Emotional support animals, or ESAs, are accommodations offered to UTD students who rely on their pets to help them function due to issues stemming from mental health or disabilities, though the process of registering an animal on campus can sometimes be difficult.
Legally registering a pet as an ESA on campus requires documentation of a mental health issue or disability, a letter from a therapist or professional, a rabies vaccination and documentation of the ESA’s medical history, a meeting with the AccessAbility Resource Center and registration of the animal in the city of Richardson. According to Kerry Tate, director of the AccessAbility Resource Center who has been at UTD for 23 years, the ease or difficulty of this process can vary depending on individual circumstances.
“Additionally, keep in mind that regulations regarding ESAs can change,” Tate said. “So it’s crucial to consult with UT Dallas’ AccessAbility Resource Center for the most current information and guidance on the ESA process.”
The required steps to approve an ESA animal are clearly listed on the ARC website. Tate said the time to approve an ESA can depend on several factors: how quickly an applicant can obtain the documents, the volume of requests and staffing level during the review stage, clear communication and individual circumstances.
“It’s challenging to generalize whether the ESA approval process is generally fast or slow,” Tate said. “Applicants should be prepared for some variability in the timeline and plan accordingly.”
Media studies freshman Abby Cobb brought her longtime rabbit companion Harley when she came to UTD. According to Cobb, the process took the entire summer, and Harley wasn’t allowed into the dorms until three weeks after the fall semester started. The longest part of the process was the required meeting with the ARC due to how heavily booked their schedule was; Cobb also said there were unclear instructions on what was needed at the meeting until two days before it, causing her to reschedule.
“It was a very stressful process for me,” Cobb said. “Thinking about what would happen to him and who would care for him if they didn’t get him in on time or didn’t let him in at all.”
According to Cobb, the meeting lasted only five minutes and consisted of nothing more than her sharing her ESA’s name. Cobb believes making the process more concise, as well as better scheduling or a complete removal of the ARC meeting would make the process easier and less stressful.
“Although I understand it’s important to get a lot of these forms filled out for safety and precaution, it kind of felt invalidating to have an ESA letter from a therapist and still not be able to bring him,” Cobb said. “Their scheduling and waiting process was also just entirely too long and stressful for people who are already having mental issues.”
Biochemistry freshman Lauren Fields also found herself struggling during the process of registering her dog Macy on campus. Like Cobb, Fields was without her ESA animal for the first few weeks of the semester and found herself suffering from daily panic attacks.
“Macy helps me with getting out of my dorm,” Fields said. “Sometimes she’s the main reason I get out of bed. It’s hard when you’re struggling all the time to stay hopeful and happy, but when you have a happy pup, it does help.”
According to Fields, it took 1–2 weeks to register Macy on campus due to the many moving parts, as well as not being told about some of the necessary requirements.
“They definitely left a fair amount of stuff out,” Fields said. “I knew what I needed to do to get the accommodation approved on the disability accommodation side, but I didn’t get told any of the other stuff that was coming like the fact that I needed to pick up a tag for her and the fact that I needed to do another form.”
Tate said that in order to speed up the registration process, students should read up on UTD procedures and submit their ESA request far ahead of the start date for classes. Documentation requirements can be found on the ARC website.
“Applicants should be prepared for some variability in the timeline and plan accordingly,” Tate said.
Fields said the process was not very effective due to the run-around caused by the departments. Clearer communication could make the process fast and less frustrating.
“I understand there needs to be a process, that was not the frustrating part,” Fields said. “The frustrating part was that every time I thought I was close to getting everything done, there was another step that needed to be taken.”