Emotional Support Animals (ESA) are a category of animals that provide necessary emotional support to an individual with a mental or psychiatric disability that alleviates one or more identified symptoms of an individual’s disability, but which are not considered Service Animals under the ADAAA.
Occidental College maintains a “no pets” policy in the residence halls. However, in accordance with Federal law (Fair Housing Amendments Act), the College will consider requests for accommodations to the housing policy to allow students experiencing significant mental health problems to keep an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) with them in-residence. Some ESAs are professionally trained, but in other cases ESAs provide the necessary support to individuals with disabilities without any formal training or certification. An ESA may be a dog, cat, small bird, rabbit, hamster, gerbil, fish, or other small, domesticated animal that is traditionally kept in the home for pleasure. Animals that pose health risks from zoonotic diseases or safety concerns regarding containment that cannot be sufficiently mitigated for inclusion in the communal living setting generally will not be approved. Generally, a dog must be at least 9 months of age to live on campus to assure that the dog is reliably housebroken, not disruptive to other residents, and has all of the shots necessary to make it safe to be around humans and other animals that may be in residence.
Our residence halls are generally not an animal-friendly environment. The communal living nature of the residence hall requires the institution to consider the comfort and concerns of all students in residence. Therefore, Occidental College offers some important guidance for those who are considering making a request for an ESA. ESAs are not permitted on campus until the accommodation request has been made and approved. Students found with unauthorized animals in the residence hall will be subject to sanctions under the Student Code of Conduct.
- ESA requests must be made within 60 days before the Student intends to move into College housing, in order to allow for arrangements to be made for the ESA. This policy refers to the rules established for a student to bring one ESA into the residence setting. In general, only one animal may be allowed in an individual residence hall room, as well as in a residence hall unit.
- An ESA must remain only in the Student’s assigned bedroom in a residence hall or other dwelling unit, or common space (e.g., a living room or residential hall study space) associated with such bedroom, except to the extent that the individual is taking the animal out for natural relief. The ESA must be contained (caged or crated) any time the student in not in the room. An ESA is not permitted in other areas of the College (e.g. dining facilities, library, academic buildings, athletic buildings and facilities, classrooms, labs, etc.).
- The documentation provided for an ESA must come from a mental health practitioner in the state of California, or in the student's home state. Documentation of your significant mental health impairment and the associated need for an ESA should come from a mental health provider who knows and understands your difficulties and can explain how the presence of the animal may help to alleviate your symptomology. Occidental College is concerned about the growing number of questionable website services that offer to create “ESA letters” for a set price, often based answers to an online survey. Such letters will rarely provide the information necessary to support your request for accommodation, and are not viewed by the institution as a reliable source of information. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has been asked to investigate websites that purport to provide documentation from a health care provider in support of requests for an ESA. The websites in question offer documentation that is not reliable for purposes of determining whether an individual has a disability or disability-related need for an ESA because the website operators and health care professionals who consult with them lack the personal knowledge that is necessary to make such determinations.
- The ESA may not be left in the care of other residents. If the student leaves campus overnight, the ESA must be taken along.
- Students bringing ESAs to campus are fully responsible for the animal’s behavior, and for any damage done. If the ESA is disruptive to the living environment for others (for example, barking or other loud noises, or significant odor from litter boxes or cages), or if there is damage done to college facilities, the ESA will need to be removed from the premises within 48 hours of notice being given. The student will be responsible for paying for property damage.
- It is important to note that the College may approve your request to have an ESA, but not approve the specific animal you were hoping to bring. The approval of a specific animal may be subject to a number of considerations including the age of the animal, the space needed to house the animal, the care/feeding requirements, and the risk of transmission of zoonotic diseases which may pose a threat to the general welfare of the communal living environment.
Determining an ESA Accommodation Request
Disability Services will consider the following when determining if an ESA request is reasonable:
- Whether the size of the animal is too large for available assigned housing space;
- Whether the animal's presence otherwise violates individuals' right to peace and quiet enjoyment;
- Whether the animal is not housebroken or is unable to live with others in a reasonable manner;
- Whether the animal's vaccinations are not up-to-date;
- Whether the animal poses, or has posed in the past, a direct threat to the individual or others, such as aggressive behavior towards or injuring the individual or others; or potential transmission of zoonotic diseases;
- Whether the animal causes or has caused excessive damage to housing beyond reasonable wear and tear.