Public University Students Are Now Benefiting from Emotional Support Animals

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As the spring semester or trimester gets underway, a recent HUD ruling means that public university students with psychiatric disabilities now have the right to have their Emotional Support Animals with them in their dormitories. San Francisco therapist Michael Halyard describes the rights and benefits of Emotional Support Animals for people with psychiatric disabilities.

For some people, their emotional support animal is the one thing keeping them stable in spite of suffering from severe mental illness.

This spring semester or trimester, public university students with psychiatric disabilities now have the right to have emotional support animals with them in their college residence halls and dormitories. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) notified its regional offices last April that public universities must comply with the Fair Housing Act which allows for emotional support animals.

More and more people, including college students, are alleviating their psychiatric symptoms by having emotional support animals serve as their companions.

“Emotional support animals are pets that provide therapeutic benefit to their owners through devotion, affection and companionship. Unlike other service animals, emotional support animals do not require training to carry out specific tasks, and require only the same amount of training as an ordinary house pet,” says San Francisco therapist Michael Halyard.

Halyard is a San Francisco Marriage and Family Therapist and can be found on the websites and

Emotional support animals should not be confused with psychiatric service dogs. The latter referring to dogs that require special training to perform specific tasks that help a person mitigate the effects of a mental illness--like turning on the lights for a person with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

“Going away to college for the first time is hard for most kids, but is made even harder for those prone to depression or other mental illness. Emotional support animals provide emotional security, unconditional love, and act as a secure base for their owners,” explains Halyard.

“Many people struggle with situations that used to be easy for them. Frequently, it is a traumatic life event that triggered a psychological inability to function in day to day activities. Other people have biological-based psychiatric disorders that affect their ability to function. For all of the above, the company of a beloved pet serving as an emotional support animal can considerably diminish or eliminate their symptoms,” adds Halyard.

Halyard says whether it's disorders like Major Depression, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Agoraphobia, Panic Disorder, PTSD, Autism Spectrum Disorders or Schizophrenia, people who have psychiatric disabilities can benefit tremendously from having an emotional support animal present in their lives.

“For some people, their emotional support animal is the one thing keeping them stable in spite of suffering from severe mental illness,” argues Halyard.

The two federal laws that regulate emotional support animals are the Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 (ACAA) and the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 (FHAA). The ACAA and regulate emotional support animals on commercial aircraft and the FHAA regulate emotional support animals in housing. “Emotional support animal” is legal terminology and defines rights to owners by the ACAA and FHAA. HUD’s recent notification means that public universities must allow emotional support animals and comply with the Fair Housing Act.

For those off-campus and non-students, landlords are required to provide reasonable accommodations to allow disabled tenants to have an emotional support animal even when there’s a “no pet” policy if they have the proper documentation. Landlords must waive security deposits for pets, but the owner can be charged for any damage caused by the emotional support animal. Airlines are used to people bringing their emotional support animals on board and have policies in place. Most airlines don’t charge an extra fee for emotional support animals but they do require the proper documentation and advanced notice 48 prior to the flight.

In order to have your pet become an emotional support animal, you need to get a letter from your physician or licensed mental health professional recommending the emotional support animal to help with your disability, and the pet has to be able to live peacefully with people without being a danger or nuisance.

California registers service animals through each county’s animal enforcement department. San Francisco residents can get a service-dog tag from the Animal Care and Control Department if they have a letter recommending an emotional service dog from their therapist or physician.

“It’s important to train your animal so that it doesn’t bother other people, as there are still establishments that will allow let them to accompany you--but it is now up to the establishment,” says Halyard.

“People get such tremendous benefit from their emotional support animals! Emotional support animals reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and even can return a person to a higher level of functioning. A person who has a major mental illness may be able to live a fairly normal life,” explains Halyard.

“If you already have psychiatric condition that substantially limits at least one of your major life activities, you may qualify to designate your pet as an emotional support animal,” adds Halyard.

Michael Halyard, MS, MFT is a San Francisco Marriage and Family Therapist and specializes in LGBT issues, depression, anxiety, addictions and couples counseling in his San Francisco private practice. He can be found on the websites and

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