BYU policy states that pets owned by students are not allowed on campus. But service animals and their owners are the exception.
Students with disabilities who also own service animals need them for assistance in everyday activities such as class and work.
“Although there are some exceptions, service animals can generally go anywhere a human can go,” said Aaron Allred.
Allred is a coordinator at the University Accessibility Center and a licensed clinical psychologist. He clarified that there is a difference between a service animal and an emotional support animal.
Service animals are dogs (or, in some cases, miniature horses) who are trained to perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability. Emotional support animals, according to Allred, are animals that help ameliorate one or more symptoms of disability.
BYU policy states that service animals are protected, whereas emotional support animals are not supposed to be on campus.
Kayla Ann Freeman, a BYU graduate and resident of The Crestwood apartments, has an emotional support animal. She lived with family throughout college and had Otis, a purebred shih tzu, with her. Upon graduation, she was looking for an apartment complex and was not going to take her pet because of policies prohibiting pets.
Freeman has social anxiety and depression and was worried about not having Otis with her, so when her parents suggested registering him as an emotional support animal, she jumped on the opportunity.
“It was easy to work with management once Otis was registered,” Freeman said. “The ward has been great, too. My bishop knows Otis, and many of the ward members and other residents of Crestwood know Otis by name, as I take him with me on walks, to get the mail, to the pool and to visit the front office.”
Melissa Feuerbach, a 29-year-old BYU psychology major, is often seen on campus with Hubbard, her golden retriever. Hubbard is a service animal specially trained to perform certain tasks for Feuerbach, who has psychiatric needs.
Because of her service dog, Feuerbach navigates campus a little differently than most BYU students. Feuerbach takes tests in a private room of the Testing Center instead of sitting in the crowded room with Hubbard.
“People are a lot more friendly and open to start conversations and ask questions,” Feuerbach said.
Students she has met in this way frequently greet her by name when she is walking on campus with Hubbard.
University policy states that faculty, staff, students and other members of the university community are not to touch or pet a service or therapy/emotional support animal unless invited to do so.
Feuerbach has had a lot of experiences where people come up and talk straight to her pet without acknowledging Feuerbach much at all.
“It’s like if someone is using crutches and the person talking to her just focuses on the crutches,” Feuerbach said.
Service dogs often have highly specialized training, and distractions from others can impede that training and focus necessary to help their owners.
“Service dogs are not pets; they are working,” Allred said. “Going up to pet them would be like going up to someone working on campus and saying, ‘Oh, what a cool person you are!'”
However, Feuerbach said, students are generally good at following the university’s rule and that she typically allows them to pet Hubbard because she sees how happy it makes them.
While students may love the animals and want to treat them like pets, Freeman is quick to point out that Otis is not just a pet.
“Many people my age want a dog, but they are a big responsibility,” Freeman said. “If you want a dog just because, you have to realize that you can’t just be a college student who spends all your time on campus, on dates or away from your apartment. I have to stick to a schedule of walks, food and attention. There is a difference in a dog like Otis and getting a puppy or new dog just because it would be fun. It is a big responsibility.”
Feuerbach agrees regarding animal responsibility and how it changes the typical college experience. As an example, she pointed out that she can’t just go to a dance with loud music and strobe lights because the situation would distress Hubbard. But she doesn’t regret it for a moment.
“It’s different,” Feuerbach said, “but most definitely better than it would be without her.”