ESAs on Campus: Cats Can Be Knights, Too
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about living on a college campus? A dorm room, tapestries on the walls, an extra-long twin-sized bed? Suite-style living with people you have never met, sharing a shower, a goldfish swimming in a small tank?
When I pictured what campus living would look like, the last thing I imagined was a small tortoiseshell cat curled up on an Oak Summit couch, purring while I wrote an 8-page paper.
As a student with a disability, I was not sure what living without my support system would look like. I feared an episode or flare-up would throw me off my tracks, or that there would be too many misunderstandings about my condition and I would have to hide again. Invisible disease is a killer in that way. I let a lot of these fears consume me, and I was almost ready to give up and be a virtual student so I could stay in the comfort of my home. But a few months before moving in, I met Wisteria.
I found her through a mutual friend, someone who took in kittens and helped them find their forever homes. Wisteria is a tiny, 10-month-old cat who helps me get through the day. She, as most cats tend to be, is very intuitive. When I am feeling overwhelmed, or if I start to experience pain, she is immediately by my side to comfort me both physically and emotionally. My wellbeing began to revolve around this cat. I knew that without her, the semester would be difficult, and I was not sure I could make it. Then, I remembered something that a friend of mine had explained to me: Arcadia allows Emotional Support Animals for residents in need of one.
An Emotional Support Animal (ESA) is classified as an animal that helps an individual with a mental disability emotionally regulate and that supports them through any issues they face. They are not trained in tasks as a service animal is, but they must be “prescribed” by a therapist or psychiatrist as necessary for an individual’s wellbeing. Arcadia’s policy allows ESAs on campus for students who are registered with Disability Support Services (DSS) and have that approval from a medical professional.
Registering with DSS was an incredibly easy process. Everyone I dealt with was understanding, kind, knowledgeable, and quick to answer any questions I had. The fear of feeling stigmatized and judged for what I deal with slowly melted away as I was able to get all of my business sorted out to start a brand new, in-person semester at Arcadia. Having Wisteria here with me to lift me up and help me through any bumps in the road has been a lifesaver.
Living with an ESA as a college student has been an interesting, yet rewarding, experience. The responsibility to take care of something other than myself—which is already difficult, as most college students are aware—has been challenging in the best way. Wisteria helps me get up each morning, inspires me to work on myself, and is there for comfort when I start to feel not-so-great. She sits with me while I eat my meals, lays on my lap during homework time, and sleeps at the foot of my bed. I feed her, clean her litter, and spend time playing with her, all of which inspires me to take care of myself, which is something I have struggled with for many years due to my disability.
Arcadia’s acceptance of students with disabilities and their willingness to accommodate our needs is unmatched. Going into a new environment dealing with a disability is challenging in itself, but was heightened by the circumstances we are currently in as a nation. Arcadia’s Disability Services takes away many of the fears that a disabled student might be experiencing with the impending challenges that college presents. The website and forms are easy to navigate, the staff is wonderful, and professors are immediately accepting of any accommodations.
Without Wisteria and Arcadia’s Disability Services, I am certain that my first in-person semester would have been significantly more challenging. With all the help and support I am able to receive at my university, I have been successful in all of my endeavors.
Wisteria is sitting with me now and approves this message.