By Kimberly Chinchilla
Located on the E3 building second floor in the Learning Center is a new furry staff member that provides students with emotional support.
Luca is a 12 week old terrier who is training to become a certified Emotional Support Animal (ESA).
ESAs are pets that are prescribed by mental health professionals to those who need extra support for their mental health in the form of emotional support and comfort.
According to the Americans Disabilities Act National Network, “emotional support animals provide companionship, relieve loneliness, and sometimes help with depression, anxiety, and certain phobias, but do not have special training to perform tasks that assist people with disabilities. Emotional support animals are not limited to dogs.”
The ADA National Network states that the difference between a service dog and an ESA is that “individuals with a disability may use and interact with working animals for a variety of reasons.
But only dogs who have received specialized training to perform a specific task or tasks for an individual with a disability are considered service animals.
This is the key difference between a service animal and all other types of working animals, including therapy, comfort animals, and emotional support animals.”
The Director of the Learning Center, Amanda Ryan-Romo, has brought Luca to campus with her since the end of winter semester, where Luca was running around and being friendly to a group of anatomy students preparing for a final.
“They just provide this level of calm. They can bring a sense of joy and they help us relax. We are living in a stressful ever-changing world that I think having animals on campus is important. Even if it’s just a little bit, a student can come into my office and see him when they are having a bad day,” said Ryan-Romo.
Many campuses across the country provide students with ESA during finals week.
However, others believe they should be able to seek this service when needed.
ELAC student Melina Cruz met Luca at the start of the school year. She has a dog of her own who is 10 years old, but when she visited the center and saw Luca, it brightened her day.
“I love having Luca around because it does help. It is just a joy when you see a puppy. Or when you are having a stressful day you just feel lighter after interacting with them for a bit. Even a couple cuddles here and there just bring a smile to my face,” said Cruz.
College can be stressful for many students with writing papers, working on projects, quizzes or just dealing with everyday life problems, ESA’s can help.
Psychology professor, Maria Mayoryk is also a huge advocate for dogs as support animals.
“They offer so many services to those of various needs, from calming those with anxiety issues, obtaining items to those with physical disabilities to alerting those with diabetes that they need medication,” she said.
Though she would like a more transparent certification process, she has experienced her friend of 35 years, who is blind, needing assistance from her service dog.
Another Learning Center staff member mentioned how a student walked in looking for Luca the other day.
The student said that he had just lost his own pet and that seeing Luca brought him comfort.
Though Luca is still a puppy and still learning, Ryan-Romo would like to ultimately get him certified.
As of now, you will find him running around, providing lots of licks and cuddles to anyone looking for emotional support on Mondays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.