under stress, some people believe that other people may take advantage of having emotional-support animals.
UI senior Chanel Pugh, whose emotional-support dog, Tootsie, has helped her feel not so lonely, she believes some people take advantage of the system.
“Some people just go online and register any animal just so they’re able to have it in their building, and I don’t think it’s fair for the people who actually need them,” she said.
Pugh thinks that it can be tough for first-year students to take care of their service animals.
“It’s hard enough being a freshman and trying to get adjusted to a new life — imagine having another responsibility on top of that living in the dorms,” she said.
Although studies might show that emotional support animals might not have any effect on people, Matthes said, Housing & Dining will continue to allow emotional-support animals in the dorms as long as they meet all the requirements.