Since Troy University’s main campus adopted the no-pet policy a few years ago, students saw few to no animals on campus except for service animals.
Recently, housing started looking into the legitimacy of some of the campus’s furry tenants under the tag “service animal.”
“Almost two weeks ago housing released a new policy, which basically invalidated my whole paperwork on her,” said Carleigh Sherman, a sophomore global business major from Tulsa, Oklahoma, about her assistance dog, Pippa.
Pippa is a Chihuahua rat-terrier that has lived with Sherman for three years, two of those on-campus, and played a significant role in Sherman’s academic life.
“Just having her here has boosted my GPA tremendously,” Sherman said. “You can even see on my transcript, I had B’s and C’s my first semester, but since then I had all A’s except one class, where I had a B.
“Just having her here, it motivates me to actually get out of bed. I actually do things with her.”
Sherman said that Pippa helps her through recurring bouts of depression and anxiety, which were diagnosed by her therapist at age 16.
However, the new policy for service animals requires students, not only with professionally trained service animals, but also with comfort animals as well, to submit a recommendation from a licensed psychiatrist to the adaptive needs office, practically equating them to medication.
“If they need medication, they (students) can’t be treated by a psychologist because psychologists and therapists cannot prescribe medication,” said Alison Hughes, adaptive needs program coordinator. “I mean they can do counseling, they can do intensive counseling with both of those, but many will see a private doctor or a psychiatrist.”
Although the new policy was put in place in the beginning of the past fall semester, the housing office started looking into the documentation this spring, throwing people with emotional illnesses like Sherman into a dilemma.
The reason for the check is the disproportionate number of students who have taken advantage of the system loophole, causing trouble for administration, students and owners of approved animals.
“We’re not trying to block people from bringing their comfort animals, but we’ve got to have a policy and a process in place for registering these animals to say, ‘Yes, the student truly needs them,’” said Herbert Reeves, the dean of student services.
The Troy Housing website differentiates between service animals and regular pets on the basis of need. While the comfort animals are an “integral part of a person’s treatment process” of a mental illness, pets are companions.
“This policy is there to protect the rights of those who truly need a comfort animal, because we’ve got some of these people come in with letters that they’ve got offline or other places, so that’s why we have a policy that says that you need an animal from a licensed psychiatrist,” Reeves said.
The policy is designed to invite animals of only those students whose mental issues are severe enough to require medication, so in effect to push them closer to service animals, and to protect other students for whom animals are a problem, not a solution.
“We have to take all of that into consideration and balance that out—the needs of the person who needs the support animal and also the needs of someone who may have that fear or medical reason for not being around animals because of an allergy for that particular pet,” Reeves said.
Sherman, whose diagnosis was provided by her therapist, fell under the radar with the new policy. Her animal did not pose issues for her dorm-mates at Paden Hall.
“I’ve never had any complaints about Pippa or anything that has to do with her,” said Miriam Davis, a junior ASL interpreting major from Prattville and resident assistant at Paden. “Personally we have three dogs, and that has been a complaint that there’s so many animals.
“Myself, I’m afraid of dogs, and to be an RA in a building with three, it’s kind of stressful at times. When Pippa was the only dog there, it was fine because it was just occasionally that I had to be around her, but now that there are more dogs, it’s like more often I have to deal with animals, and so it’s a bit more stressful.”
“Some of the people said that now if the dog barks they are more likely to get irritated than before,” she said. “That’s the only complaint I’ve gotten, but never anything specifically with Pippa. Ever. In fact, Pippa is very well-liked by everyone in the dorm; she’s a very well-behaved dog.”
According to Hughes, students don’t have to go out of their way to provide the documentation necessary in most cases, as they can request the letter with a phone call.
However, since Sherman’s dog was approved by a psychologist, she would have to meet with and get a prescription from a psychiatrist—a far less easily approachable and much more expensive option that any student, especially one already dealing with emotional problems, would like to explore in the middle of the semester.
The bottom line is, don’t fake a mental disorder if you don’t have one simply to get your way. People with real ones can get hurt.