What it’s like having an emotional support dog in college

‘I have a hard time seeing people faking mental illnesses just so that their pet can live with them’

My friend Sira has an emotional support dog named Ollie whom she loves to no end. Together with her healthcare provider, it was decided that she needed a ESD to help her with her mental and emotional state. Many misconceptions and half-truths are floating around about ESDs, but Sira wanted to set the record straight on what life with a emotional support dog is really like.

What is an emotional support dog?

Well, a lot of people think that it’s a trained dog but actually it’s just a dog owned by someone who has a letter from a doctor stating that the dog benefits the patient in some way.

How did you find out about ESD?

I’d heard rumors of people getting cats and other pets on campus as ESAs and decided to talk to my psychiatrist about if she thought it would benefit me to get a dog.

What did you need to do to register Ollie as your ESD?

All I really needed was the letter but I also chose to register him online with the ESA registry so that I could get him a vest and an ID for when we flew — it isn’t required but I like it because it keeps people from petting him a bunch and freaking him out in the airport.

What was the process like to get an ESD?

It was actually pretty simple. I just got the letter and then went and adopted Ollie. It was a lot harder to get the school to recognize that he was an ESA and let him live with me on campus.

What do people need to know about having an ESD?

I think the main thing people need to know is that some people genuinely need their ESDs. I have a hard time seeing people faking mental illnesses just so that their pet can live with them or they can have an excuse to take them places because it makes people believe that all people with ESAs are just looking for a way to fly with their pup for free.

What it’s like to have an emotional support dog in college?

It’s definitely a challenge. Dogs are a whole lot more responsibility than people my age understand and I have to constantly keep him in mind when going out or working or anything, but it’s completely worth the effort.

What made you feel the need to have an ESD?

I’d always struggled with mental health issues but the summer that I adopted Ollie was exceptionally difficult and I was overcome with a feeling of isolation and loneliness no matter how hard I tried to connect with people. Ollie was an opportunity for me to be close to someone without the pressure of maintaining a relationship when I was already struggling.

Does your university have a policy about ESD?

They do. They required quite a bit of paperwork and letters before allowing Ollie to live with me on campus but my university in particular was extremely accommodating and kind to me in the process.

Does Ollie always have to have a tag or collar that specifies that he is for emotional support?

He doesn’t. He does have a little tag that specifies that he’s an ESA but I mainly just have that as a formality.

What are some challenges you have found in college with having a dog with you?

Like I mentioned before, he’s a lot of responsibility. It’s not necessarily like having a child because he doesn’t need 24-hour care, but it definitely does make you reevaluate your plans. It’s also difficult with roommates because if he does something to inconvenience them, that’s ultimately on me and I take that very seriously.

Would college be harder for you without Ollie in your life?

In some ways it would because his companionship is priceless to me and incomparable to any other friend because it’s so unconditional, which is something I really need.

Have you had any trouble with places allowing Ollie in? Restaurants, hotels, apartments?

Despite a common misconception, ESAs aren’t actually allowed anywhere except for airports and your home. However, most places are understanding if he’s wearing his vest and clearly well behaved. But if someone was to ever ask me to leave I would honor that because he isn’t a service dog and we don’t have the same rights as a service dog team.

Does your dog take up a lot of your time in a negative way even though he is for support?

Absolutely. But my roommate asked me the other day if he caused more harm than good and the time and energy he takes up doesn’t even compare to the amount of positive support he provides for me.

Do you bring your dog to class with you?

I do occasionally depending on the class and the teacher. I always clear it with them first.

How did your family feel about you getting an emotional support dog?

My family was skeptical but they’ve really grown to love Ollie and accept him as part of the family.

Do you ever feel like having ESD displayed to people is embarrassing?

Occasionally I run into awkward situations with it but I’ve always been very open about my mental health situation and if anything it provides a reason to have a really great conversation with people and potentially help them get an ESA of their own if they need it.

Have you ever traveled with Ollie?

We fly all the time! It’s definitely interesting but it’s a ton of fun.

What is your favorite part about having Ollie as your ESD?

He’s genuinely my best friend. I was having roommate issues and had to spend a couple of months without him while I cleared them up and it just felt like a part of me was missing. It’s hard sometimes that I can’t always do the things I want to because I have another life in my hands but at the end of the day he’s my whole world and I’m so happy I was able to give him a home. He’s a great example of “who rescued who.”

Mental health is important because it effects your daily life. If you feel like an ESA would be helpful to you and you have been diagnosed with an emotional or mental disorder, an ESA may be right for you. Talk to your therapist or doctor about it and see what they think would be the best choice for you. Emotional support animals can help people all over the world with their unconditional love and companionship.

Ole Miss: University of Mississippi