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Furry Friends Around Campus: What it’s like to have an Emotional Support Animal at Eastern during a stressful season caused by the pandemic.

Emotional Support Animals are pets that can provide companionship that eases anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses. They are different from service animals, as they do not receive any formal training in order to become certified, but they do have to meet certain criteria. They have to be prescribed to a patient experiencing disabling mental health issues by a licensed mental health professional.

In order to get an ESA on Eastern’s campus, you have to get a recommendation from a therapist or mental health professional outside of Eastern’s community, then go through CCAS to get your animal certified as an ESA. They are classified as a housing accommodation so the ESA is allowed to live in dorms as long as they do not cause a disturbance.

Senior Chemistry major Karissa MacCentelli has had her ESA cat, Sasha, since her second semester. She got Sasha over the winter break of her freshman year from a cat cafe. MacCentelli loves having her ESA on campus with her, and feels that Sasha has a significant positive impact on her mental health.

Karissa describes ESA’s as “the annoying thing that gets you up in the morning.” and describes taking care of Sasha as her need to get up in the morning. She acknowledges that Sasha is another being that she is responsible for, so even when she doesn’t want to take care of herself, she needs to take care of Sasha.

“I care about her a lot, and I have the responsibility of having something else to take care of.” MacCentelli said when describing her relationship with Sasha and how she has impacted her life.

Freshman Early Childhood Education major Rebecca Belford has had her ESA shitzu, Tony, since her sixteenth birthday, and has had him registered as her ESA for almost a year now.

“My dog is my other half” said Belford, who has Tony to treat depression and anxiety. “He helps me through so much.”

Belford described how Tony is able to detect her emotions and help her calm down when necessary. “It is a lot for me to be emotionally there
for people” said Belford, “he helps me stay calm.

“I don’t think there is a bad part of having him here … sometimes he wakes up early” Belford said when asked if there were any downsides to having her ESA on campus.

One recent issue that has arisen on Eastern’s campus regarding ESAs is quarantine housing. Recent announcements and events have determined that students with ESAs are not allowed to have their ESA with them if they end up having to quarantine either due to exposure or a positive COVID-19 test.

This announcement has received a lot of negative backlash from students with ESAs on Eastern’s campus, after they had to fill out a form figuring out what their ESA would have to do in the case of quarantine.

MacCentelli had to deal with ESA accommodations in quarantine firsthand when she tested positive for COVID during one of Eastern’s monthly testing periods. She was not able to have her ESA with her after finding out her results, and could not have her with her in her anxious state afterwards.

While MacCentelli was able to go home with her ESA to quarantine in Maryland, she acknowledged that not all students were able to have the same luxury of going home to quarantine and be with their ESA.

Senior Faith Lauffer had a similar experience in the fall semester with her ESA, Sebby, but eventually learned she would not need to quarantine after finding out that she was not actually exposed.

Lauffer was very adverse to the new quarantine rule, as it was not made until this current spring semester. She wonders maybe if she would have been able to quarantine with her ESA in the fall, the new rule might not have been implemented.

“My ESA is a medical treatment for a medically diagnosed disorder, denying me my ESA is denying my medical treatment” said Lauffer, who chose her ESA over medication for mental health, and feels very strongly about Easterns new ESA policy.

Sources: AKC.org, Eastern.edu

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