Emotional Support Animals on Campus

Loki Melgarejo-Magana is a unique member of the Covenant College community. The Covenant admissions office did not send him an acceptance letter; he never even applied to college.

Instead, he was specifically recommended by Covenant College counselors and accepted by Janet Hulsey, the director of academic support. Loki is a husky-lab Emotional Support puppy.

Yolanda Melgarejo-Magana (‘20) began the process of bringing Loki to campus last year when her counselor agreed that an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) would be beneficial to her treatment process. Melgarejo-Magana purchased Loki over the summer and immediately began to train him.

Emotional Support Animals are not legally required to have any specific training. The only difference between a pet and an ESA is a letter written by a licensed therapist noting the owner’s need for the animal. ESAs are allowed in places that ordinarily prohibit pets including apartments and airplanes.

Covenant College's ESA policy, however, requires a certain amount of training for ESAs. The policy states, “An (ESA’s) behavior, noise, odor, and waste must not exceed reasonable standards for a well-behaved animal.”

With these requirements in mind, Melgarejo-Magana put Loki in “puppy training” for potty training and obedience and purchased a shock collar for Loki that would discourage barking.

A couple of days after Melgarejo-Magana’s roommates arrived on campus, joining their new companion, they requested that Loki be removed from Covenant. Though he had begun his crate training two months previously, Loki was disturbing the hall with his barking. Loki’s collar was not functioning properly, and Melgarejo-Magana was required to send him temporarily to her boyfriend’s house off-campus.

Loki did not return to Covenant for two months. Melgarejo-Magana reported that she had “seen huge improvements” in her emotional stability since getting Loki and that the time away from him was “extremely hard.”

“I didn’t want to be at Covenant at all,” said Melgarejo-Magana.

She said that the process of moving Loki off campus, however, was not too upsetting. “[My Resident Director and John Wylie] specifically told me that he wasn’t being taken away forever, but he needed training.”

Though Loki is now back on campus after his two month absence, and has been fully crate trained, other complications make having an ESA tough for Melgarejo-Magana. She referenced Covenant’s policy for ESAs, which states that ESAs are allowed only in the room of the owner and in the passageways leading to and from that room. Loki is not permitted to be in any academic building or common room, even when accompanied by his owner.

“It is difficult to have him support me,” said Melgarejo-Magana, “Sometimes I have to choose between skipping work or being with my dog.” Melgarejo-Magana continued, “I can take him to restaurants, Walmart, and on planes. I don’t understand why Covenant has to be different.”

Covenant ESA policy is similar to that of many universities in Georgia including Berry College, the University of Georgia, and Columbus State, each of which bans ESAs from public places on campus.

Janet Hulsey spoke to this issue by saying, “ESAs are not meant to be with their owner all the time; they are something to come home to.” She says barring them from places like chapel and academic buildings is “setting some healthy boundaries” for the owner and the ESA.

“A lot of professors have dogs in their offices," said Melgarejo-Magana. "If they are allowed to have their dogs in academic buildings, why can’t I?”

Hulsey did not feel equipped to respond to Melgarejo-Magana’s confusion. Jon Wylie, whose role is to work out the practical logistics and implementation of the ESA policy, does not know why ESAs are barred where professor’s pets are welcomed.

“I feel like we can find a compromise,” said Melgarejo-Magana.