When Megan Mensing comes home from classes, she’s greeted by a little stinker.
Stinker isn’t a skunk. He doesn’t even smell bad. He is a cat and Mensing’s emotional support animal.
The summer of 2013 was a trying time for the sophomore criminal justice major and after a particularly traumatic event, Mensing wasn’t herself.
“My doctor wanted to get me off medication, so I got a companion animal,” she explained while cuddling the gray kitten. “(Stinker) is so loving and always there for me.”
The support Stinker gives is much more than just being a companion. He makes Mensing laugh and his presence improved her school work.
“Honestly, my grades were doing a lot worse before I got [Stinker],” Mensing said. “Since getting him my grades have improved.”
Students who rely on emotional support animals to ease anxiety or depression can feel the weight of being alone. But there are laws in place so students with disabilities can bring the comfort of a furry friend to campus.
Thanks to the Fair Housing Act, Mensing and Stinker are protected under law. They cannot be asked to leave a residence and cannot be discriminated against. Individuals with emotional support animals are the guaranteed the right to equal housing.
Mensing lives on campus in the Heights Suites. Boise State abides by its own guidelines for the furry friends.
According to the Boise State housing and residence life companion animals guidelines, students who submit documentation of a need for a companion animal to, and are approved by the Disabilities Resource Center (DRC) may bring their emotional support animal to live at Bronco Nation.
“There are two types of animals that are out there: service animals and emotional support animals,” said Allison Gonzalez, deaf services coordinator with the DRC. “Service animals are the most common that people think of, usually a dog. Then emotional support animals that are just there for emotional support.”
According to Gonzalez, emotional support animals can be any animal that offers comfort to its owner—like Stinker. Often, those animals are either dogs or cats, but can be snakes, ferrets, rabbits or even spiders. As long as a physician defines the animal as providing comfort, any pet can become an emotional supporter.
While sharing a dorm room with Fido might sound like a good idea, Gonzalez worries if it is.
“Emotional support animals are not allowed to come to class with you,” she said. “Sometimes having the animal on campus can create a more stressful environment than not having it.”
The strict guidelines require only the student with the disability to take care of the animal. They can’t ask for help from roommates or friends, if the student has a busy schedule and has to incorporate bathroom breaks for the dog that can generate stress. Both Mensing and Gonzalez agree that cats are much easier.
“The students who have the animal say they are a benefit,” Gonzalez said.
Boise State has seen 20 emotional support animals come through campus in the last three years. Stinker is one of the most recent.
Mesing brought him home after visiting her parents in California and Stinker lives up to his name.
“I just fell in love with him and had this immediate attachment to him,” Mesing said. “Once he hears the shower, he runs to it and sits in between the clear curtain and the decorative curtain and will sit in the shower the entire time. If you don’t include him, he will sit outside the door and smack whoever didn’t let him in the bathroom.”