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Furry friends on campus: the emotional support animals of Brandeis

If you’re a pet owner, you can certainly relate to the feeling of companionship that an animal friend can bring to your life. For most, however, moving to college unfortunately means giving up that companionship. The life of a student comes with many stresses, and for many, a pet—or any animal presence—can be a great reliever of that stress. Brandeis, for instance, usually hosts therapy dog sessions every semester which students are free to attend. According to the Brandeis Counseling Center, the presence of a therapy animal can “[provide] physical comfort and pain management,” “promote self-esteem and stimulate memory and problem-solving skills” and “can provoke laughter, lift one’s mood and provide companionship.”

While animals and pets are generally not allowed within residential buildings on campus, students with certain accommodations are able to live with registered emotional support animals (ESAs) to aid with mental health-related issues on a more regular basis if they are needed. To approve a pet as an ESA, students must provide documentation from a provider who “has an established [therapeutic] relationship with the student.” In addition, the documentation must “confirm the presence of a diagnosis and symptoms necessitating ESA support.”

To help give insight to the world of owning ESAs as a Brandeis student, The Brandeis Hoot spoke with two students who are ESA handlers. Yael Snowise ’25 lives on campus with her dog, Ziva. Snowise described Ziva, a three-year-old Micro Goldendoodle, as “very active.” Sophia Posner ’25 spoke to The Hoot about her cat, Little P, who is 11 years old.

Snowise has had Ziva as a pet since she was a puppy, and has had her as an on-campus ESA since the second semester of her first year, having registered her during the 2021-2022 winter break. Similarly, Posner has had Little P as a pet since her kittenhood, though she has had her as an ESA for her entire time at Brandeis, having registered her during the summer prior to her first year.

Both students agreed that the process of bringing their ESAs to Brandeis was generally easy and that the university was accommodating towards them. Snowise noted, however, that she had been frustrated with a lack of sufficient notice from the university that she had to renew her agreement to have an ESA on campus yearly. Posner was also critical of some of the university’s policies toward the ethical treatment of ESAs, citing that she was uncomfortable with her instructions to keep Little P in a crate while no one was present in her dorm room. “It contradicts itself,” she added. “It says you have to be a humane owner but keeping your pet in a crate all day isn’t humane.”

When it comes to balancing student life with the responsibilities of being a pet owner, Snowise noted that she has to dedicate time in her day to take care of Ziva. “It’s not [difficult] … but I have to budget my time.” She also added that long class periods and exams, as well as athletic trips, sometimes interfere with her ability to tend to her pet’s needs. As a cat owner, Posner said that taking care of Little P was much easier—“She’s pretty independent … I don’t have to come back to my dorm regularly.” Posner also said that living in a double also made things much easier, as her roommate was able to watch over Little P. “When I lived in a single last year, I had to make sure I wasn’t out [too long].”

Snowise and Posner both asserted that their experiences as ESA owners were overwhelmingly positive. “I love it, it’s great,” Snowise expressed. “[It’s amazing] to have something to come back to at the end of the day … it’s mentally a huge plus.” Posner also emphasized the relief that an ESA can provide. “[With] my mental health struggles … [Little P] has been a good support system for me … she relieves a lot of anxiety, a lot of stress.” Posner added that the responsibility of having to care for an animal helps her stay focused and grounded—“That’s not something I can blow off”—also mentioning the overall quality of life improvements that come with having a pet on campus. “People ask me ‘Can I come visit your cat?’ all the time. I’m like, ‘Of course!’”

Overall, both students recommended having an ESA on campus. Snowise emphasized that one must be ready for the responsibility that comes with owning a pet, and recommends previous pet ownership experience prior to caring for an animal in college. Posner claimed that for individuals struggling with anxiety and stress-related issues, it could “definitely help.” She added the caveat, however, that not everyone needs an ESA and that one should “only apply for one if you [really] need one.”


Pictured: Little P enjoying a copy of The Brandeis Hoot

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