ResLife policy finds space for support animals in dorms

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Photo by Sam Pianello

“Initially, when they said they wanted me to live on campus it was a red flag, I can’t live in a dorm room with a dog.”

After getting into Vassar, Pat DeYoung’s ’18 first worry was that he wouldn’t be able to bring Kima, his support dog. “Original­ly I didn’t think I was going to come to Vas­sar, so I wasn’t looking at residential schools,” DeYoung explained. “I was looking at schools that I could commute to.” He continued, “But when I got into Vassar through the Posse pro­cess, the first thing I was like, hey, I have a dog, what can I do for that?”

Vassar’s policy on having animals in the dorms dictates that either the animal must be kept humanely in a cage 24/7 or it must be a support or trained service animal. DeYoung said, “And they asked, ‘well, is she a support animal or a service animal?’ And I said, ‘well she’s a support animal, so I’m not going to not live with her.’ And they said, ‘okay, well we can accommodate that.’”

Assistant Dean of Students and Director of Residential Life Luis Inoa said that animals deemed acceptable have been anything from mice, rats, snakes, fish and lizards. Inoa said, however, “Service animals are one thing, pets are another thing. Emotional support animals are much more recent request and an alteration of what we’ve allowed.”

Last year was one of the first times that Vas­sar formally opened dorm rooms up to support animals. There were three approved requests to bring animals back to campus this fall, and another request that was recently made for a cat. These animals are an important part of stu­dents’ lives, as well as an important aspect of their Vassar career.

As for any mental health concerns, Inoa be­lieves the support animals are around more for students’ continued overall wellbeing, rather than for mental support. “I don’t think of it as a response to students wanting more counsel­ors in Metcalf. I think of it as students wanting some agency around taking care of themselves, and finding mechanisms to cope,” Inoa said. “For some students that means an emotional support animal, and then students find other means for self care.” Inoa continued, “And I think this is one of those things students iden­tify as a way of helping themselves out.”

To ensure that students who need the sup­port animals are able to have an easy transition into the dorms, Inoa, along with the Office of Accessibility and Educational Opportunity (AEO) tries to create an easy, relaxed applica­tion process. As DeYoung said, “It was pretty streamlined.” He added, “They referred me to the Office of Accessibility and [Director] MaryJo Cavanaugh, and she basically sent me an email with the policy and the requirements. I just went through my doctor to provide docu­mentation showing why I need the support an­imal, and the medical basis for that. And once I submitted to the school, the accommodation came in and they placed me according to that in the dorms.”

Being able to find a suitable place for stu­dents with emotional support animals is a tricky process. Inoa explained, “With the stu­dents who were pre-approved in the spring for the following fall, we haven’t had any issues. For those who were more recently approved, we’ve had some issues when thinking we’ve placed them in more low traffic areas, they still have had an impact on other students.” Inoa went on to explain, “So this very delicate balance between meeting the accommodation, but still keeping in mind the health concerns of other students around them.”

Communication, Inoa said, is key. “So per­haps if students communicate with us, say, ‘has something in my environment changed?’I’m coughing a lot more, I’m feeling itchy, I have hives. These are some of the concerns we’ve gotten from students and we’ve had to work with them to figure out place, location, is it the student with the allergies that’s moving, or is it the other student who we’ve provided the ac­commodation?”

DeYoung said that he hasn’t had any direct complaints about Kima. “There is more of an issue with people who are afraid of dogs,” DeYoung said. “Not so much people with dog allergies. A bunch of my friends actually are al­lergic to dogs,” DeYoung added. “They come to my room all the time.”

In addition, DeYoung’s accommodations put him in a more isolated area. “From what I understand, they have rooms that are designat­ed as service animal rooms. So I live in one of those, and no one is in my hallway except for me,” DeYoung said. “So it’s kind of isolated. So if people do have an allergy, they’re not really exposed to my room and my dog.”

Those same accommodations may get in the way, however, if DeYoung wants to live on cam­pus his senior year. “The real issue comes in if I want to move into a TA or TH for senior housing and stay on campus,” DeYoung said. “It has to be four other people who don’t have allergies, and they have to set aside a house for that. So I’m not really sure how that’s going to work.”

As for the future of Vassar offering accom­modations for emotional support animals, Inoa said they hope to continue to find better ways to bring these animals on campus. Inoa wants to create a support system for people and their support animals. “It’s one thing to know that the student is going to be okay, and the student is better because the animal is living there. But it’s another thing to ensure that the animal is also having a good experience in that space, too,” Inoa said.

His own way of ensuring Kima’s comfort, DeYoung explained, is to arrange his class schedule accordingly. “What I try to do, in­stead of block all my classes into one or two days, how some people like to do everything Tuesday, Thursday and then have off Monday, Wednesday, Friday, I try to spread it out so I can spend time with her, walk her,” DeYoung said. He added, “But this semester I wasn’t able to, so I actually have other students who’re dog walking for me.”

Kima seems to understand, DeYoung ex­plained. “Even before Vassar, I had jobs. I would be gone for eight or ten hours a day at work. I mean, I did have roommates and other dogs in the house, but there’s still no situation unless you’re retired where you’re just going to be home with a dog all the time.”

There are a few regulations that DeYoung said seem different for faculty with dogs and students with dogs. “When I first got here they said no building besides Lathrop, nowhere in Lathrop besides your room,” DeYoung said. He went on, “But then, walking around the cam­pus, there’s dogs everywhere.” He added, “So I thought okay, maybe there’s some gray area.”

As for being able to keep Kima by his side, DeYoung said, “The college has been great, though. I take Kima around everywhere, and I’ve never had an issue where someone’s told me I can’t bring her here.”

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