Emotional support animals improve students’ mental health

Destiny Kelly ’24 adopted her emotional support dog, Rosé, from Craigslist as she was struggling with her mental health last summer. Rosé, a Stafford Terrier-Greyhound-Shih Tzu mix, now lives with Kelly in Naranja as an emotional support animal, supporting her in her daily routines.

Kelly is one of hundreds of students who live with emotional support animals (ESAs). According to University spokesperson Pat Lopes Harris, there are currently an estimated 537 ESAs living in Stanford’s graduate and undergraduate residences. 

Different from service animals, ESAs are pets that act to sooth or comfort their owners. According to R&DE, an ESA is “an animal that provides emotional or other support/assistance that alleviates one or more identified symptoms or effects of a person’s disability.”

ESAs are allowed to live in any residence on campus that meets the standards detailed by Residential & Dining Enterprises (R&DE).

“Permitting students to have ESAs in their residences is a long-standing practice at Stanford,” Harris said.

This fall, Rebecca Pizzitola’s ’25 therapist agreed to support her in bringing her cat Bentley to live with her on campus. One of the biggest benefits of having Bentley, Pizzitola said, is the positive impact he has on her routine. 

“He forces me to get up in the morning,” she said. “I have to get my day started because I’m responsible for this other living thing and that kind of helps me get into gear for the day.”

Having Bentley on campus has also impacted the way Pizzitola has been a residential assistant (RA) in Lantana. 

“My residents do enjoy coming over to pet the cat … It’s been a positive community thing,” Pizzitola said.

Pizzitola had considered bringing Bentley to live with her on campus since coming to Stanford, but wanted to try living without him first, as she knew she would be able to survive without him. 

“Last spring, I started thinking, ‘Maybe accommodations aren’t just about surviving, but about living comfortably and well in the same way that a neurotypical person might,’” Pizzitola said.

Undergraduate students with ESAs are assigned to live in either a single or a double room with the consent of a roommate. In order for an ESA to be allowed to live on campus, the student must submit an animal registration form with a letter from a mental health professional. Following the submission of the proper documents, the Office of Accessible Education (OAE) assesses whether to grant the request for an ESA. Once approved, OAE notifies the R&DE Housing Assignments of the ESA request and tries to find housing for the student and their animal.

Margarita Jamero ’24, who lives in Yost, said that having an ESA has greatly improved her experience at Stanford. Her cat is named Baka, which means “cow” in Tagalog, and is turning two this December. Baka “squatted” on campus with Jamero during the 2022-23 school year when he wasn’t a registered ESA.

However, Baka does not currently live on campus with Jamero, as she is still waiting to be reassigned to an OAE room. Jamero expects for Baka to move in by winter quarter. 

“Truly, [Baka] has gotten me through some really low points,” Jamero said. “There have been times where I just feel like the only thing tethering me to the earth in that moment was my cat.”

On a day-to-day basis, Jamero wakes up in the morning with her cat, feeds him twice a day and plays with him. While she’s in class, Baka stays in the room.

“He’s always really happy when I get home and he greets me,” Jamero said.

While Kelly expressed a similar sentiment that Rosé improves her day-to-day routine, she described Rosé’s impact on her social life as “hit or miss.” 

“Some days I’m like, ‘Dang, I can’t go out [because of Rosé],’” Kelly said. “But then other times it’s like, everybody loves playing with my dog, so they’ll come over and hang out.”

As a first generation and low income student, Kelly said that having a dog can be expensive, but she’s “something that I put into because I also get things back. You know, she pours into me, I pour into her.”

At times, Kelly said Rosé is the only thing that gives her motivation to get out of bed in the morning. 

“Dealing with anxiety and depression, not even school can get me out of bed,” she said. “Knowing that I would neglect [Rosé] if I didn’t do my proper duties … I have to. It’s the only thing I can do.”