There has been an increase in the number of Emotional Service Animals registered to Doane University this school year, says Anita Harkins, Student Support Services director.
There are 15 ESAs living at Doane this year, compared to eleven from last year. The third floor of Smith is where numerous ESA consider home, one of which is returning for her second year at Doane. Her name is Gaga and she lives with transfer student Trey Porter.
Tranquility fills this dorm, as Trey cuddles Gaga in the rocking chair facing the single window overlooking the campus.
Porter and his girlfriend, sophomore Jessica Jensen, both use his cat as a source of emotional comfort on campus.
“My doctor said I have crippling loneliness and depression, though it's gotten better since I've come to Doane and adopted Gaga. It helps me emotionally to know there is another being here for me when I come home.” Porter says.
A smile lights Jensen’s face as Gaga saunters over and plops on her lap.
“I see her in the evenings when I have free time to play with her and cuddle. I get stressed easily and having an awesome cat to come and see helps me calm down,” Jensen said.
How Gaga came to be at Doane is a unique story.
“She is the grand kitten of the cat I grew up with,” Jensen said as Gaga sat in her lap purring.
“I started college last year and Leslie, my twin, had Gaga as her ESA last year. Leslie doesn’t have enough time to devote to Gaga with her major and school activities, so Trey adopted and registered Gaga as his ESA for this school year.”
Gaga is well adjusted to school and dorm life. She has made a home for herself at Doane, along with Porter and Jensen.
Porter said Gaga wakes him every morning by crawling on the window ledge and lifting the blinds with her body to let sunlight in. Inquisitive yellow eyes peer down at him, waiting for their day to start. Once he awakens, Gaga’s food and water bowls are replenished, then Porter gets ready for the day. After some cuddles and a quick play session, Porter leaves for the school day.
Cats are known for being self-sufficient, so Gaga entertains herself for the day. Porter tries to spend time with Gaga in between classes and extracurriculars. If he cannot, Porter asks Jensen to check on Gaga.
Junior Jean Chevalier also has an ESA, a rat terrier and dachshund mix named Sparky. Chevalier said that getting Sparky approved to be on campus was a difficult process. “The process to get him official was not easy, there was a lot of networking and red tape that I had to get through,” Chevalier said.
When Chevalier first arrived on campus with Sparky, she was forced to rehome him until verifying her paperwork with a therapist. However, after almost two months she was able to get permission to bring him back onto campus. Chevalier said “It is great having him here. It really gives me a purpose.”
Gaga, Sparky and other ESAs are essential to Doane being a welcoming and inclusive environment for every student. They are valued members of the Doane community and deserve all the praise and love we can give.