Comfort animals play diverse role on the Hill

Elizabeth West, a Resident Assistant in Bemis-Lawrence Hall, cuddles with her comfort pet, Meredith in her room. West got Meredith earlier this year when she was 3 weeks old. “Having her has helped me a lot in that she’s there for me to talk to even if she can’t answer back in English. She gives me something else to focus on other than my anxieties or sadness and so she just keeps me going in a way,” West said. Kathryn Ziesig/HERALD

Shantel-Ann Pettway

Walking across campus, you might see people walking their dogs, rocking cockatoos on their shoulder or holding a cat. Does it ever cross your mind that some of these animals live in the same residence hall as you?

Savannah Jolly, Hardinsburg junior, might be one of those people you’ve seen across campus.

“A lot of people think I’m just taking Peanut for a walk, but she lives with me,” Jolly said of her pet Chihuahua.

Jolly said she loves animals. Peanut, a family dog, was found on the side of the road. Although Peanut loves the rest of the family, Jolly said the dog was always more attached to her.

“She was always drawn to me. I know my family misses her a lot, but they have other animals to keep them company,” Jolly said.

Save for fish, WKU doesn’t allow pets to be kept in residence halls. However, “professionally trained service dogs and companion animals are not considered pets,” according to the Residence Hall Handbook.

These pets are like family members for some students and are essential to their college experience.

Sophomore Chelsea Denhard of Thompkinsville and her yorkipoo Boo Boo live in Minton Hall.

“I owned Boo Boo’s parents, and I was right there when she was born,” Denhard said. “She’s my baby.”

Though Denhard has had Boo Boo since she was born, she has only been living with Boo Boo for a couple of weeks.

Boo Boo is currently adjusting to her new living arrangements. While Boo Boo doesn’t growl or bark at people, Denhard said the dog sometimes gives humans questioning looks as though curious about what they’re doing.

Jolly, however, said she can’t say the same thing about Peanut. Jolly said she never knew how aggressive a little Chihuahua could be before she got Peanut.

“Peanut is shy, but she is very overprotective when people come around me,” Jolly said.

It might seem cool to have a pet in your dorm, but comfort animals are designed to help their owners according to their needs.

“Emotional Support Animals are used in Animal Assisted Therapy to improve the physical, social, emotional and cognitive condition of the patient,” according to

Denhard lives with Boo Boo to help ease her anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

“For me personally, if I get stressed or start freaking out, holding her calms me down,” Denhard said.

For Denhard the “calm, compassionate and caring” feelings Boo Boo projects transfer to her. Boo Boo has helped Denhard refocus when college life becomes difficult for Denhard to handle. 

“Having this constant sense of peace helps me focus my attention off of the situation and on her, and it calms me down,” she said.

On the other hand, Jolly believes Peanut helps her to be more social than she normally would be on her own.

“When people come up to pet Peanut when we’re out, it just starts conversation with people I wouldn’t normally have,” Jolly said.

Louisville sophomore Kaylie Connors also has a companion animal. Her pet ferret Mulder, whose name was inspired by Fox Mulder of the television drama “The X-Files,” lives with Connors in Pearce-Ford Tower.

Connors said Mulder brings happiness not only to her but to the residents on her floor as well. She believes having a companion pet is a privilege people shouldn’t take lightly.

“I think it’s a really serious matter to have a comfort pet,” Connors said. “It’s unethical to have an animal in the dorms just because you want one; it’s a serious thing.”

To have comfort animals, students must go through the Student Accessibility Resource Center, get an approved doctor’s note explaining why the animal is needed, and then be approved by Kit Tolbert, the director of Housing and Residence Life, to house the animal, according to Connors.

“There’s a valid reason for us to have these comfort animals. Other people shouldn’t take advantage because it seems easy to get one,” Connors said.

Jolly doesn’t have any concerns about students trying to get animals for their personal enjoyment because she feels the process is safe.

“Even if someone was to try to fake to their doctor a need for a support animal, they would need to show progression of an illness — though I wouldn’t call it an illness,” Jolly said.

These students are happy that they have their pets here to share their college experience with them.

“A lot of people come up to me and ask, ‘Is that a ferret?’” Connors said. “It’s just nice seeing how excited people get to see and pet Mulder.”

Denhard shared the same sentiments.

“People will come to my room and ask to pet her, and I let them because it’s like this little dog gives people so much joy,” she said.

Aside from random people approaching them to ask questions and taking pets to the grass for bathroom breaks, these students are happy to have this option.

“I really appreciate that this is an option for students to have at WKU. It’s a good thing,” Denhard said.