Number of therapy pets rises in res halls

Maegan Kenny lives with her cat, Foxy, to make her feel more at home in her residence hall, Riggs.  (Alexander Simone | The Oswegonian)
Maegan Kenny lives with her cat, Foxy, to make her feel more at home in her residence hall, Riggs.
(Alexander Simone | The Oswegonian)

Mental illness is an impediment to some college students’ academic performance and Oswego State is considering innovative ways to aid these students.

Mental Health and Wellness Week was observed from Oct. 5 to 9 at Oswego State and included many events, from balloon art therapy to stress relieving activities. One of the popular events was the Paws of CNY Therapy Dogs, which allowed students to interact with canines to relax and unwind during the school week.

For some students, petting these dogs for a few minutes is not enough to help them long-term. Maegan Kenny, sophomore, said she has depression anxiety. Being around her cat when she was at home significantly helped Kenny, so she went through the process to bring her cat into her dorm room.

Although the Residence Hall Policy reads “Neither residents nor their guests may bring animals or pets of any kind into the residential community except as specified in the pet policy which limits residents to fish,” the Disability

Support Services office at Oswego State makes accommodations for students like Kenny to have an emotional support animal in their dorm room.

Starr Wheeler, coordinator of Disability Support Services, said an emotional support animal provides comfort, relief of anxiety or help with depression.

“Accommodations are done on an individual basis,” Wheeler said.

In order to obtain an emotional support animal, students must provide their diagnosis or disability that relates to the animal. There is not a large amount of paperwork required.

“Once we get the documentation, turnaround time is quick,” Wheeler said. “We’ve had them done as quick as two days.”

Kenny said having her cat, Foxy, in her dorm room in Riggs has helped prevent panic attacks and anxiety.

“I’m not as homesick as I used to be last year,” Kenny said. “It’s nice knowing that when you come to the room it’s not empty. You’re not alone, there’s a little animal waiting there for you.”
Kenny said there are some difficulties having a cat in her dorm room, such as the noise it makes and the complications when it gets sick. But she said the benefits Foxy provides outweigh the negative factors.
“I’m going to have her here until I graduate,” Kenny said.

Jordan Dedrick, a first year graduate student and resident assistant in Onondaga Hall shares her Onondaga suite with her New Zealand black rabbit, Dexter.

“He improves my mood,” Dedrick said.

She said that in previous years, she kept to herself, but since having Dexter in her room, other students often see him and come visit.

“I don’t even know half the people that stop by, so it helps me interact with people on my floor, especially as an RA,” Dedrick said.

Having the 10-pound rabbit gives Dedrick an opportunity to connect with her residents. She said she tells them to come over and pet him when they feel sad, and she enjoys the opportunity to get to know the students.
Dedrick, a first year graduate student, has experienced stress relief by having Dexter on campus with her.

“It’s good to have an animal there that’s happy to see you,” Dedrick said. “I open my door, he runs up to me and bites my pants. I’ll be doing my homework and getting really stressed out and then I look down and he’s laying at my feet nibbling on my toes. Having that companionship is really nice.”

One in four adults between the ages of 18 and 24 have a diagnosable mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

According to NAMI, 64 percent of young adults who left college did so because of a mental health related reason. The Counseling Center and Disability Support Services are resources, that want to give students the tools they need to excel, even if that means having a pet in their dorm room.

“We want students to be successful,” Wheeler said. “The way I see it is that if they’re successful, I’m successful.”

Jacqueline McCarthy is a peer educator for the Counseling Center. McCarthy, a senior psychology major, said having pets can help students perform better in their academics.

“From what I’ve seen, it makes their college residence feel more like home, which probably helps them feel less lonely and possibly even helps them do better in their classes because of this,” McCarthy said. “It is good to know that service animals are allowed in all residence buildings on campus, so that students who really feel they need one can obtain one and have it become certified fairly easily.”

Wheeler said there are currently about 10 emotional support animals living on campus. These creatures provide comfort to those who find stability spending time with a pet. Although she wasn’t able to verify the exact figure, she said the number of emotional support animals this year is “much greater” than it has been in previous years.

The option to have a comfort animal on campus is available to any student with a mental health need.

“I think all college students would benefit from having an animal somewhere, somehow around,” Kenny said. “Companionship makes everyone happy.”