Leah Michel begins her mornings checking blood glucose levels and giving an insulin shot. Michel is not diabetic but her dog Rey Rey is.
Rey Rey lives in Clinton Hall with Michel as her emotional support animal. Michel said she has struggled with depression and anxiety since about the second grade. She said having a dog there is a conversation starter and a reason to meet people.
“The specific type of anxiety is social anxiety,” Michel said. “I have a difficult time talking to people. If a person does not start a conversation first I am not likely to engage in conversation with them.”
Michel said she is upfront with people about her condition and tells people she does have anxiety and depression.
“I notice a significant improvement in my mental condition when I am around an animal, when I have a dog that is around. They are very good moral support,” Michel said.
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This is the first instance of an emotional support animal on Wartburg’s campus. Kelly Beck, Pathways Academic Success Associate, said Residential Life work together to draw up guidelines and policies for a student with a disability.
Beck said to be considered as someone with a disability you have to prove you have a substantial limitation that limits one or more major life activities. Examples of this could be walking, learning or seeing.
If it has been determined a student has been diagnosed and has the documentation that an emotional support animal would be an integral part of treatment then Res Life would become involved.
“I have a note from my counselor back home. It’s a prescription that says it would be good for my disability to have an animal with me,” Michel said.
Deb Loers, Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students, said the dog currently is considered an emotional support animal, a term that comes from the Fair Housing Act.
“The Fair Housing Act requires that service animals have access to housing and our residence halls would be considered housing that would fall under that category,” Loers said.
Beck said an emotional support animal is often confused with a service animal.
A service animal, which can only be a dog or miniature horse, is protected by the Americans With Disabilities Act and an emotional support animal is covered under the Fair Housing Act and that type of animal is much more open.
Loers said Res Life works with students to figure how to best comply with a situation and in the case of the student this year she had a bit of experience with this animal.
“We do need to be sure the animal can function safely in this kind of environment and we do have a policy about the service or emotional support animals being on campus which includes the owner has to provide a one million dollar insurance policy in case there would be any serious damages to a person or area,” Loers said.
Michel said she had to sign the contract agreeing she would follow the set rules. She said she is trying to do whatever she can to live a normal and healthy life.
“I’m not any different than anyone else. I have my sets of challenges but I’m not the girl with the dog,” Michel said.
“One of the ways that I’ve likened it is like a person who has a wheelchair, they’re still a person; they just need something else to help them get around to the best of their ability.”