There has been a change in the world of animals used for medical reasons. Traditionally, one has service animals, which are dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit an individual with a disability. There are also animals that are referred to as support animals or emotional support animals. Instead, support animals provide therapeutic benefits to their owner through affection and companionship. A support animal will often be a cat, which may seem strange to some considering that many cats are not social animals. I know a girl with an emotional support chinchilla.
Support animals are becoming more common throughout the United States. So much so that support animals are protected under certain laws, such as the Air Carriers Access Act (ACAA) and the Fair Housing Authority (FHA). Even though support animals are not as protected as service animals, more and more colleges across the country are allowing students to have support animals in their dorms.
To many, emotional support animals seem like a joke. They do not perform tasks. They do not alert others of a medical emergency with their owner. They do not have to go through any training. However, they can make the difference between life and death.
I don't want to sound like a person that doesn't appreciate what they have, because I do. However, I also recognize the daily struggles that millennials are facing. Through personal conversations, I have learned that more of my classmates are paying their own ways through college than I ever expected. I am thankful that I get some help from my parents, but that is not the case for everyone.
As a millennial, my entire high school career was full of teachers telling me that I had two options if I wanted to make it in the real world: college or military. That choice alone can be stressful. To people paying their own way through college, which will likely leave a student in thousands of dollars of debt, getting an education is extremely stressful. My college also requires everyone to do an internship in order to graduate. Internships normally take up the same amount of time as at least a part-time job. That adds more stress onto a student. College isn't just about the grades anymore; it's extremely competitive, which causes everyone's stress levels to rise.
This is where colleges acknowledging the benefits of emotional support animals is extremely important. Support animals can save lives. My cat has prevented me from even acknowledging suicidal thoughts for over two years now because I am the only person responsible for taking care of her. She is my responsibility, so I have to stay alive so that she can have a good home.
That might seem ridiculous to many people, but this is what support animals do every day. There are times where I can't put gas in my car because I have to buy my cat food. That said, I would never give her up to save 20 to 30 bucks a month. My cat saved me.
There are other animals saving other people by just existing in their homes. College kids may be broke, but we need all the support that we can get. A personal friend of mine, Kayla, also has an emotional support animal. Her animal is also a cat, but where mine helps with my depression, her cat helps with her anxiety. Kayla said that her cat seems to know when she gets shaky, and although her cat doesn't stop the anxiety attack, "she makes it easier". Kayla recently graduated and lives alone. Her cat helps her stay in a more positive mood by making Kayla feel worthwhile by having something that relies on her.
Self-worth is extremely important for everyone, but even more so for recent college-graduates of a major that does not have many job openings for people with less than five years of experience. Kayla's cat is a prime example of what emotional support animals can provide. More and more college graduates it seems are facing financial struggles due to a lack of jobs in their career fields. A retail job just doesn't cut it when it comes to paying back loans.
Some people get emotional support from friends. Some people get support from family. Some people find self-worth in getting good grades. Some people find a way to keep fighting just to prove someone wrong. However, these things don't cut it for everyone.
If support, self-worth and a desire to keep living come in the shape of an animal, colleges need to recognize that. Kayla and I are extremely lucky that our college cared so much about our mental health and accepted emotional support animals as an integral part of students taking care of themselves.