Practically every college student experiences deep surges of loneliness while navigating their growing adult life away from home. Being away from local friends and families, struggling to find social clubs and organizations to join, and getting lost in the crowd without a close-knit community can trigger depressive and negative emotions. When at home, you may have a family pet to fill that gap of love. As a student, Emotional Support Animals (ESA) can alleviate that isolating feeling when the semester gets rough mentally and emotionally. For those already struggling with a mental health disorder, low moments can escalate to extreme desolation and flare ups of symptoms of pre-existing mental illness. A support pet can deescalate these episodes of panic or sadness. I am now entering my third year of undergraduate studies, and although I thrived academically in the past, sometimes the loneliness and anxiety would be conquering my health. Therefore, I decided to adopt a new furry member of the family to become an official ESA and accompany me at my university!
*To have an ESA approved to live in a college dorm under the Fair Housing Act (1988), one needs to have a diagnosed disability/medical condition by a healthcare professional and accommodations approved by their university*
chinchilla: Exotic Pet
A chinchilla is a herbivore rodent that hails from the chilly Andes Mountains in South America. These little fellas resemble a cross between a mini bunny, mouse, and bushy-tailed squirrel with their large rounded Dumbo ears and lengthy wispy whiskers. They flaunt a beautiful thick coat of velvety fur that feels like puffy clouds, and therefore, cannot get wet or else their dense fur follicles will not dry and directly get them sick. Pros: they are odor-free, clean, relatively quiet, and social creatures! Chomping on hay, jumping on ledges during nighttime play, and rolling in dust baths are the primary activities you can find a chinchilla doing. After months of research to find the perfect animal for my emotional needs and housing restrictions, I decided that a chinchilla will thrive the best with my personal lifestyle. If you are most productive in the dark, have the fan blowing at all times, and are die-hard loyal to your best friends, your spirit animal is likely a chinchilla!
I adopted an ebony-colored young chinchilla named “Kookie”, after the famous K-pop idol Jungkook from boyband BTS. He has a cheerful and curious disposition, as he is always popping out of his hidey-house to observe what fun is ensuing around him. He loves listening to whoever is on my FaceTime, spiritedly hopping on my legs and arms, and laying in his comfy hammock to chill. Kookie is a lovebug, as much as chinchillas can be as they are naturally prey, and likes attention from his owner and house guests… almost as much as he adores eating hay. His adventurous soul finds jumping on my head and peering at the elevated view very entertaining. Athletic and fast, Kookie can bounce off the walls to “parkour” as he plays. Of course, his bedtime routine would not be complete without receiving loving kisses on his head and ears. His mere presence is truly relaxing because his antics are so adorable and goofy, you cannot help but be in a good mood.
Follow him on Instagram @cnuchinchilla for more photos and antics!
Life on campus
Living with an ESA in your dorm room is a joyful addition to average everyday life. Waking up to see a cute friendly face, having a study buddy chill next to your desk, and the playtime breaks to clear your mind truly do wonders for a student’s mental health. Although my room needs to be a chilling 70 degrees and daily cleanup of the dorm floor is mandatory, it is a small price to pay for the boost in serotonin. I am terrified of the fire alarm setting off when I am not there to evacuate the pet, but college life is unpredictable. It is a valuable lesson to learn as students; we must roll with the obstacles and become more gentle with our social interactions. Everyday I am forced to take a mental break for the pet’s playtime out of the cage to free range. These responsibilities renew your energy as an exhausted student and gives you motivation to start your day early and productive. When social settings get too overwhelming and sometimes go stale, there is a loving friend to give you kisses and cuddles. Having an ESA has truly kept me calm, collected, and sane these hectic first weeks of school. Kookie is a real sweet treat!