Should emotional support dog be allowed on campus?

Posted: Updated:
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

PHOENIX -- College student Ally Neal remembers vividly the day she was attacked by an ex-boyfriend.

“He stabbed me probably 15 times,"  Neal said. "He cut my chest, below the waist, on my legs."

In the year since the attack, Neal has suffered anxiety, depression and panic attacks. She takes a daily cocktail of anti-anxiety and anti-depression medication to cope with her post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I get three to four panic attacks a day, even on the medication,” Neal said.

Neal, with the encouragement of a therapist, decided to get an emotional support dog. Emotional support dogs provide therapeutic benefits to their owners through affection and companionship. However, unlike service and therapy dogs, they do not require special training.

Neal found a Golden Retriever puppy named Fluke, a dog she hoped to bring to school with her at Grand Canyon University.  

“I tried to discuss with my school that I needed an emotional support animal, but they were like, he can’t come on campus until he has therapy dog certification,” Neal said.

Grand Canyon University, like most colleges, allows service and therapy dogs. A spokesman for GCU told 3TV policy prevented him from commenting specifically on Neal’s case, but he did point out that the school is in compliance with all federal laws. He sent 3TV a copy of the school’s service and therapy animal policy, which mimics guidelines set out by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The ADA requires service and therapy dogs to have specific training, and so does GCU. That training requirement prevents dogs with behavioral issues from disrupting class, and it prevents a scenario where dozens of students would bring their dogs to class for emotional support.

Fluke is 10 weeks old, and a dog must be at least 1 year old before it can train to become a service dog, so he will not qualify as a service or therapy dog for more than nine months. Still, Neal was hoping GCU would make an exception in her case.

“They [dogs] can help sometimes even more than medicine can and speed up the recovery process,” she said.