7 Things to Know Before Bringing an Emotional Support Animal to College

  1. Find an animal before getting the recommendation letter from your psychiatrist You need to make sure that the animal is in tune with your emotions and that you and the animal have a connection that will ease your symptoms. A puppy may not be the best option for an ESA due to their maturity. Older dogs are calmer and don’t need to be trained like a puppy would. Senior dogs are also less likely to be adopted and are put to sleep more often than puppies! So save a doggy life!
  2. How to actually get your ESA to campus Contact your school’s disability services and residence life accommodations departments to find out the qualities your recommendation letter has to have. When you apply through your school they will most likely tell you exactly what the recommendation letter has to say, so be sure to relay that information to your doctor as soon as you get it.
  3. Be prepared to take care of a living animal

A cat or dog is not a cute fluffy thing for you to take cute pictures of. Too many people bring their animals to college just because they miss their dog at home and are not adequately prepared take care of an animal. Animals don’t necessarily stay on the same sleep schedule as humans. Living in a small room, sometimes with roommates, can make you lose your sanity when all your cat/dog wants to do is rustle in that mystery plastic shopping bag you don’t remember leaving out or furiously scratch their scratching board at 3 am. Taking care of an animal isn’t a walk in the park, it will test your patience to no end, and taking care of one in a dorm room isn’t an exception. Even the most tame, tempered animals will develop new personality traits when living in a dorm. When I brought my cat to college she became very needy. She likes to always be near me, and when I’m studying that can bring some challenges. Just be prepared to find out how life works for both of y’all together, because y’all are both partners in this journey!       

Photo by: Megan Carswell

4. Make sure your animal is comfortable with living in a tiny living space Big dogs are not well suited for dorm life unless you have plenty of time to play with them outdoors. Cats, on the other hand, can adapt very well to living in a small space. Cats see their living area in three levels so make sure your cat has a cat tree/chest/desk to climb on from now and then to stay active and entertained. Do a test run with your animal at home and see if they will be ok living in a small space.


5. Make sure you have time for an animal

Since cats (usually) cannot be walked outside they need lots of one-on-one play. Something I’ve found helpful was having lots of play time right before bed so she would sleep through the night and not wake up and run around in the middle of the night. Cat’s litter boxes need to be cleaned daily! The smell really travels in dorms and apartments. Animals are a big-time commitment and if they are not mentally simulated and socialized enough it’s ultimately very damaging to the animal.

Photo by: Megan Carswell

6. Contact any roommates you will have and alert them of the animal

A lot of people are allergic to dogs and cats and even though you cannot be denied housing because of your ESA it is still courteous to alert your roommates, especially if you will be sharing the same room. You may even get a free pet sitter out of your roommate to play with your animal while you’re in class. One of the best parts of having an ESA in my opinion is getting to share them with others in need. My cat is very cuddly and can pick up on people’s emotions very easily so my roommates and many of my friends just come over when they’re having a bad mental health day and after just thirty minutes they are feeling better.

7. Have a proper waste disposal method

If you have a cat you can buy a wheat based flushable litter safe for septic tanks that can eliminate the need to travel down to the dumpster outside every day. This litter also allows you to clean up after your animal any time you want! Dogs are more time consuming because you do have to take them outside every time they need to go to the restroom. For dogs, make sure you get a house-trained dog before you go to campus. Your hall director and your roommates will thank you for avoiding any potential messes!

At the end of the day, just make sure that both the animal and your mental health are taken care of. Giving an animal a bad life just to make you feel better is doing a disservice to the animal, so do your research and take your time. After all, it is another life that you’re taking into your hands, so don’t take the responsibility lightly. ESA’s do so much good and I honestly believe that every campus should have some on site therapy animals available to every student. I hope this helped you and good luck on your ESA journey from Eleanor and me! 

Photo by: Megan Carswell