Are Emotional Support Animals Allowed at College?

There’s been some debate on the ability of some college students to bring their emotional support animals to college with them. While some colleges allow this practice, others are slow to come around. There have been various lawsuits brought by students who were denied the use of their service animals or emotional support animals. Some laws and definitions of service or support animals can be interpreted differently.

Americans with Disabilities Act

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 states that service animals are not pets. They are considered part of the aid that those in wheelchairs or those with disabilities need to function on a daily basis. When a person with a disability isn’t allowed to have their wheelchair, can’t get into a building because there are no ramps or can’t live with their service animal, it’s considered against their rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

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Unfortunately, many support animals are not considered necessary like service animals who help the blind or those who are wheelchair bound. They don’t perform a specific service for the person with emotional problems like the service animal does for their disabled person. In fact, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act says that emotional support animals are not pets.

Fair Housing Act

The Fair Housing Act applies to campus housing as it does to private housing where support animals are allowed as long as there is a real need for the animals. The Fair Housing Act of 1988 applies to all residential housing whether it’s a rental or a college dorm residence.

Colleges have to make reasonable accommodations for those who need to have a support animal whether it’s for a physical or mental disability. Most people with crippling emotional disabilities or mental health issues need their animals to survive as much as those who need their service animals to provide a service when they’re physically disabled.

Restrictions and Rules

Colleges are following the ADA and FHA guidelines as much as possible in most cases. The ADA allows dogs and some miniature horses as support animals while the FHA allows a support animal to be any type. For the ADA guidelines, the animal has to be trained to respond in a specific way to a person’s emotional needs. For example, a person with an anxiety disorder might have an animal that will place its head in their lap to calm him or her.


A diagnosis is required as well as documentation from a doctor regarding the condition as well as the need for a service animal. The documentation has to say that the student would be unstable or uncomfortable in the dorm without the service animal. The student who wants to bring their emotional support animal has to provide documentation that says they can’t live without their animal.

As far as other students, many are happy to have an animal in the dorm and wish they could do the same. College can be a lonely place and an emotional support animal could benefit those who don’t have a severe emotional disability too.