Comfort Animals on the Rise: A Need Area CU Boulder is Not Addressing
Ordinarily, CU Boulder is seen as a liberal leaning, animal friendly campus with daily visits of dogs belonging to students and locals alike. It’s no rare thing to see pups of all ages and sizes out playing fetch or taking a stroll, especially on the campus’ largest open quads, such as Farrand Field or the Norlin Quadrangle. Though with mental illness becoming more frequently reported by students, it’s becoming apparent? that one growing source of self-care is still unfortunately banned by most universities.
Mental health issues have been growing on college campuses for years, and as conversations about them finally take center stage in our country, gaping holes in care are becoming achingly apparent. Surveys from the year 2000 done by the American College Health Association showed even then that a staggering 38% of 16,000 students reported feeling so depressed it was hard to function. And this was eighteen years ago. Luckily, more conversations also call for more treatments, and one popular treatment for a variety of mental illnesses’ comes in the form of a pet.
Many people today diagnosed with anxiety, depression, and other common ailments have turned to what is called a “comfort animal,” a kind of therapy pet. This animal takes on different forms for different folks, from tarantulas to lizards to dogs, dependent on what kind of critter gives an individual peace. Unfortunately, variation in pet doesn’t account for much when all animals are still not allowed in dorms or college sponsored housing.
It is not uncommon for students these days to find themselves financially unable to consider any kind of housing options past what their university offers, and it is no secret that real estate in Boulder does not come cheap. And a job might be out of the question for an individual who is already a student and struggling with mental care. Currently, these students don’t have many options.
CU does bring in the local Therapy Dogs of Boulder County every so often during finals week, which is always a very popular event. However, having access to a pet for one week out of every semester for some simply isn’t enough. CU also offers some leeway, as comfort animals are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act, but even still students might be turned away and not given the treatment they need.
A large reason for these hesitations on CU’s part come from the complexity and lack of regulation around the issue. How does one determine a therapy pet from just a regular pet? What proof would a student need? What would happen to students in dorms who have allergies and phobias of certain animals? There are also concerns for property damage, animal disruptions, and having the ability to house an animal in a humane way. For those who have these concerns, this list of complications to the issue seem like reason to put a halt on any kind of change, as many universities have done in the past. Yet, change may force itself as all across America the costs that comes with the lawsuits from students who were denied pets begins to dramatically outweigh the costs of refurbishing a dorm. Some students have received hundreds of thousands of dollars from colleges who turned their therapy pets away, and there are sure to be more similar cases on the horizon.
Clearly, the solution to the problem would come much quicker with clearer litigation and well thought out execution. Perhaps part of the answer could be specific animal friendly dorms, as CU already has Bear Creek apartments and Williams Village off sight for students. CU loves to share its statistics about its successes as an institute of learning, and that has in the past included the mental wellbeing of those who pass through their halls. Why stop her here?