In a small room in Meredith Hall, a tiny Pomeranian named Meeko races back and forth, running after a tiny chew toy. His owner, sophomore Cami Flowers, pauses to pet him and tries to tug the toy from his mouth.
He resists for a moment, then gives in, and she throws the toy again, Meeko happily giving chase.
Flowers began living with Meeko as her registered emotional support animal on campus at the start of the 2018-2019 academic year.
She grew up with dogs and realized how much she hated living alone after her freshman year roommate moved after their first semester. Instead of getting a random roommate, she elected to have a private room. Going into her sophomore year, although she would be moving into Meredith Hall through Phi Mu sorority housing, having a dog with her “just made sense.”
Flowers is diagnosed and currently takes medication for manic depression, or acute bipolar disorder. She went to her doctor, who she said was very understanding of her situation and agreed that having an ESA on campus would be helpful to her.
“Some days my medication doesn’t work as well as other days,” Flowers said. “Instead of upping my dosage or changing it, Meeko has been there to help me level it out.”
Flowers described the attachment between her and Meeko as “insane.”
On both her good and bad days, he gives her a reason to get up, get the day started and keep her days consistent.
“Having Meeko is like raising a kid as a college student,” she said. “There used to be days where I just wanted to lay in bed and not do anything, but you can’t do that when you have a dog.”
Flowers is just one of the estimated 80 students currently living on campus with an ESA.
Students register their ESA through WKU’s Student Accessibility Resource Center. On SARC’s website, they must register through accessibility, fill out an online form with documentation from a licensed medical professional expressing their need for an ESA. SARC will then send the information to Housing and Residence Life, which will work with the student to sign an agreement and notify the student’s roommate of the registered ESA.
Daniel Rosner, assistant director for student behavior and conduct with HRL, said students find both benefits and additional levels of responsibility living with an ESA on campus.
“Students find it’s difficult sometimes to have [an] animal and fit it into their schedule,” Rosner said. “We always encourage students to rely on their licensed medical professionals to talk about their treatment plan and how their ESA is helping them with their diagnosis.”
Due to the Fair Housing Act, there are not pet, size or breed restrictions for an ESA. Rosner said although he sees mainly dogs and cats registered, he has also seen rabbits, gerbils or even ferrets.
If it’s a student’s first time living with an ESA on campus, Rosner said HRL will meet with them to go over the agreement the student must sign as well as to talk about what living on campus with an ESA is really like.
Part of the agreement requires students to agree to keep their room free of pet odors, noises under control and restrictions on where the animal is permitted.
Flowers said as part of her agreement with HRL, she is the only person permitted to take Meeko in and out of Meredith Hall.
If she has to work or has classes all day, it can be hard to leave him alone, crated in her room.
“That’s where it gets kind of difficult,” she said. “I feel like I have to study in my room so he’s not alone, but that can be very distracting.”
Although he’s usually lively and full of energy, he can quickly sense and act if he notices something is bothering her.
“He’s always running, he’s always energetic and happy, but if I’m upset or angry, he’ll go completely still,” she said. “There’s attachment on both ends with us.”
But Flowers said the benefits to having Meeko with her far outweigh any of the negative aspects.
“Having him here with me has been the biggest help,” she said. “I didn’t even know [how] much he was going to help me until we moved in. I’ve seen a big change from last year, and I’m a lot happier with him around.”
Assistant News Editor Emily DeLetter can be reached at 270-745-6011 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @emilydeletter.