Knox’s Emotional Support Animal (ESA) policy will be subject to stricter enforcement following student complaints and an influx of animals on campus last year.
Stephanie Grimes, the director of Disability Services, said she received complaints last year about ESAs in food areas and academic buildings. Grimes had gotten complaints about animals left unattended outside of the cafeteria as well.
Grimes and Dining Services have worked together to create ESA IDs to make identification of support animals easier. Grimes will be vetting applications for ESAs more carefully. One visit with a counselor for a letter of recommendation will no longer be enough to qualify.
Grimes felt that an influx of animals on campus last spring coincided with a higher number of complaints and warranted a reminder of Knox’s ESA policy. She sent out an email to ESA handlers and talked to several in person. Grimes said many of the handlers were apologetic and the violations stopped.
Andie Carlson-Dakes, senior, is the handler of a dog named Doug. They understand why ESAs can’t go into food spaces, but said the restriction from academic buildings poses a challenge for handlers who need their animals outside of their dorms. Carlson-Dakes said a balance must be found between those who have allergies, phobias or just don’t want dogs around and ESA handlers.
“For a lot of people who have ESAs, I think social anxiety is a big part of that, and so something that is really helpful is going out into public with your dog,” Carlson-Dakes said.
Arianna Tull, junior, is the handler of a dog named Andy. She felt similarly about the stricter regulation of ESA policy.
“Some of the rules make sense, but they’re still frustrating,” Tull said.
Grimes said there are some small changes to ESA policy this year. ESAs have been issued their own IDs, and Grimes is vetting letters of recommendation and counselors more carefully than she had in the past.
“We want it to be based on the best professional recommendation that we can get,” Grimes said.
ESA IDs are meant to make identification of real ESAs and animals who are not supposed to be on campus easier, making Grimes’ life much easier according to her.
The purpose of ESA IDs weren’t clear to Carlson-Dakes. They weren’t sure where they had put their dog’s ID. It hasn’t yet served a purpose for them.
Tull understood the purpose of the IDs but was concerned that Campus Safety may randomly stop her at a time she did not have her dog’s ID with her. She suggested Grimes try to make the IDs in the form of tags that can be put on collars instead of full sized ID cards.
Grimes knows most of the Knox community loves to see animals around. She encouraged students who want to have some time with an animal to visit counseling services and make an appointment with their therapy animal.
“Students can go in and schedule a time to go in and get their animal fixed,” Grimes said.