Monday, April 22nd, 2024

New Service and Assistance/Emotional Support Animal Policy

Policy provides disability accommodations to those in need.

Willow, one of the service dogs often seen on campus.

Dr. Sherlynn Bessick, Director of the Office of Learning Services, is pleased to announce Millersville University’s Service and Assistance/Emotional Support Animal Policy for Students, Faculty and Staff with Disabilities.

Although some refer to the policy as the “pet policy,” Bessick emphasizes that it is not about pets on campus. It is a policy that provides disability accommodations to those in need.

Since Millersville’s new Service and Assistance/Emotional Support Animal Policy was approved in May, there have been misinterpretations that the policy also covers pets. As a result, many students have requested permission to bring their family pet to the residence halls.

“There are still no pets permitted in the residence halls even though many students remain attached to their pets when they transition to college,” says Dr. Bessick.

The Service and Assistance/Emotional Support Animal Policy for Students, Faculty and Staff with Disabilities is an animal policy about animals that offer service, assistance and emotional support to persons with a diagnosed and documented condition, such as blindness, mobility limitations, physical or mental impairment, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The animals perform a unique service that allows the person to function as a student, faculty member or staff member.

Willow with handler, John Baltzer

Dr. Bessick points out that Millersville’s policy is intended to comply with the Fair Housing Act (FHA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504), the U.S. Department of Justice’s Implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act. These directives state that persons should not be disqualified on the basis of a handicap from participating in any program that receives Federal Financial Assistance.

Dr. Bessick notes that Millersville University had no policy of this kind in place and drafted the comprehensive policy to maintain pace with current legal guidelines to accommodate those with disabilities who include students in need of animals to access residence hall living. The policy covers everything from types of animals to the care, feeding and cleanup of these animals.

It was a process that took over a year, as Bessick worked through the details to provide a policy that would cover all the bases, with Dr. Bessick explaining, “I wanted to ensure that our policy was in line with federal and state guidelines.”

As late as July 2015, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act approved trainers and puppy raisers for residence hall living, giving them all the rights of students with disabilities and service animals. These guidelines were added to the policy. Millersville University’s first puppy trainer graduated with her puppy approved to be by her side during the May commencement.

“We have at least nine students who have service or assistance/emotional support animals,” says Dr. Bessick. “But until now, we did not have a clear-cut policy.”

So what are the situations when a person may need a service or assistance/emotional support animal?

Obviously, individuals who are blind or vision-impaired may need a trained seeing-eye dog to guide them through campus and cross-walks safely. Persons in wheelchairs or who use braces, crutches, walkers or canes because of mobility issues may have a service animal to assist them in accomplishing tasks, such as reaching for objects, providing physical support and even opening doors. A service animal distinction is limited to dogs and miniature horses that must be trained to provide service.

Then there are the situations when a disability is not as apparent. Individuals who have been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety disorders, depression, autism and other conditions may benefit from an assistance/emotional support animal. Assistance/emotional support animals are not limited to dogs or miniature horses and are only permitted in a student’s residential environment. In these cases, the student must be diagnosed by a recognized professional who recommends treatment with and can document the benefit of an assistance/emotional support animal. There is no federal or state training requirement for assistance/ emotional support animals.

As Dr. Bessick emphasizes, having service and assistance/emotional support animals on campus requires a comprehensive set of regulations. The new policy covers the responsibility of handlers in having the animals vaccinated and cared for by a veterinarian.

“At this point, the policy allows for dogs and in some cases, miniature horses, that are trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability,” says Dr. Bessick, adding that venomous, wild or dangerous creatures are prohibited, as well as mice, rats, chickens, ducks, turtles, snakes and other zoonotic animals.

Another area covered by the new policy involves persons who are puppy raisers, handlers and trainers, who are living in university housing. In compliance with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, service animal training is permitted in Millersville University’s buildings, classrooms, residence halls, dining areas, meeting rooms, recreational facilities and events, as long as the animal is accompanied by the trainer or handler.

In all cases, registration and/or permission is required to have a service or assistance/emotional support animal on campus. Any issues, such as failure to clean up after animals, disputes with other persons, disruptive behaviors or other problems, will be addressed by the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management. Grievances and appeals regarding service, assistance/emotional support animals and service puppies in training will be handled by the office.

“Service and assistance/emotional support animals can provide valuable services to persons with disabilities who have physical or mental impairments. But there are regulations that must be followed for the benefit of the entire Millersville University community,” says Dr. Bessick.

For the complete Service and Assistance/Emotional Support Animal Policy, go to



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