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Emotional Support Animal (ESA)

Due to COVID-19 developments, the University reserves the right to change ESA policies and procedures without notice.  Students are asked to maintain appropriate social distancing for their ESAs, including asking others, not to pet or hold the animal, as current evidence suggests that dogs and cats can become positive for COVID-19 or carry droplets in their fur from one person to another.  While the risk to animals appears to be very low, we urge ESA owners to protect themselves, their animals, and their peers.  Current advice from the CDC and American Veterinary Medical Association suggests that individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 limit contact with their own pets (cats and dogs) and whenever possible, have others provide their care.  If an ESA owner (especially for dogs and cats) tests positive for COVID-19 and is quarantined (and plans to remain on campus), the University reserves the right to ask that the student make immediate arrangements for their contact person, as listed with DSS, to care of the animal off-campus.

Southern Adventist University complies with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ("ADA"), and state and local law, in allowing use of Service Animals for students. Southern Adventist University complies with the Fair Housing Act in allowing students the use of Emotional Support Animals that are approved as a reasonable accommodation. This policy applies only to a) Service Animals and b) approved Emotional Support Animals that are documented with Disability Support Services. These guidelines address animals utilized for disability purposes. It is the purpose of these guidelines to articulate the conditions under which animals be permitted access to University grounds and/or facilities. 

*Emotional Support Animals are not permitted in University residences prior to receiving approval along with the completion of all other required steps, as outlined below.

Service Animal: A service animal is a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the individual's disability. The provision of emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship does not constitute work or tasks for the purposes of this definition. Other species of animals, other than miniature horses, are not considered service animals for the purposes of this definition.

Emotional Support Animal: An Emotional Support Animal (ESA) is any animal that provides emotional support, well-being, or companionship that alleviates or mitigates symptoms of an individual’s disability. The animal need not be individually trained. ESAs are not limited to dogs and can be other species of animal and ESAs are not considered service animals. Animals that pose health risks from zoonotic diseases or safety concerns regarding containment, that cannot be sufficiently mitigated for inclusion in the communal living setting generally, will not be allowed in student housing.

Handler: A person with a service or emotional support animal.

Service Animal
Service Animals are permitted on campus and student housing when: the Handler has a disability as defined by the ADA and the accompanying service animal is trained to do a specific task for the Handler.  If the Handler is living on campus, the Handler must provide DSS proof of the animal's current vaccination and registration in Hamilton County, Tennessee, as required by state and local law. The University has the right to request/ask for:
  *     Affirmation that the service animal is required due to disability.
  *     A description of the specific tasks or work the animal has been trained to perform.

Emotional Support Animal Two-Step Process:

  • Step 1: Determination of whether student qualifies for an ESA.
  • Step 2: Approval of the animal student desires to bring as their ESA.
ESAs are permitted in Student Housing when:
  • The Handler has a disability as defined by the ADA and the Handler provides DSS with *reliable documentation of their disability and there is an identifiable and documented nexus between the disability and the need for the ESA.
  • Once all the documentation has been received, ESA applications are submitted to the Housing Committee, for consideration at their next scheduled meeting. If an ESA is approved, DSS will notify the student of the Housing approval.
  • In an attempt to ensure complete documentation, please ask your mental health provider to fill out the University's DSS Request for Information - Emotional Support Animal form.

Documentation submitted must state the diagnosed disability and come from a qualified and licensed mental health professional. Documentation must:

  1. Be on professional letterhead and signed by the diagnosing professional.
  2. Contain a current and valid state licensure.
  3. Be from a professional located close to the student's permanent residence or the campus of Southern Adventist University.
  4. Indicate the length of time in treatment for the disability.
  5. Provide appropriate documentation that an ESA is necessary and prescribed in the plan of care for the disability documented above. (Length of time of treatment requires five documented appointments over no less than three months.)
  6. Confirm that the animal is being prescribed as part of an ongoing treatment (i.e. counseling plan) for the individual or is a pet that is believed to have a beneficial effect for the individual while they reside on campus.
  7. Explain what symptoms will be reduced by having an ESA.
  8. Evidence that an ESA has helped the individual currently or in the past.
  9. Statement of how important the ESA is for the individual’s well-being while living in student housing.
  10. Establish a documented need for an ESA annually.
Please Note:
  • Generally, documentation from a mental health care professional, who has only had limited encounters with the student, specifically intended to produce an Emotional Support Animal letter, is not considered reliable, as the professional-client relationship will often lack diagnostic rigor and the level of familiarity with the functional limitations arising from the diagnosis to support vital recommendations.
  • The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has been asked to investigate websites that purport to provide documentation from a health care provider in support of requests for an ESA. The websites in question offer for sale documentation that is not reliable for purposes of determining whether an individual has a disability or disability-related need for an ESA because the website operators and health care professionals who consult with them lack the personal knowledge that is necessary to make such determinations.
  • Documentation for an ESA is outside the scope of the University Counseling and Testing Center.
  • Housing options may be limited, as the University balances appropriate accommodations for students with disabilities along with students who have allergies and/or animal fears.
  • The University does not approve more than one (1) ESA per student nor residential unit.

Handler Responsibility for Service Animals

  • Handler is responsible for attending to and being in full control of the Service Animal at all times.
  • A Service Animal must wear a leash, harness or cape that identifies the animal as a Service Animal when on duty anywhere on campus unless: Handler is unable to use a harness, leash or tether; or using a harness, leash, or tether will interfere with the animal’s ability to safely and effectively perform its duties.
  • Costs of care necessary for the well-being of the Service Animal.
  • Arrangements and sole responsibility for the care of the Service Animal at all times, including regular bathing and grooming, as needed.
  • Independently removing or arranging for the removal of the Service Animal’s waste, removed and placed in the location as directed by Student Housing personnel.
  • Complying with local and state licensing laws, Service Animal should be current with immunizations and wear a rabies vaccination tag.
  • Paying for any damage to University property caused by the animal.
The University may prohibit the use of Service Animals in certain locations due to health and safety restrictions or potential danger to the animal. Restricted areas may include, but are not limited to:
  • Food preparation areas. 
  • Teaching or research laboratories.
  • Classrooms or other facilities or activities involving demonstration or research animals.
  • Mechanical rooms or custodial closets such as boiler rooms, facility equipment rooms, electrical closets, and elevator control rooms, and similar spaces.
  • Areas where personal protective clothing or equipment are necessary.
  • Areas where there is a danger to the Service Animal such as classrooms or wood/metal/ machine shops where there are sharp metal cuttings or other sharp objects on the floor or protruding from a surface, where there is hot material on the floor (e.g., molten metal or glass), where there is a high level of dust, where there are harmful chemicals or materials, or where there is moving machinery.
  • Such other areas where the Service Animal may be endangered or constitute a danger to persons or animals.
  • Areas where the presence of the Service Animal would cause or require a fundamental alteration of the University’s program or activity.
  • Service Animals may travel freely with their owner throughout the University, unless an area has been deemed unsafe.
         *An animal may be denied access if it is too large for the available housing assignments.

Handler Responsibility for Emotional Support Animals:
  1. Handler is responsible for keeping the animal within the Handler’s residence.  ESAs are not permitted in University buildings. ESAs are only permitted on campus where other animals are allowed.
  2. Responsible for keeping the ESA in an appropriate container, at all times, when the Handler is not in the room with the animal.
  3. Attending to and being in full control of the ESA when transporting the animal for elimination. The ESA must have a harness, leash, tether, or be transported in an appropriate enclosure whenever it is outside of the resident room of where it is housed.  The ESA may be excluded from University campus if it behaves in an unacceptable way and the Handler does not or is unable to control the ESA. (Uncontrolled barking, jumping on other people, or running away from the handler are some examples of unacceptable behavior for an ESA.)
  4. Handler is responsible for the actions of the ESA, including, but not limited to, any bodily injury or property damage.
  5. Handler is responsible for damages or required additional cleaning, such as pest treatment as a result of having an ESA and is expected to pay these costs upon repair or cleaning.
  6. Complying with local and state licensing laws, the ESA should be current with immunizations and wear a rabies vaccination tag if appropriate.
  7. Handler must not leave the ESA unattended for an unreasonable length of time. Handler may not leave ESA overnight, in the care of another student.  Handler must take the ESA if they leave campus or external arrangements for care must be planned in advance of their departure/absence.
  8. An ESA’s behavior, noise, odor, and waste must not exceed reasonable standards for a well-behaved animal. The ESA must be able to live with others and not interfere with others living in a reasonable manner.  The ESA should not create unreasonable disruptions for other residents. If the noise (whining, barking, or meowing) is excessive, as judged by residence hall staff, it is grounds to remove the ESA from campus.
  9. The ESA must be fully housebroken.
  10. Collars and current rabies vaccination tag must be worn at all times.
  11. Cat litter boxes should be scooped daily and at no time should an animal container or litter box be cleaned inside the residential halls.
  12. Handler is responsible to notify DSS if the ESA is no longer needed.
  13. If an animal is found running at large, the animal is subject to capture and confinement and immediate removal from University housing.
  14. Students approved for an ESA must provide the name and contact information of a third party, who does not reside in University housing nor reside more than 20 miles from campus, who is willing and able to take the ESA in the event of an emergency or removal of the ESA.
  15. The University retains the right to remove the ESA, at the owner’s expense, should the animal become a direct threat to the health and safety of others or violates these requirements in any way.
  16. An ESA must be contained within the privately assigned residential area, at all times, except when transported outside the private residential area in an animal carrier or controlled by leash or harness.
  17. ESA accommodation requests must be renewed each year.  Renewals must include:
    1. Updated veterinary documentation for the ESA, and
    2. Updated documentation from a mental health provider.
  18. Puppies and kittens are not generally considered nor approved as ESAs, dogs are generally required to be 9 months of age.  To promote responsible pet ownership, dogs and cats generally should be spade or neutered before they are allowed in University housing.
         *When replacing an ESA, the student must follow the same procedures as outlined above.

  • Handler is responsible for assuring that the ESA does not unduly interfere with the routine activities of the residence or cause difficulties for students who reside there.
  • Excessive noises and behaviors such as barking and whining, chewing, scratching and aggression will not be permitted.
  • The ESA should not have access to another person’s belongings or private space and should be kept clean.
  • Handler is responsible for instructing others on appropriate interactions with the ESA and setting clear expectations.
First Complaint: The Handler will receive a warning from appropriate Housing personnel, the Handler will rectify the situation and correct the behavior.

Second Complaint: Appropriate Housing personnel will conduct further assessment of the situation and the extent of impact to the community, and the Handler will be referred to the Vice President of Student Development.  The Handler will rectify the situation and correct the behavior. 

Third Complaint: The Handler will be referred to the Vice President of Student Development and will remove the animal from campus.

Abuse or Neglect
Any suspected or observed issues related to animal abuse or neglect will be reported to the proper investigating authorities and may subject the student to disciplinary action as well.  In the event that an ESA accommodation is forfeited due to neglect/abuse of animal or failure to follow the guidelines, the Handler forfeit’s their right to be considered for another ESA accommodation.  *Depending on the severity of the incident, the Handler may be referred to Vice President of Student Development and the animal may be removed from campus immediately without proceeding through the steps outlined above.

Tennessee state law (Tenn. Code Ann. § 62-7-112) provides that persons accompanied by a Dog Guide in training may not be refused entrance to a place of public accommodation for the reason that the Dog Guide trainer is being led or accompanied by a dog guide in training, provided:

  • The Dog guide trainer first presents for inspection credentials issued by an accredited school for training dog guides; and
  • The dog guide in training, when led or accompanied by a dog guide trainer, is wearing a harness and is held on a leash by the dog guide trainer or, when led or accompanied by a dog guide trainer, is held on a leash by the dog guide trainer.
         *Service animals in training are not allowed in University housing or to be present in other areas of campus except those places where all students are welcome to bring pets, unless accompanied by a dog guide trainer.

All ESA applications are presented and approved by the Housing Committee, which meets four (4) times a year, January, April, July, and December.  Because meeting dates may change, students are encouraged to submit their paperwork in a timely fashion.  It is highly recommended that paperwork be submitted to DSS by:
JUNE 1ST  for the Fall semester,
NOVEMBER 1ST for the Winter semester, and
MARCH 1ST for the Summer session.  
Failure to submit the ESA applications within this time frame may result in the ESA request not being considered until the following semester.  The University needs a time frame to provide sufficient time for consideration of an ESA, and to best accommodate and provide a smooth transition for all students as well as the animals.

Students previously approved for an ESA must provide, at the beginning of each new school year:

  • updated veterinary records; and
  • updated documentation from their mental health provider.

The DSS website provides information for students regarding reasonable accommodations, documentation guidelines and other information about the office.  For more information on service animals or emotional support animals, please contact Disability Support Services at DSS@southern.edu, office hours are Monday-Thursday between 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. and Fridays between 8:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m. 

Click here to print/view the request form. This, along with other forms, can also be viewed by clicking here.