Dogged by calls for extra support

Universities face requests for pets on campus as an emotional comforter, writes Melanie Newman

September 11, 2008

Requests by students to bring animals into their lectures and halls of residence to provide "emotional support" have been added to the growing list of demands made by today's undergraduates.

Canterbury Christ Church University is among a number of institutions recently approached by a potential student wishing to take an "emotional support dog" into classes and student accommodation.

The University of Sussex is also understood to have allowed a dog to accompany an agoraphobic student on to campus in the recent past.

A spokeswoman for Canterbury Christ Church confirmed that the university had received a request from a prospective student to bring an "emotional support dog" on to campus. She added that the would-be student had contacted several other universities with the same request and did not subsequently enrol.

US universities have been dealing with requests such as this for years. In 2007, a University of Rochester student filed a legal claim after she was refused permission to keep a dog on campus. Reporting the case, the US newspaper Democrat and Chronicle said this was one of many such cases, involving snakes, ferrets and even spiders. A Divinity School was sued in 2005 by two students suffering from anxiety who wanted to keep cats on campus. The case was settled out of court. Cases have been brought against airlines, landlords and a nudist beach for refusing to let customers be accompanied by animals.

Meanwhile, academics at Liverpool John Moores University warned that more research is needed into how to teach students with emotional and behavioural difficulties.

A paper in Education and Training by Mark Taylor, senior lecturer and special educational needs co-ordinator in the School of Computing and Mathematical Sciences, warns that increasing numbers of students with these problems are entering higher education. In 2004-05, 260 students with an autistic spectrum disorder and 2,095 students with mental health difficulties entered higher education.

Dr Taylor's team studied three students: two with Asperger's syndrome who were disruptive in teaching sessions and one student who suffered from delusions and other mental health difficulties.

The paper says that such cases require universities to make adjustments, such as providing individual work for students with problems, reminding students to attend teaching sessions and, in some cases, communicating with parents or carers.

Dr Taylor says disruptive or aggressive behaviour poses the biggest challenge. He suggests that this is best dealt with by calmly discussing the reasons for such behaviour with the student and stressing positive aspects of the student's work.

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