NEW YORK - Colleges are increasingly accommodating students' requests for emotional support animals in their dorms. These animals range from furry four-legged pets to those with feathers or scales, all aiding in mental health support.
Advocates highlight their significant role in helping students cope with stress and anxiety. At Montclair State University, a very cute pup is making a positive impact.
Pebbles is a one-year-old mini chocolate labradoodle and has quickly become the official campus pup-scot (Puppy Mascot) and a celebrity at Montclair State. Pebbles is not just any dog; she's a symbol of joy and relief for students overwhelmed by stress.
We joined her in the student center where she was an instant magnet for love and affection.
"You never know when you're going to see her and all of a sudden she runs up, or you just see her walk by and it just makes your day better," one student said.
The university has even created trading cards for Pebbles, highlighting her as more than just a famous face - she's a furry friend with a purpose. Emotional support animals like Pebbles are emerging as essential tools for therapy and student well-being.
Brittany Boetticher, the graduate coordinator for student communications, and Olivia Wollemberg, one of Pebbles' handlers, have witnessed firsthand the positive effect Pebbles has on students.
"It's really rewarding to see how her joy and optimism can uplift people who are maybe not having the best day," they shared.
Dr. Dawn Meza Soufleris, VP for Student Development and Campus Life, notes that the need for such support has become more apparent post-COVID, as students show increased signs of anxiety.
The trend of support animals on campus follows a 2014 court ruling requiring colleges to comply with the Fair Housing Act. This ruling allows students with a doctor's note to live with support animals. Initially, there was concern that campuses might turn into zoos, but it has proven beneficial for students, allowing them to bring pets like small dogs, cats, guinea pigs, and even birds.
"Universities got a little scared that suddenly we're going to be a zoo. But what we ended up finding out was that it actually worked very well for our students that they could bring a pet to campus small dog, cat, guinea pigs, we've had birds," Dr. Dawn Meza Soufleris
Pebbles is currently undergoing therapy dog training. This training will enable her to provide scheduled therapeutic meetings for students, especially during times of high stress or emergencies, offering much-needed support.
Montclair State University recognizes that mental health support requires a diverse approach. To this end, they have received an $850,000 grant from the New Jersey Office of the Secretary of Higher Education to expand mental health resources for students. This funding also supports training and other needs for Pebbles.
Pebbles, born on November 1, 2022, and welcomed to campus on February 17, lives on campus.
For more information or to see what Pebbles is up to read here.