Although he doesn’t seem like it with his button-like nose and a skip in his step, a small fluffy white dog has a massive responsibility resting on his shoulders.
Taz is a 6-year-old Yorkie-Pomeranian mix who enjoys walks, being scratched behind the ears and dog treats. He also helps his owner, senior Maya Black, with anxiety and depression as a certified emotional support animal.
Maya Black met the family dog, Taz, in 2012. Back then, he wasn’t a therapy animal but an attentive family pet. It wasn’t until May of last year when Black was diagnosed with major depression that Taz took on a larger role and became a therapy animal certified by the ESA Registration of America, Black said.
Taz mostly helps her if she falls into a depressive state by motivating her, Black said.
“He just sits with me and just lays there and will try to get my attention,” Black said with a smile.
“He also wakes me up if I’m sleeping too long.”
An emotional support animal is different than a service animal. Unlike service animals, which have specific tasks they perform, emotional support animals bring emotional stability and comfort to their owners. Emotional support animals can also be any type of animal, and a lot of the time, registered emotional support animals are animals that people have already, Black said.
Students who require service or emotional support animals may look to the Center for Educational Access, a service on campus that assists students with disabilities that may hinder their experience on campus. The CEA provides accommodations ranging from assistive technology to support with service and emotional support animals.
The CEA does not require students to register their service animals in compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act, said Laura James, the director of the CEA. Established in 1990, the ADA is a civil rights law aimed to protect disabled people from discrimination in all public places such as schools, places of work and public transit. Under this act, public places must provide accommodations for those disabilities and are prohibited from neglecting people’s welfare based on their disability.
“Service animals may be trained to perform a wide variety of tasks for a wide variety of limitations,” James said. “Service animals allow the student with the disability to fully participate in courses, programs and services on campus.”
Often these tasks are related to giving a person medication or to notice signs of a medical emergency, such as an epileptic seizure. Emotional support animals are not protected under the ADA, thus are handled differently with the CEA, James said.
“Emotional support animals, which are not limited to just dogs, may be a reasonable housing accommodation for students with a disability,” James said.
“Emotional support animals provide therapeutic benefit and support to students with psychiatric conditions or other qualifying conditions.”
Students must provide documentation and submit a request for emotional support pets through the CEA’s housing accommodation process.
“Identifying reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities is an interactive process between the student, the CEA and campus officials with the providing the university’s programs, services and activities,” James said.
Sophomore Mariah Rincon has seen service animals in several of her classes, and all of the animals she has seen are very well behaved. She knows not to approach them when they’re working, she said.
“They’re there to do a job and be a service for their owner,” Rincon said.
Although Black does not live on campus, she receives accommodations at her apartment complex and does not have to pay a pet deposit like she would if Taz was not an emotional support animal, she said.
Black can also fly with him on airplanes, and Taz won’t need to go into the luggage area like a normal dog. She is also permitted to take him with her to certain establishments that allow emotional support animals, like movie theatres and TJ Maxx. He is not permitted everywhere though, because he is not a service animal, and she tries not to bring him into grocery stores and restaurants, she said.
Although owners of service animals aren’t required to register, the CEA can offer assistance to them, James said.
“The CEA staff are happy to educate and offer service animal guidelines,” James said. “Occasionally a student with a service animal may encounter a person unfamiliar with the service animal guidelines. If we are made of aware of this type of situation, we reach out to the individual or group to relay the guidelines and resolve the matter.”
The CEA is available to any student on campus with a documented disability, including anxiety and depression. In addition to serving as a medium between students and teachers, the CEA gives students extended time for exams, housing needs such as single rooms or accessible bathrooms, and tools such as voice-to-text software, James said.
Students interested in seeking out the CEA accommodations may visit room 209 of the Arkansas Union or visit their website at cea.uark.edu.