Campus Sees Upsurge of ESAs During COVID-19

Emily Hainer holds her cat, Lily. Animals have been shown to reduce stress levels and can be approved to serve as Emotional Support Animals on campus. During COVID-19, rising stress levels have correlated with a rising number of animals on campus (Photo by Patrick Smoker).

If there’s one group that benefited from the global COVID-19 pandemic in any way, it would be the pets of the world.

With schools and workplaces being closed and forced online, many people found themselves spending an unusual amount of time in their homes at the beginning of the pandemic. This meant that dogs, cats, hamsters or even teacup pigs received much more attention than they usually would if their owners were away all day.

Being around pets more frequently may have also kept many owners from emotional distress during times like these. According to the CDC, owning pets has a number of benefits, such as increasing one’s chance for socialization, decreasing stress and feelings of loneliness. 

At the beginning of the pandemic, owning pets gave people an excuse to leave the house to take animals on a walk, create a new routine while being confined to their homes and to safely interact with others (socially distant, with masks, of course). 

With benefits like this, it’s no wonder that adoption centers and pet stores saw an increase in adoption rates for cats, dogs and small animals.

Now, with schools and workplaces reopening and life returning back to normal  in some ways, many people are left wondering what to do with their pets, who have grown used to constant care and attention. 

College students are also left wondering what they are going to do without their furry friends. For many, having a pet around at home helped them through the spring semester spent in their rooms. Pets provide comfort even when things get tough, both out in the world and inside the mind.

At Albion College, students have the opportunity to bring these pets to campus, as long as they are registered as Emotional Support Animals (ESAs). An ESA is not the same as a Service Animal. The purpose of an ESA is to provide the owner with emotional support when they struggle with mental health. Service animals also receive formal training, whereas ESAs do not.

Tori Conklin, a junior from Chesterfield, has experienced some benefits from bringing her ESA to campus, even before COVID-19 struck.

Conklin has brought her dog Smokey, a loveable, energetic Siberian Husky, to campus with her this past year. Conklin said that having Smokey with her makes a world of a difference.

“I will catch myself looking at him during online class and smiling, like, ‘You make life so much better,’” said Conklin.

Conklin said that she probably wouldn’t have wanted to come back to campus this semester without Smokey, as Smokey has benefited her mental health in many unforeseen ways.

“If you are willing to put in the time, and you have the patience, [having an ESA] can be a really good thing for a lot of people,” said Conklin.

Even RAs are benefitting from having an animal on campus. This includes Rachel Goldner, a junior from West Bloomfield, who has had a white pitbull mix, on campus for close to a year now.

“Not only has he helped me, but he has also helped my residents,” said Goldner. “He brings everyone in my hallway happiness.”

COVID-19 has turned 2020 into an unexpected year, bringing waves of uncertainty, loss and hopelessness with it. As a result, many students have attempted to find comfort in whatever ways they can, with many of their household pets being the main source of that comfort. This could be the reason many have noticed a number of new animals on campus as compared to previous years.

“When I first brought my dog to campus, I was the only one on my floor with an ESA,” said Goldner. “Now, there’s a lot more, not only in my hall, but also on campus.”

ESAs cannot necessarily be brought to campus simply and easily. There is a rather extensive process of getting approval from Residential Life in order to keep the animal on campus.

First, students need to speak to their residential directors about having an ESA on campus and will subsequently be presented with paperwork to fill out. Next, students must obtain the signature of either a counselor from Albion’s own Counseling Services or the signature of a personal counselor, if they receive counseling at home. Finally, there is an interview process with the residential director, and then the ESA can be approved.

These are tough times, and if a student believes that having an animal on campus will benefit them,  an ESA is definitely something they can consider. 

However, both Conklin and Goldner agreed that choosing a pet wisely is extremely important. Students need to make sure they have the time, patience and energy necessary to take care of the ESA of their choice.

“I think the school should continue to allow students to have ESAs,”said Conklin.

About Kenna Childress 20 Articles
Kenna Childress (she/her) is a junior from Berkley, Mich. She is currently working towards an English major and a Biochemistry minor, with law school intentions. She is a varsity Cross Country and Track athlete, and member of Delta Gamma and Sigma Tau Delta fraternities, Prentiss M. Brown honors college, and Albion College's Tour Guide Program.

1 Comment

  1. Kenna, this is a great story, and very timely. I write for Albion’s’ weekly newspaper, The Recorder, and your topic was one that I hadn’t given any thought to before. Thanks for raising my awareness! Keep up the good work!

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