By JENNA SKARLUPKA, NEWS3 Reporter
MACOMB, Illinois (NEWS3) – Nearly 70 percent of U.S. households have pets, but having one in a college dorm is a different story.
Niti Saxena and Emma Bachman, juniors at Western Illinois University, are living through that experience. Saxena’s hedgehog, Nugget, and Bachman’s cat, Esmerelda, have been certified by the students’ therapists as emotional support animals (ESAs).
Saxena said that while service animals are often trained to help with physical illnesses and disabilities, ESAs can help with unseen struggles.
“An ESA is more just for your mental health, so you’re not in immediate danger, so you wouldn’t need him [Nugget] a lot of places,” Saxena said.
Bachman said it’s important for some college students especially to have their ESAs with them.
“I think for them it’s more of like having a companion in your dorm room, being somewhere new, alone,” Bachman said. “Having something to take care of, a lot of people really need that.”
Saxena and Bachman also both said that ESAs provide structure, stress relief, company and more to people who need them.
“I’d say, I feel like he’s [Nugget] more my responsibility because I take care of him fully, and it just feels different on campus,” Saxena said. “Whenever there’s a stressful class, I can just take him out. He can join on Zoom.”
Bachman also said that having an ESA can remind you to take care of yourself.
“Animals are a way to get you up and moving, and while I have a lot to do every day already, it creates a routine,” Bachman said. “The cat needs water, you need to drink water. The cat needs to eat, you need to eat.”
Both students said that while they have fun with their ESAs on campus, they want people to know having one is a serious responsibility.
“For support animals… they’re not decoration, you do have to keep track of them,” Saxena said.
Bachman added, “I don’t want to bring a bad name to the ESAs, I want people to know that she does have her purpose. She [Esmerelda] relies on me just as much as I rely on her.”