By Sandra Lynham,
Director of Counseling and Disability Services
While The Beacon does not normally accept articles written by SMCC staff and faculty, we appreciate Ms. Lynham taking the time to clarify this issue
At any time of year, people can be seen walking their dogs on campus. Many walk the perimeter trail around campus, while others travel through campus to Willard Beach where dogs run and play in the sand and water when allowed by city ordinances. The college has a long history of allowing members of the community to utilize our beautiful outdoor spaces. As a result, only rarely is it necessary for college personnel to ask that someone remove a misbehaving animal that is causing a disruption.
However, because residence hall living requires students to live in close quarters, the SMCC residence halls do not permit pets. While many people recognize the benefits of having pets, it is only when the pet is prescribed by a medical and/or mental health professional as part of a treatment plan, much like ongoing counseling or medication, that a pet is considered emotional support animal (ESA) and is permitted in residence halls.
When students ask about having their ESA in the residence hall, they need to be aware that the animal is restricted to their residence hall room and outside areas only. ESAs are not permitted in classrooms, common areas or dining hall. The student has a sole responsibility to make sure their animal is well cared for and its needs are being met. Students need to consider whether their animal is adaptable to residence hall living, where space is tight and there are an abundance of odors and noises that an animal may not be used to, and to which an animal may react (barking!). Disruptive or destructive behaviors by an animal is the responsibility of the student and may be addressed as a violation of the Residence Hall Agreement. The decision to bring an ESA to campus should not be taken lightly.
The procedure for having an ESA approved is determined by the Maine Community College System. Briefly, students seeking approval to have an ESA in the residence hall must provide documentation to the Office of Disability Services. If the animal is approved, the student may need to provide vet records showing the animal has been vaccinated and is healthy. The student will need to sign an agreement that outlines the terms and conditions of having an ESA in housing.
Emotional support animals do not need to be registered with any agency. Type in “Service Animal” in a search engine, and the first several links are all advertisements for businesses that say they can “certify” your animal after completing a quick survey and paying a processing fee (often $150.00). The terms “service” “therapy” and “emotional” are often used by these websites interchangeably. They are all erroneous!
A service animal, limited to dogs and miniature horses, is specifically trained to perform work or tasks directly related to an individual’s disability. Service animals are not required to wear a collar or vest identifying it as a service animal and are not required to be certified.
College personnel may ask an individual to remove an animal from a building. When it is not readily apparent that an animal is a service animal, only two questions may then be asked: Is the animal required because of a disability and what work or task has the animal been specially trained to perform? If answered satisfactorily, the animal is permitted to go wherever the owner is permitted to go.
Students with service animals do not need to register with SMCC’s Office of Disability Services. However, if they do, professors are notified that there is a student with a service animal in their class. This prevents professors from having to ask the student about the animal and evaluate the validity of their responses, and it prevents the student from having to answer these questions in class.
Whether an animal is a pet, ESA or service animal, it is always best to inquire before you interact with it!