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OPINION: Getting on-campus pet approval no walk in the park

I am always down for a challenge. The Vision staff presented me with one I could not decline. My new mission: get a theoretical cat to live in my dorm room.

In reality, I don’t own a cat.

I actually hate cats, and, on top of it, I am allergic to them. But that didn’t stop me.

Naturally, my cat needed a full identity.

That’s how Steven Tyler, the 4-year-old tabby cat, was born.

Like any other Millennial, I turn to Google for my answers on how I could get a pet on a college campus. As I researched how to theoretically sneak Steven Tyler on campus, I decided there was no way to sneak him on campus without getting caught. My next mission was to find a way to get a pet on campus without breaking the rules.

Through my research, I found out that service and emotional support animals can be certified to live anywhere. Service dogs are pets serving a working purpose and performing a task connected to an individual’s disability. Emotional support animals offer therapeutic benefit to an individual for various reasons. There are multiple emotional support animals on Belmont’s campus including cats, dogs, and even a hedgehog in the past.

As I searched the web, I found many websites where you can purchase certificates for emotional support animals. Most websites follow a similar process: take a survey to see if you are eligible, talk to a health professional and pay around $150 for a piece of paper.

Some of the questions on asked if I’d been sleeping less than usual, starting lots more projects than usual or doing more risky things than usual. After taking the survey multiple times, about any combination of answers gave me a certificate for an emotional support animal. Sadly, I live on a college freshman budget and cannot cough up $150 for theoretical Steven Tyler.

Thankfully, I did not spend the $150 on the emotional support animal certificate because they are not accepted at the university.

In order to bring an emotional support animal on campus, students must go through an easy but thorough process, said Melissa Smith, director of Disability Services.

First, students must qualify for disabilities services, meaning they have a significant limitation in a major life activity. Not every case is the same and each is looked at individually.

If the documentation from a health professional supports an emotional support animal, then they will move forward in the process. Documentation in most, but not all, cases of emotional support animals will come from a psychologist or certificated counselor.

Next, documentation of the animal begins, – verifying with a veterinarian its size, weight, health status and vaccination records.

Once both the humans and animal have passed scrutiny, the process moves to Belmont Resident Life to make sure roommates and room size are compatible.

Currently, there are 13 service animals living on and off campus assisting students at Belmont University. The majority of the animals living on campus are cats and dogs, but other animals have been recorded, including a hedgehog.

Unfortunately, Steven Tyler will not be an addition to campus because I am not eligible for disability services and do not need an emotional support animal. May theoretical Steven Tyler the tabby rest in peace.

Steven Tyler Sept. 19, 2016 – Oct. 4, 2016. You were loved by… one?

Article and photo by Isabel Pesci.

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