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Jan 17 2018
by Rachel Malaga

How My Emotional Support Cat Helped Me Through First Semester

By Rachel Malaga - Jan 17 2018
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From the day I moved into my dorm, it was clear that my roommates and I were obsessed with cats. We all had pictures of our cats from home on our walls and exchanged stories about how much we missed our "fur-babies." A few weeks into the semester, my roommate said we should get a cat and my other roommate agreed, saying things like "The RA doesn't have to know!" I was hesitant, as I am a total rule follower (although secretly, I totally wanted a cat also). As time went on, however, I realized that my want for a cat in my dorm room was fueled by more than just me loving cats.

As the semester went on, I did some research into having a cat in a dorm room, and the idea of getting an emotional support animal frequently came up. As I did more research, I realized that a cat was exactly what I needed in my current emotional state.

Emotional Support Animals have been shown to help with many different mental illnesses, including anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Although Emotional Support Animals are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, they are not granted the same rights as service animals. While an Emotional Support Animal is allowed in most housing areas, they are not necessarily allowed in public spaces like shopping malls or restaurants, while service animals can accompany their owners anywhere. I have a history of OCD and anxiety that began to creep back into my life when I entered college. I contacted the counseling center at my university and made an appointment to see what the process would be like. Because I had never met with a therapist in this center, the process of procuring a letter would be long and tedious. I talked to my roommates and suitemates about it, and I thought we had dropped the subject, but I was wrong.

One day, a little over halfway through the semester, I came home from a long rehearsal day at around 11 p.m. I was exhausted, but my roommate ran to me and said: "WE HAVE A CAT!" Because of my exhaustion, I thought she was kidding until my suitemate came into the room and explained that she met with her therapist and got a letter stating she would benefit from an emotional support animal. I was so excited to have a cat finally, and that I did not have to go through the hectic process of procuring this letter by myself.

That night began a calming journey with our new foster cat, Felix. He is seven years old, fluffy and loves to snuggle. He is a perfect fit for five college students. From having cats at home, I knew how much they relieved my anxiety, and not having that interaction every day was a hard transition to make. Felix made my mental health issues practically disappear, which is more than I could ask for. When I felt a surge of panic come on, I could grab Felix and lay him on my chest, which immediately calmed me down. Every time I came home from class, I heard his jingling collar as he came to the door to greet me. When I had a lot of work or a big assignment due, I did not feel nearly as stressed as I would have without having Felix by my side. His loving and cuddly nature makes him perfect for relaxing after a long day. He loves to love, and he frequently licks my hand as his way of kissing. We honestly could not have asked for a better cat.

I did not realize how much an emotional support cat would help me through my first semester, but it has defined my experience. Although we got him later in the semester, there was a massive shift that occurred when Felix entered our lives. Many people discount the benefits of having an emotional support animal, but it indeed does make a difference in many people's lives.

Felix was adopted by a loving family a few weeks before the second semester. My experience with fostering a cat as an Emotional Support Animal has made me more excited to get my own Emotional Support Animal letter and begin fostering another cat.

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Rachel Malaga - University of Utah

Rachel is a Musical Theatre major at the University of Utah. She loves cats, knitting, and naps, and is often told she has the soul of an old woman. She hopes to one day live with many cats in New York City! Instagram: @rachelmalaga

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