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Emotional Support Animal Policy

Policy Regarding Emotional Support Animals: Access to Oklahoma City University Facilities, Programs, Services, and Activities

To start the process of requesting a housing accommodation please fill out the OCU campus disability registration form. For an Emotional Support Animal (ESA), documentation must be provided from a medical professional. This can be a medical doctor (M.D. or D.O.) or other doctors including psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, nurse practitioners physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, or licensed mental health professionals. This should be someone who is familiar with and has treated and/or diagnosed the student. The documentation they provide should confirm a student's disability/condition and explain how the ESA will alleviate the functional limitations of the student.

Emotional Support Animals are a housing accommodation and are only allowed in the students room/suite/apartment.

Emotional Support Animals are a housing accommodation and are only allowed in the students room/suite/apartment.

Oklahoma City University (University) recognizes the importance of Service Animals as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA), and of Emotional Support Animals (ESAs), supported by the Fair Housing Act.

The University is also committed to allowing ESAs, necessary to provide individuals with mental health or psychiatric disabilities an equal opportunity to use and enjoy University housing. This policy explains the specific requirements applicable to an individual’s use of an ESA in University housing. The University reserves the right to amend this policy as circumstances require.

This policy applies solely to ESAs that may be necessary in University housing. It does not apply to service animals as defined by the ADAAA, and whose presence on campus is explained in the University’s Service Animal policy.

Although it is the policy of Oklahoma City University that individuals are generally prohibited from having animals of any type in University housing, the University will consider a request by a qualified individual with a disability for reasonable accommodation from this prohibition to allow an ESA that is reasonable and necessary because of a mental health or psychiatric disability.

However, no ESA may be kept in University housing at any time prior to the individual receiving approval as a reasonable accommodation pursuant to this policy.

Violations may be referred to Housing and Residence Life.

The Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA) as amended defines a person with a disability to include (1) individuals with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; (2) individuals who are regarded as having such an impairment; and (3) individuals with a record of such an impairment.

The United States Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued new guidelines on January 28, 2020, which states in part: Some websites sell certificates, registrations, and licensing documents for assistance animals to anyone who answers certain questions or participates in a short interview and pays a fee. Under the Fair Housing Act, a housing provider may request reliable documentation when an individual requesting a reasonable accommodation has a disability and disability-related need for an accommodation that are not obvious or otherwise known. In HUD’s experience, such documentation from the internet is not, by itself, sufficient to reliably establish that an individual has a non-observable disability or disability-related need for an assistance animal.

By contrast, many legitimate, licensed healthcare professionals deliver services remotely, including over the Internet. One reliable form of documentation is a note from a person’s health care professional that confirms a person’s disability and/or need for an animal when the provider has personal knowledge of the individual.

Click here to access more guidance directly from HUD.

An ESA is an animal that provides therapeutic emotional support for an individual with a diagnosed mental health or psychiatric disability. 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 nor are they required to have any certification. Their therapeutic support is a function of their presence and interaction with the person with a disability. ESA’s are not considered to be pets. An ESA may be a dog (most common), cat, small bird, rabbit, hamster, gerbil, fish, turtle, or other small, domesticated animal that is traditionally kept in the home for pleasure.

Without exception, when the student is not present in their residence, the ESA must be caged, crated or kept in an appropriate container depending on the ESA. This is for the safety of the ESA and others.

A dog or cat, specifically, must be at least nine (9) months of age to live on campus to help ensure the animal is reliably housebroken, trained, and not disruptive to other residents. Dogs and cats are required to have all vaccines necessary to make it safe to be around humans and other animals that may be in residence on-campus and to provide this documentation to Disability and Access Services (“DAS”) yearly.

Under guidelines from HUD, reptiles (other than turtles), barnyard animals, monkeys, and other non-domesticated animals are not considered common household 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 the ESA is necessary, because of the individual’s disability, to afford the individual an equal opportunity to use and enjoy University housing and the ESA’s 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, libraries, academic buildings, athletic buildings and facilities, classrooms, labs, individual centers, etc.).

The process for requesting Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) follows the general process set forth in the Housing Accommodation Requests Policies and Procedures and the requirements set forth below; however, to the extent the requirements and procedures in this policy conflict with the general Housing Accommodation policies, this policy shall take precedence.

The student will need to submit an application, or if already approved as a person with a disability, they will need to update their accommodation requests by emailing DAS directly.

It is important to note that the University may approve your request to have an ESA, but not approve the specific animal you were hoping to bring. For example, most reptiles and rodents may be rejected because of safety and health concerns, as they can carry zoonotic diseases, which pose a threat to the general welfare of residents in the communal living environment. In addition, all animals must be caged, crated or in a container when the student is away from the residence. Therefore, the size of the crate or container required may not be conducive to the dimensions of the available housing space.

There are many other considerations involved in the assessment of the appropriateness of a specific animal, making it pertinent that all students work closely with DAS throughout this process.

Documentation of your significant mental health or psychiatric disability and the associated need for an ESA should come from a qualified healthcare provider which may include your primary care provider, psychologist, psychiatrist, clinical licensed social worker, etc. who knows and understands your disability and can explain how the presence of the animal may help alleviate your symptoms or functional limitations.

OCU is concerned about the growing number of questionable website services that offer to create “ESA letters” for a set price, based on nothing more than, for example, answers to an online survey. Such letters will rarely provide the information necessary to support your request for accommodation, and are not viewed by the institution as a reliable source of information. OCU’s ESA Policy and Agreement is a good example of the information required from your health care provider.

In keeping with the Housing Accommodation Request Policies, DAS will accept and consider requests for reasonable accommodation in University housing (including ESAs) at any time.

New Students

For new incoming students, the student making the request for accommodation(s) is encouraged to complete an application with DAS as soon as practicably possible after having paid their housing deposit with the University and no later than sixty (60) days prior to the start of the fall semester, or sixty (60) days prior to the start of spring semester for students entering mid-academic year.

The application or request must include information and documentation required for application with DAS, an application made through the Accessible Information Management (AIM) portal, and any additional documentation necessary to support the housing accommodation/ESA request.

The student requesting the accommodation must meet with the DAS staff or their designee in order to discuss their request. If the request for accommodation is made after the sixty (60) day time frames, the University cannot guarantee that it will be able to meet the individual’s accommodation needs during the first semester or term of occupancy.

Final determinations will not be made until the new student has completed the housing application process. DAS will provide a written response (via the student’s OCU email) to a student’s request as soon as practicably possible from the time DAS receives the request and all necessary supporting documentation, and the housing accommodations review process has occurred. This will usually occur within 1-2 weeks of receipt of necessary information.

If other University staff (University Health Services, University Counseling Services, Residence Life, etc.) need to be involved in the review process, there will be a longer wait period.

Returning Students

Returning and/or current students are to contact the DAS staff or its designee and submit housing accommodations requests through the AIM portal for Fall terms by two (2) weeks prior to Housing Selection in the spring semester. If the request for accommodation(s) is made after this date, the University cannot guarantee that it will be able to meet the individual’s accommodation needs during the following academic year. If the need for housing accommodation(s) arises when an individual already resides on campus, the student should contact DAS and meet with the DAS staff or their designee as soon as practicably possible. The University cannot guarantee that it will be able to meet the accommodation needs during the semester or term in which the request is received.

Housing accommodations are granted for the academic year only, therefore requests for housing accommodations must be made each academic year. Updated documentation to support the request may be required. Updated vaccine documentation will be required each year. If the vaccines records expire during the year, updated vaccine information will be required.

The student is responsible for scheduling an intake appointment with the DAS staff.

The information completed on the request form will be reviewed by DAS to determine:

  • That the student is a person with a documented disability;
  • The ESA being requested is necessary to afford the student, as a person with a disability, an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the on-campus housing facilities; and
  • That there is an identifiable relationship or nexus between the disability, the functional limitations/symptoms and the support that the ESA provides.

If DAS determines that an ESA is necessary and reasonable, the office will contact the individual, in writing, within 1-2 weeks of receipt of necessary information regarding the implementation of the accommodation and the student’s responsibilities; however, if other University staff (i.e., University Health Services, University Counseling Services, Housing and Residence Life, etc.) need to be involved in the review process, there may be a longer wait period.

DAS will inform Housing and Residence Life of approved housing accommodations/ESA. If Housing and Residence Life requires additional information, that office will contact the student prior to placement in housing and/or implementation of the accommodation. Students are to respond to Residence Life inquiries (often made via University email) in a timely fashion.

If DAS determines that an ESA is necessary, but unreasonable based on characteristics of the animal in question and the housing environment, DAS will contact the individual, in writing, within 1-2 weeks of its determination and engage in an interactive process with the individual to determine if there are alternative options that might effectively meet the individual’s disability- related needs. If, however, other University staff (i.e., University Health Services, University Counseling Services, Housing and Residence Life, etc.) need to be involved in the review process there may be a longer wait period.

If the individual is unwilling to accept any alternate options offered by DAS, or there are no alternate options available, DAS will provide a written notification to the individual of the denial, the reasons for the denial, the right to appeal the decision, and the procedures for that appeal process. The notification shall be in writing and made within 1-2 weeks of the notification from the individual of their unwillingness to accept any of the alternative accommodations offered or the determination that there are no alternative accommodations available.

An exception to the University animal and pet policy is granted for approved animals provided that their behavior, noise, odor, and waste do not exceed reasonable standards for a well- behaved animal and that these factors do not create an unreasonable living environment or frequent disruptions for other residents. If the noise (crying, barking or meowing, especially when the student is not around) is excessive, as judged by residence life staff, it is grounds to rescind approval for the specific ESA to be in campus housing. The following factors (among others) are used as evidence in determining whether the presence of the animal is reasonable, or in the making of housing assignments for students with ESAs:

  1. The space needed for the cage, crate or container in which the animal will be housed is too large for available assigned housing space;
  2. The animal's presence would force another individual from individual housing (e.g., serious allergies);
  3. The animal is not housebroken, trained, or is unable to live with others in a reasonable manner;
  4. The animal's presence otherwise violates individuals' right to peace and quiet enjoyment;
  5. The animal poses or has posed a direct threat to the individual or others, such as aggressive behavior towards or injuring the individual or others, or the potential of transmission of zoonotic diseases or safety concerns regarding containment that cannot be sufficiently mitigated for inclusion in the communal living setting;
  6. The animal's vaccinations are not up-to-date; or
  7. The animal causes or has caused excessive damage to housing beyond reasonable wear and tear.

An ESA must be within the control of the owner and caged, crated or contained within the privately assigned individual living accommodations (e.g., room, suite, apartment) except to the extent the individual is taking the animal out for natural relief/toilet. When an ESA is outside the private individual living accommodations, it must be in an animal carrier or controlled by a leash or harness. ESA’s are not allowed in any University facilities other than University residence halls (e.g. dormitories, suites, apartments, etc.) to which the individual is assigned. It also cannot be taken into classrooms or other buildings on campus. If an animal is found outside of specified parameters, the animal is subject to capture and confinement and immediate removal from University housing.

It should be noted that the neglect of any animal, regardless of intent, is a violation of the Student Code of Conduct. Potential violations will be referred to the Dean of Students Office.

Note: This is the policy you will receive after completing the entire ESA Approval Process described above. At such a time, you will receive a copy of the ESA Policy and the Agreement below to sign digitally.

Individual's Responsibilities for Assistance Animal

If the University grants an individual’s request to live with an ESA, the individual is solely responsible for the custody and care of the ESA and must meet the following requirements:

General Responsibilities

  1. The Owner 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 individual’s 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, which may include a vaccination certificate. The University reserves the right to request documentation showing that the animal has been licensed.
  2. The Owner is required to clean up after and properly dispose of the animal’s waste in a safe and sanitary manner and, when provided, must use animal relief areas designated by the University.
  3. The Owner is required to ensure the animal is well cared for at all times. Any evidence of mistreatment or abuse may result in immediate removal of the ESA and/or discipline for the individual.
  4. The University will not ask for or require an individual with a disability to pay a fee or surcharge for an approved ESA.
  5. An individual with a disability may be charged for any damage and excessive cleaning caused by his or her ESA beyond reasonable wear and tear to the same extent that it charges other individuals for damages beyond reasonable wear and tear. The Owner's living accommodations may also be inspected for fleas, ticks or other pests if necessary as part of the University’s standard or routine inspections. If fleas, ticks or other pests are detected through inspection, the residence will be treated using approved methods by a University- approved pest control service. The Owner will be billed for the expense of any pest treatment above and beyond standard pest management in the residence halls. The University shall have the right to bill the individual‘s account for unmet obligations under this provision.
  6. The Owner must fully cooperate with University personnel with regard to meeting the terms of this policy and developing procedures for care of the animal (e.g., cleaning the animal, feeding/watering the animal, designating an outdoor relief area, disposing of waste, etc.).
  7. ESA’s may not be left overnight in University Housing to be cared for by any individual other than the Owner. If the Owner is to be absent from his/her residence hall overnight or longer, the animal must accompany the Owner. The Owner is responsible for ensuring that the ESA is caged, crated, or contained when the Owner is not present while attending classes or other activities.
  8. The Owner agrees to abide by all equally applicable residential policies that are unrelated to the individual’s disability such as assuring that the animal does not unduly interfere with the routine activities of the residence or cause difficulties for individuals who reside there.
  9. The animal is allowed in university housing only as long as it is necessary because of the Owner’s disability. The Owner must notify the DAS staff in writing if the ESA is no longer needed or is no longer in residence. To replace an ESA, the new animal must be necessary because of the Owner’s disability and the Owner must follow the procedures in this policy and the Reasonable Accommodation policy when requesting a different animal.
  10. University personnel shall not be required to provide care or food for any ESA including, but not limited to, removing the animal during emergency evacuation for events such as a fire alarm. Emergency personnel will determine whether to remove the animal and may not be held responsible for the care, damage to, or loss of the animal.
  11. The individual must provide written consent for DAS to disclose information regarding the request for and presence of the ESA to those individuals who may be impacted by the presence of the animal including, but not limited to, Residence Life personnel and potential and/or actual roommate(s)/neighbor(s). Such information shall be limited to information related to the animal and shall not include information related to the individual’s disability.

Removal of Assistance Animal

The University may require the individual to remove the animal from University housing if:

  • The animal poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others or causes substantial property damage to the property of others;
  • The animal’s presence results in a fundamental alteration of a University program;
  • The Owner does not comply with the Owner’s Responsibilities set forth above; or
  • The animal or its presence creates an unmanageable disturbance or interference with the University community.

The University will base such determinations upon the consideration of the behavior of the particular animal at issue, and not on speculation or fear about the harm or damages an animal may cause. Any removal of the animal will be done in consultation with the DAS staff and may be grieved through the University’s Grievance procedure. The Owner will be afforded all rights of due process and appeal as outlined in that process.

Should the Assistance Animal be removed from the premises for any reason, the Owner is expected to fulfill his/her housing obligations for the remainder of the housing contract.

Non-retaliation Provision

The University will not retaliate against any person because that individual has requested or received a reasonable accommodation in University housing, including a request for an ESA.

By my signature below, I verify that I have read, understand and will abide by the policy and requirements outlined here and I agree to provide any additional information required to complete my request for a reasonable accommodation under the University’s ESA policy for University Housing.

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