UO freshman Sarah Case remembered lying on her stomach in a dorm room and crying when Coco climbed on her to comfort her.
“There was this potato on me,” said Case.
But that’s just Case’s nickname for her Emotional Support Animal, a sheltie dog.
Case falls into the 20 percent of young adults who experience a mental health condition in college, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. She’s been going to therapy for anxiety, depression and other mental health issues for five years and has had Coco as her ESA for four years.
Case first made Coco her ESA when her depression and anxiety were at their worst. She was going to therapy three times a week, but she refused to go unless she could bring her dog. So her therapist wrote her a letter to make Coco an ESA.
Coco is a calm dog who doesn’t do much, according to Case. Coco doesn’t like to play and she doesn’t bark often. She is like a cat. When she’s not with Case, she’ll sit on Case’s bed until she gets home.
Case said Coco can always tell when she’s is upset about something and will try to comfort her.
“I just sat on our dorm room floor crying on my stomach and my dog climbed on my butt and stayed there for like an hour,” said Case.
After that hour, Case stopped crying.
According to Case, Coco has only barked four times since the beginning of the year and three of those were on command.
Case is not the only person with mental health issues who has benefited from animal assistance. In 2015, the journal “Frontiers in Psychology” published the Animal-Assistance Intervention for trauma: a systematic literature review that concluded that emotional support animals, like Coco, “have been predominantly positive showing short-term improvements in depression, PTSD symptoms and anxiety.”
Kate Baumeister is another UO student with an ESA. Minnie is Kate’s ESA, and she is a 9-month-old mixed-breed dog. Six months ago,` Kate made Minnie her ESA.
“I was having a lot of anxiety and depression and my roommates were kind of
sucky and I miss my family, so I was like, ‘I wanted something there that would love me and be there for me,’” said Baumeister.
Before getting Minnie, Kate was in therapy and on antidepressants when her therapist recommended that she get new roommates or an animal. She chose to get Minnie, and eventually she would find new roommates too.
“It made me focus on something besides myself, and I had to take care of her needs too, which meant I had to take care of my needs because if I wasn’t able to get dressed or do anything then I couldn’t take care of her,” said Baumeister. “Dogs just love you so much. You walk into the room and you feel wanted.”
Baumeister said that Minnie can tell when Kate is upset and when Minnie notices she will come and cuddle with her. It’s proven in a study in “Current Biology” confirmed that dogs can distinguish happiness and anger in human.
For Baumeister, having an ESA is similar to being in a good relationship.
Minnie loves to chase balls when she goes to the dog park with her owner, and she wants to play with everyone and everything. Whenever Baumeister leaves Minnie alone for five or minutes, she will always try to lick Baumeister’s face when she gets back. She wants to love everyone.
But having an ESA does come with some challenges. Because Coco is also trained as a service animal and therapy animal, Case brings her to class and into other buildings on campus.
Case also has to deal with other students frequently wanting to take pictures or pet Coco.
“I’m pretty sure there hasn’t been a day where somebody hadn’t asked me to pet her,” said Case. “If people ask to pet her and she actually lets them pet her then they will stay there for like five minutes.”
Despite some challenges both Case and her dog Coco like it at the UO. Coco likes the attention and space, despite the fact that she doesn’t run around and play. Case likes how easy it is to keep yourself entertained.
“I definitely wouldn’t be in college if I couldn’t bring her,” Case said as Coco laid on the floor under smiling up at her for no apparent reason.