There are logistical issues with onsite companion animals, to be sure. Where do they go? What parts of the campus are they allowed in? What qualifies a student to need one? And yet, for every question, there is data that supports the benefits of letting students have access to companion animals. This article looks at five reasons universities should utilize on-site companion animals.
To understand why college campuses should allow certain animals on their grounds, it’s important to acknowledge some reasons they might not want to. Animals, companion or otherwise, are seen to pose a risk.
Of course, there is a property damage risk. Universities have dozens of buildings, none of which were really intended for animal occupation.
Animals can also be a risk to other students. Even friendly dogs have been known to do significant damage under the right circumstances. Why should the university take on all of that liability?
Companion animals largely navigate these concerns thanks to their intense training. Because they go through hundreds of hours with skilled instructors, they are not known for posing a risk to property or people.
College is a High-stress Environment
For many students, college is their first encounter with intense, ongoing stress. Because of this, it is often a hotbed for mental health problems and overall physical and emotional unwellness.
Many companion animals are specifically intended to relieve the stress and anxiety of the person they are partnered. Allowing companion animals on college campuses would not only help with the emotional challenges of higher education, but in doing so, it might also reduce dropout rates and improve overall educational outcomes.
Student engagement is one of the most useful predictors of educational success. By giving students all the resources they need to feel well, universities would also empower them to do well.
Naturally, college students do not avoid companion animals to be mean-spirited. Yet there is something exclusive about it. Many different types of people rely on companion animals, and when they can’t easily access them on campus, time at school can be very difficult for them.
Go to any college building in the country, and you will find multiple entry points for people with physical disabilities. Ramps, elevators, and other infrastructural investments ensure everyone can get where they need to go in relative comfort.
These ramps were the product of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), signed into law by President George H. W. Bush in 1990. For three decades, it has made life substantially easier for Americans who couldn’t have otherwise accessed basic services.
Disallowing service animals is just as disempowering as removing a ramp for some people.
Therapy dogs, in particular, have been associated with higher levels of cognitive function, not just for the person walking around with the animal but sometimes for everyone else in the class as well. In classrooms where a service animal is present, students are shown to pay better attention and remember their lessons better.
Colleges spend significant amounts of money trying to improve student outcomes. It is in their best interest to have a high graduation rate and produce a generally successful curriculum.
Companion animals are a relatively simple way to help achieve these goals.
Finally, companion animals have also been shown to improve human relationships. Many people who rely on the support of a companion animal may not be well-positioned to make new friends when they first get to college. Naturally, it is an environment where most people are already nervous and uncomfortable.
While many students will spend their first weeks of college acclimating socially, students with some form of disability may be too busy acclimating emotionally and physically.
Service animals have been shown to make it easier for students to develop friendships with their classmates. Early friendships in college can help reduce dropout rates and improve the student’s mental and emotional well-being.