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How FGCU manages emotional support animals on campus

Alex Kantor, a sophomore hospitality and resort management major and the resident assistant of Building F in North Lake Village, has had a Siamese cross-eyed cat living on campus for almost a year now. Lailin, who is almost four years old now, is Kantor’s emotional support animal.

ESA’s provide support to people who have been diagnosed with an emotional disability that limits one or more daily life activities. In recent years, these ESA’s have become a growing factor in college campuses and FGCU has not been an exception. Some of these emotional disabilities are anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, personality disorder and depression. In Kantor’s case, anxiety is the foe.

“First semester of freshman year I was doing pretty well, but second semester got pretty rough,” Kantor said. “So, I adopted her from PetSmart on 6 Mile Cypress (Pkwy).”

Kantor said she doesn’t get anxiety attacks since she got her cat, but she does get anxiety to the point where she does not want to leave her room or talk to people.

“Cats really know when something is wrong, so if I’m upset she normally comes over to me and hisses at me,” Kantor said. “It’s something about the way cats purr that really calms me down — like the vibration — and petting her, it really soothes my body because I only focus on that one noise. That’s really helpful.”

“This just started, really firing up toward significant numbers,” said Michael Rollo, the vice president of student affairs. “And we have to accommodate that. So, we’re working toward doing that. We have many on campus and we’re assisting students who have that need. We’re looking into each one individually so that someone doesn’t bring an elephant in, obviously that would be an issue.”

But, how does FGCU ensure these students need the animals for psychiatric purposes? Is it possible for those students who really, really love pets and want one in college to get away with having one?

“It’s a pretty low bar, but you just have to get a physician to say (that you need it),” Rollo said. According to the official webpage of the Office of Adaptive Services, students “requesting the use of a therapy or companion animal must follow the requirements for service animals.”

What are those requirements? Students must register with the OAS and answer these two questions: “Is the dog required because of a disability?” and “what work or task has the dog been trained to perform?”

However, service animals and ESA’s are different. ESA’s provide comfort but don’t need to be trained. On the other side, service animals do need training to perform a task for his or her owner.

Kantor said “it’s the animal instinct” in Lailin’s case. “I’m registered with the Center for Adaptive Service for a whole bunch of different things — Tourette’s, anxiety — a whole bunch of things. And they told me I just had to have a note from my psychiatrist,” Kantor said.

Kantor said she submitted her psychiatrist’s note explaining how it would help her and why the animal was necessary to the OAS. After it was reviewed and approved by the OAS, they sent it to Housing and Residence Life. Then, she met with Jameson Moschella, the assistant director of residence education, and went over the expectations.

“It really goes by what your roommates say,” Kantor said. “This semester, my roommate doesn’t like cats so she said just keep the cat in your room. So, I got a gate so that the door doesn’t have to be closed. She likes to see the cat but she doesn’t want the cat in her room. Meanwhile last semester, my old roommate really liked the cat and didn’t mind the cat roaming around.”

Kantor just became a resident assistant this semester, and the first one to have an ESA as well. This is also part of why Lailin stays inside her bedroom at all times, just in case a resident who is allergic to cats visits her room.

Rollo said all residents still have to follow all of the other rules of housing as far as safety, cleanliness and care. However, they are not required to pay any extra fees.

About The Author

Jimena Tavel

Jimena Tavel is an international student from Tegucigalpa, Honduras. She's a sophomore pursuing a double major in journalism and communication, and a minor in French. Jimena is the news editor for Eagle News, and aspires to become a news anchor someday. Along with her passion for news, she also has a passion for good humor. She spends most of her spare time reading novels, trying new foods and training for her first marathon. If you ever plan a trip to Honduras, you should definitely get in touch with her! She recommends exploring her favorite island in the world - Roatán, and all that it has to offer.

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