Emotional support animals

Bluffton University recognizes the importance of “Service Animals” as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) and “Emotional Support Animals” (ESA), which are a separate category of animals that provide necessary, disability-related emotional support to an individual with a mental or psychiatric disability that alleviates one or more identified symptoms of an individual’s disability, but which are not considered Service Animals under the ADAAA.

The university is committed to allowing individuals with disabilities full-participation and equal access to the university’s programs and activities, including university housing.


Policy for Maintaining an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) within the Bluffton University Residential Community

This policy explains the specific requirements applicable to an individual’s use of an ESA in university housing. The university may amend this policy as circumstances require, as determined by the university’s sole discretion. This policy applies solely to Emotional Support Animals. It does not apply to “Service Animals” as defined by the ADAAA.

Although it is the university’s policy that individuals are generally prohibited from having animals of any type in university housing (other than fish), the university will consider a request by a student with a disability for reasonable accommodation from this prohibition to allow an ESA. However, no ESA may be kept in university housing at any time prior to the individual receiving approval as a reasonable accommodation. The presence of only one ESA will be approved for a student, in order to fulfill the intent of the Fair Housing Act (FHA) requirements in providing support to a student with a mental health disability.

An Emotional Support Animal (ESA) is a category of animals that provide necessary emotional support to individuals with a mental or psychiatric disability and is selected to play an integral part of a person’s treatment process.

Unlike service animals that are trained to perform specific tasks that are important to the independence or safety of their disabled handler, ESAs are generally not trained to perform disability-specific tasks. Their therapeutic support is a function of their presence and interaction with the person with a disability. ESAs are not pets, but they typically are animals commonly kept in households as pets. An ESA may be a dog, cat, small bird, rabbit, hamster, gerbil, fish, turtle or other small, domesticated animal that is traditionally kept in the home for pleasure. Under guidelines from HUD, reptiles (other than turtles), barnyard animals, monkeys, and other non-domesticated animals are not considered common household animals. Dangerous, poisonous and illegal animals are not permitted as Emotional Support Animals. Exceptions to these guidelines regarding animals serving as ESAs will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

The question in determining if an ESA will be allowed in university housing is whether or not the ESA is necessary because of the individual’s disability to afford the individual an equal opportunity to use and enjoy university housing and its presence in university housing is reasonable. However, even if the individual with a disability establishes necessity for an ESA and it is allowed in university housing, an ESA is not permitted in other areas of the university (e.g. dining facilities, library, academic buildings, athletic buildings and facilities, classrooms, labs, etc.).


Request process

To be allowed to have an ESA reside in campus housing, the student must first contact the Disability Services Office and complete the appropriate documentation requirements. These requirements include:

  • a letter from an appropriate medical professional indicating:
    • That the student has a disability requiring the use of an ESA; and 
    • That an ESA is required for a disability-related purpose

The university will consider each Request for an ESA on a case-by-case basis, and, in doing so, will engage in an interactive process with the requesting student.

Once the ESA request has been approved by the Disabilities Services Office, the student must request a meeting with the director of residence life or designee to review the requirements related to housing an ESA under this policy.

Approval for an ESA in campus housing must be re-approved annually by the director of disability services and the director of residence life. The approval of an ESA is animal-specific and is not transferable to another animal.

The student will provide written consent for Disability Services to disclose the presence of an ESA to those individuals who may be impacted by the presence of the ESA including, but not limited to, residence life personnel, buildings and grounds staff, and potential and/or actual roommate(s)/neighbor(s). This information shall be limited to information related to the ESA and shall not include information related to the individual’s disability, in accordance with state and federal law.

The presence of the ESA may be noticed by others visiting or residing in university housing. The student will agree that staff may acknowledge the presence of the ESA and explain that under certain circumstances Emotional Support Animals are permitted for persons with documented disabilities, without disclosing information related to the individual’s specific disability.

Guidelines and requirements for ESA
Bluffton University has determined that the university residential setting, in most cases, is not an appropriate environment to raise a young animal.

  • ESAs that are dogs:  Generally, dogs must be 12 months of age and must have a current rabies immunization before they can live in University housing. Exceptions to this requirement are rare but considered based on extenuating circumstances.
  • ESAs that are cats:  Generally, cats must be at least 6 months of age, and must have a current rabies immunization before they can live in university housing. Exceptions to this requirement are rare but considered based on extenuating circumstances.
  • ESAs that are other animals:  An animal can be considered immunized 28 days after the first vaccination. With any subsequent vaccination, the animal is considered current immediately (from the CDC).

An ESA’s behavior, noise, odor and/or waste shall not exceed reasonable standards for a well-behaved animal. An ESA may be removed if the ESA or its presence creates an unmanageable disturbance or interference with the university housing community. The university may use the following factors (among others) in determining whether the presence of the ESA is grounds for removal, or in the making of housing assignments or adjustments for students with ESAs:

  • The ESA cannot be accommodated in the assigned small housing space;
  • The ESA is not housebroken or is unable to live with others in a reasonable manner;
  • The ESA’s vaccinations are not up-to-date, or the owner has otherwise failed to abide by any laws, ordinances and/or regulations pertaining to the licensing, vaccinations or other requirements for animals;
  • The ESA poses a direct threat to the health or safety of an individual or others or has been deemed a dangerous animal.
  • Where the accommodation for the ESA would impose an undue financial or administrative burden on the residence life department of the university.

If a request is made during the academic year for an ESA placement, the decision will be made on a case by case basis considering the existing situation.


Owner responsibilities for Emotional Support Animals (ESA) in Bluffton University housing

ESA care

  • ESAs require daily food and attention, as well as daily assessment of their general health, behavior and overall welfare. Student-owners are solely responsible for attending to the ESA’s daily needs. The student must abide by current city, county, and state ordinances, laws, and/or regulations pertaining to licensing, vaccination, and other requirements for animals. It is the owner’s sole responsibility to know and understand these ordinances, laws, and regulations. The university has the right to require documentation of compliance with such ordinances, laws, and/or regulations, at any time.
  • The student is solely responsible for ensuring all veterinarians’ recommended vaccinations and flea and tick prevention (when appropriate) are completed and documented. Proof of vaccination flea/tick prevention are required before moving the ESA into the residence. The university reserves the right to request an updated verification at any time during the ESA’s residency.
  • The student is solely responsible for properly containing and disposing of all ESA waste in appropriate outside trash dumpsters. Litter boxes must be placed on mats, to prevent feces and urine from being tracked onto carpeted surfaces. While it is preferable that litter boxes are placed on a tiled floor, this may not always be possible, due to structural limitations within certain residence areas; nevertheless, precautionary measures will still be expected, in order to maintain a standard level of cleanliness within the student's living space.
  • The student shall not bathe and/or groom the ESA, or clean its cage/crate, or bedding using residence hall facilities shared by other student residents (bathrooms, showers, dorm rooms or apartment facilities).
  • The student must immediately notify residence life staff if the ESA escapes or is unable to be located.

ESAs in residence halls and apartments

  • The ESA must be contained within the student’s private room at all times, except when transported by the student outside the private living space. It may not be taken into hallways (except for access and egress to/from the facility), lounges, bathrooms, laundry facilities, or other areas of the residence facility, except when taking the ESA outside for natural relief. When an ESA is outside the owner’s private room, the ESA must be in an animal carrier, or otherwise controlled by a leash or harness, or otherwise fully under the dominion of the owner at all times outside of the living accommodations. An ESA may not roam freely outside of the student’s private room.
  • The student is responsible for ensuring that the ESA is contained, as appropriate, when the student is not present during the day while attending classes or other activities. An ESA must dwell in a locked crate, aquarium, or cage when the owner is not present. If the student is assigned to live in an on-campus apartment, the ESA’s crate, aquarium, or cage must be located in the student-owner’s bedroom. In the case of an emergency, in which the ESA must be cared for unexpectedly, the student will name someone, other than another resident, as the emergency contact to make decisions about the care of the ESA.
  • The student’s residence may be inspected by the university for fleas, ticks or other pests as needed. If fleas, ticks or other pests are detected through inspection, the residence will be treated using approved fumigation methods by a college-approved pest control service. The student will be billed for the expense of any pest treatment if caused by the ESA.
  • ESAs may not be left overnight or over breaks in university housing to be cared for by any individual other than the student. If the student is to be absent from their residence hall overnight or longer, the ESA must accompany the student.

Additional owner responsibilities

  • The student is financially responsible for any and all actions of the ESA, involving bodily injury or property damage. This includes, but is not limited to, any replacement of furniture, carpet, window, or wall covering as well as cleaning costs associated with the ESA’s presence.
  • The student must notify residence life and disability services immediately if the ESA is no longer needed as an emotional support animal or is no longer in residence. To replace one ESA with a different ESA, the student must file a new request and comply with all terms and conditions herein specified.
  • The student agrees to continue to abide by all other residence life and university policies. An exception to policy that otherwise prohibits having an animal does not constitute an exception to any other university policy.
  • Residence life administrators have the authority to relocate a student and the ESA as necessary if circumstances are contrary to the terms of this agreement and/or other university policies. The ESA must not disrupt others (e.g. barking continuously, growling, howling, crying etc.). If the behavior of the ESA can be addressed by the student and the student can change the behavior of the ESA so that the ESA does not cause a disruption to the residential environment, then a written action plan must be submitted to the director of residence life or designee by the student. The action plan must include the steps that will be taken to alleviate the problem(s) in behavior and must also state a deadline for addressing the problem behavior. Any action plan must meet the approval of the residence life office. 

Emergency response

  • If university personnel are aware that an ESA is present when an emergency occurs, then the personnel will notify the responding emergency personnel that an ESA is present. University personnel will relay information concerning the type of ESA.
  • In the event of a building evacuation, emergency personnel may try to rescue both the student and the ESA. The ESA may have to be left behind, however, in some circumstances. Signage indicating the presence of an ESA in a room for emergency purposes will be given to the student by the university. It is the student’s responsibility to place the sign on the door.

Removal of the Emotional Support Animal

The university may require the individual to remove the ESA from university housing if:

  • The student does not comply with the responsibilities and requirements listed in the policy above;
  • The ESA poses a direct threat to the health or safety of the individual or others, such as aggressive behavior towards or injuring the individual or others, or the potential of transmission of diseases;
  • The ESA causes substantial physical damage to the property of others:
  • The ESA’s presence results in a fundamental alteration of a university program;
  • The ESA causes or has caused excessive damage to housing beyond reasonable wear and tear. 

If the university requires the removal of an ESA, the owner must remove the ESA from university housing within seven (7) days of receiving such notification. Should the ESA be removed from the premises according to this policy, the student is expected to fulfill her/his housing obligations, including financial obligations, for the duration of the housing agreement.

The student has a right to appeal the decision in writing within five (5) business days to the vice president for student life, dean of students and ADA coordinator. To the extent reasonable, a decision will be returned to the student within five (5) business days of the receipt of the appeal. The decision of this administrator is the final decision for the university.
1 28 C.F.R. § 35.104.