Pets with jobs: comfort, therapy and service animals on campus


Caroline Slack

Sophomore Mariah Cronin’s service dog, Benji, sits patiently among students in a class.

Anna Power, Staff Writer

Requiring a tedious balance between classes, social life, extracurriculars and sometimes jobs all while far away from home, college is often a stressful environment.

One way students can cope with severe stress/disabilities is by having a comfort animal.

Comfort pets are, “animals, trained or untrained, that provide a function or service to a person with a disability that is necessary for the person with a disability to have equal access to the residential facilities of the University,” the University Operating Procedure states.

An August 2017 Psychology Today study compared homesick students in canine therapy and those in regular therapy.

“Compared to the control group, the students in the dog therapy groups showed reductions in all three areas of psychological distress. They felt less homesick, less stressed out and more connected to the campus community,” the study states.

Having an animal to hold and pet was shown to increase student’s feelings of satisfaction and connectedness.

First-year Kelsey Paier has a male hedgehog named Camper as her comfort animal.

“Having a bond with an animal is really comforting if you’re feeling homesick or overwhelmed. Knowing my little buddy is always there for me can make me feel less alone on such a large campus,” Paier said.

There is, however, a process students must go through to have a comfort animal allowed on campus.

“I had to go through SAS (student accessibility services) that deal with academic accommodations,” Paier said.

Paier also spoke to the responsibilities that come with having an animal on campus.

“Because you care about the animal, you want the best for them. Even if I’m struggling to take care of myself, I always take care of him,” Paier said.

Since Paier owns a small animal, living on campus isn’t too different, she said.

“It’s been very easy having an animal on campus, especially one that lives in a cage,” Paier said.

But not all comfort pets are as small and low maintenance as a hedgehog.

Sophomore Hayley Faust has a service dog, which is a bit different and more strictly defined than a comfort animal.

“I have had her for two years, and she’s two years old now. She was trained by me to be my psychiatric service dog to help me at college,” Faust said.

Faust acknowledged both the wonders and troubles of having a dog friend on campus.

“When it comes to natural dog behaviors like playing and barking, we have to be more careful to be quiet because we live in the dorms,” Faust said.

The service vest Faust’s dog wears sometimes confuses fellow colleagues on campus.

“She’s a ten pound poodle Australian Shepherd mix who loves attention, so she loves when people say hi to her, but because of her job people need to ask first before saying hi or petting her,” Faust said.

With a service dog, Faust usually brings her dog into the classroom environment.

“She comes to every class with me except labs. She loves going to class, and she sleeps on my lap or sometimes walks around, depending on the class and the professor,” Faust said.

No matter what the animal, having a therapeutic buddy and responsibility on campus can be a cuddly way to improve student well-being.