From Alligators To Zonkeys: The ABCs Of Service & Emotional-Support Animals
Challenge - The rise in emotional support animal requests
- Differentiating between service and emotional-support animals and the laws that regulate them
- Discerning legitimate student need for a comfort animal from a request simply to keep a pet on campus
- Educating faculty and staff on students' rights and the limits on those rights, where animals on campus are concerned
As we emerge from the COVID pandemic and campuses reopen to students, the trauma of a two-year health crisis and fears of the future have vastly heightened student (as well as faculty and staff) anxiety. Requests for emotional support animals, already on the rise pre-pandemic, will increase incrementally as campus communities struggle to adapt to the new normal.
Student anxiety was a substantial and growing issue on virtually every college campus pre-pandemic. Concurrent with ever-climbing mental-health statistics was a dramatic increase in requests to bring emotional-support (comfort) animals to campus. Our disability services professionals, well-versed in the laws and policies governing service animals, struggled to accommodate student (as well as faculty and staff) requests for a widening menagerie of species. This challenge arose in the context of a broader national debate swirling around airline passengers' attempts to bring peacocks and piglets on their flights, homeowners housing tigers and chimpanzees, and fly-by-night "psychologists" offering to certify comfort-animal requirements instantly online.
Since March 2020, most college campuses have been chiefly closed than open, and the majority of our students have pursued their studies via Zoom and other learning platforms from their homes and apartments. As institutions struggle to resume face-to-face instruction and some semblance of campus life, students, faculty, and staff have expressed their fears and anxieties. This 2021 Washington Post headline says it all: "Pandemic adds to mental health crisis on college campuses." (3/30/21) This "anxiety pandemic" has led to a tsunami of emotional-support-animal requests. In the words of one psychologist, "As fall 2021 approached, I was besieged by requests to verify the need of pets as 'emotional support animals' (ESAs), so they could be allowed in campus residence halls with students. While not a new phenomenon, the ESA trend appears to have intensified during the pandemic." (Psychology Today, 9/30/21)
This trend will only increase in the 2022-23 academic year. As a result, not only disability services professionals but all administrators and faculty must understand both the laws and practicalities revolving around the remarkable menageries that now populate our residence halls and appear in our classrooms and elsewhere on our campuses. This webinar is designed to provide all educators with the knowledge they need to meet this comfort-animal phenomenon with a balanced combination of compassion and compliance, handling situations involving "all creatures great and small" in a sensible, non-discriminatory manner.
- Acquire a fundamental understanding of the law regulating the extensive rights of students with service animals and the limitations on those rights involving health & safety concerns
- Differentiate the more limited legal rights of students seeking to have emotional-support animals in their residence-hall rooms
- Learn the basic policies and rules an institution should enact and enforce regarding safety, hygiene, behavior, and other such aspects of an animals' presence in student living, eating, recreational, and learning spaces
- Identify the appropriate documentation and evaluation steps required for a student to obtain approval of a comfort animal as a reasonable accommodation
- Explore the roles and restrictions of emotional-support animals in American society at large
- Human Resources
- Student Services/Affairs
- Residence Life
- Student Counseling
- Any educator interested in learning more about the difference between service and emotional support animals
In my 23 years as a university legal counsel, my portfolio included the Office of Student Disability Services. I witnessed their workload increase exponentially year after year. And dealing with the onslaught of comfort-animal requests --- some legitimate, others not --- was among their toughest challenges. This challenge is only getting tougher.
Dr. Jim Castagnera holds an M.A. in Journalism from Kent State University and a J.D. and Ph.D. (American Studies) from Case Western Reserve University. He worked 10 years as a labor, employment, and intellectual-property attorney with Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr and 23 years as associate provost & legal counsel for academic affairs at Rider University, where in 2018 he received the university’s highest annual award for distinguished service. He also did stints as a full-time law professor at UT-Austin and Widener University Law School.
Having retired from Rider in 2019, he is engaged in a portfolio of activities: Chief Consultant of Holland Media Services, a freelance-writing, education and communication company with offices in Philadelphia and Los Angeles; Partner with Portum Group International LLC, a cyber security & privacy consulting firm in Philadelphia; Of Counsel to Washington International Business Counsel; an Adjunct Professor of Law in the Kline School at Law at Drexel University, and an arbitrator for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
Bio current as of March 2022.
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