Lawsuit: Student Needs Guinea Pig For Support

KALAMAZOO (AP/CBS Detroit) A student is suing a Michigan university for the right to keep a guinea pig on campus for emotional support.

Kendra Velzen, who reportedly suffers from depression and a heart condition, says Grand Valley State University in western Michigan is violating federal housing rules. The 28-year-old from Grand Rapids says a guinea pig helps her cope with physical and emotional challenges.

The lawsuit says the Allendale school backed off a bit and let Velzen have a guinea pig while a complaint was pending
with the Michigan Civil Rights Department.

But her lawyer says that accommodation could change anytime. Stephen Dane says he wants the school policy declared
illegal so his client and other students can benefit from therapy animals in the dorms.

Cathy Klotz, executive director of Intermountain Therapy Animals, said there’s an important difference between therapy animals — which provide emotional support — and service animals, which are used for essential functions like sight or alerting their companion to an oncoming seizure.

Intermountain Therapy Animals has 350 regular therapy teams and 3,000 teams registered around the world who visit hospitals, schools and homes for therapeutic purposes. Of those 3,000 teams, 98 percent are dogs, a few are cats, and there’s “an occasional mini-horse,” Klotz said, but none are guinea pigs.

“You can bring them in (guinea pigs) to see patients or school classrooms, but as a service animal? I’ve never heard of it,” Klotz said. “That doesn’t mean it can’t happen.”

Grand Valley State spokeswoman Dottie Barnes  told MLive the student has been allowed to keep the guinea pig in her dorm since last year;  adding they had not been served with the lawsuit and would not comment further.

“The university’s statement that they gave permission is false,” said Dane, the girl’s attorney.

He added that no training is required for therapy or service animals under the Fair Housing Act, and there are no restrictions on the kind of animals allowed to serve.

“The Fair Housing Act is not limited to trained therapy animals or service animals, there are no restrictions under the Fair Housing Act as to the nature of the animal that provides support or otherwise to tenants. There is one or more court decisions that say there is no training required … for emotional support animals,” Dane said.

“There are a lot of people who just don’t understand what the Fair Housing Act requires, and it’s too bad.”

(TM and © Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

  • LucidThought

    Please. It’s bad enough that our society is besieged by losers so emotionally fragile that they can’t get through life without a cuddly pet, but when they whine about it, there are people who take them seriously! Here’s some advice for the head case at Grand Rapids State: If you need your guinea pig to get through the day, then take it to an apartment off-campus that allows it, and shut the hell up.

    • Julianna

      Nothing wrong with needing a pet.1-3 people with get mental disabilities in their life.I guess you don’t have any or know anyone.Someday it will hit close to home and maybe you will have a better understanding.
      Maybe article about what Kipper did for me will give you a better understanding.Not mentioned is the psychical,mental and sexual abuse I went through as a child.

      • Judi

        Good comment, Julianna. It looks like you and hammies are meant to be partners in life.

  • Julianna

    I have a service animal card my hamster.Task is emotional support assistance.Card allows him everywhere.I have depression,bipolar,PTSD and anxiety.I feel safer and less lonely with him.I refuse to go anywhere without him.I have a huge fear of the dentist.If I need to take Snuggles out for comfort and hold him,my dentist will let me.He did not need training at all.He is very well behaved.All that was needed was a letter from therapist stating I can’t function without him and service animal card was made and sent to me.

    • jackboot

      Be sure you don’t let Snuggles out of your sight when other folks have their service animal dogs and cats with them.

  • Faith

    Wow, Julianna, thanks for sharing your story so bravely. Good for you, for finding a way out of your pain, so positive and constructively.
    I think we need to be more understanding of many people’s NEED for companion animals.
    I am a therapist and I myself have very important animals in my life…….through my whole life. As I have rescued and “saved” them, they have saved me in return. I think my clients who have pets do much better in general and are better people.

    • Doubt

      She is not being stopped from finding joy in her animal. She is just being asked to find other living arrangements where she can enjoy her animal without being a disruption to other students.

      This is the problem with some therapists. They convince all their patients that they are all #1, special, unique and deserve personal treatment at the cost to the majority. Because of this, and the curtailing that the majority does, these people end up being examples of how to work the system and wind up being enablers which encourage more people who desire more special treatment. When is enough, enough?

      • Judi

        ??? Have you ever had therapy? I have, and I don’t know where the heck you are coming from with the above comments. Depression is extremely disabling to some people, so if it takes a guinea pig or a hamster to help someone move towards a better ‘place’, so be it and it has nothing to do with some ego-pushing therapist.

        • patrioticamerican

          People with depression are afflicted with a terrible disease, I agree. But they need not afflict others with their unreasonable demands for accommodation.

          There are health reasons for not having pets in such living situations.

        • Mike

          Even if such animals provide assistance to a small minority of people, what about the rights of everyone else in the facility? Not only are there potential sanitation issues (what happens when someone demands the right to keep a miniature horse in the dorm?), but also issues with allergies to the service animal. Such issues could cause problems for a large number of the residents. In addition, there are potentially additional costs to the owner of the facility (in this case, the school) for damage done by such animals.

        • TrshMnstr

          yeah, and if it takes a cobra or a tarantula? Or how about a horse? Add to that the fact that the roommate had better be ok with the allergens, smells, sounds, and sights of a guinea pig as well, because this person is “broken” and everybody needs to bubble wrap the sharp corners and walk on egg shells.

  • Julianna

    I have improved with a service animal.No more cutting and my self-esteem is better.I get out and do things and meet people.My plan is to complete therapy and no longer need it.I want to get a job when done with therapy so I don’t have to rely on SSI and foodstamps.I want better things for myself.I deserve them

  • docjoe

    Unless it’s creating a problem with room mates, I don’t see that it’s a bit deal, but when I was a student at Miami my room mate had a guinea pig and it made this “zip zip” sound all night long. It drove me buggy! I eventually made him get rid of it–take it back to his parents house–because I couldn’t sleep at night.

  • baltimore aureole

    a 28 year old college student who can’t cope without her pet guinea pig?

    class – can you spell SLACKER?

  • jackboot

    I have a giant deadly spitting Cobra that is my therapy animal. I should be allowed to carry it anywhere and keep it anywhere. People that do want me to have my deadly snake with me are just un-feeling. I have rights too!!

  • Lizzee

    Is the guinea pig actually a licensed therapy animal? Does the student have a doctor’s prescription for a service animal, or a 504 designation? If not, the animal should not be allowed in on-campus housing.

  • stoptouchingthatmabel

    You can keep the guinea pig but it will have to be up your arse per school policy.

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  • tos

    At 28, why wouldn’t she be in an apartment rather than a dorm?
    Simple solution. Move off campus.

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  • Rspencer

    I have a guinea pig. He is wonderful support. I live alone and am in college and do not have time for a dog or cat but my pig is perfect! He is my baby and he keeps me company. He gets excited when I come home and loves being petted and cuddling up for a nap. She should be able to keep it, its not like they carry diseases or allergens. They are sweet and loving.

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  • SWD

    Frigging hell it’s only a guinea pig it’s not going to mess up the st upid dorm room. Guinea pigs are sensitive and intelligent animals I should knwo I foster and rescue them,. I had a guinea pig who passed away last year due to illness who would’ve been perfect as a therapy pet she had a loving nature and loved cuddles,

  • msksan

    The answer is off campus private housing, not a lawsuit.

  • click here

    click here…

    Lawsuit: Student Needs Guinea Pig For Support « CBS Detroit…

  • School Reaches $40,000 Settlement Over Guinea Pig « CBS Detroit

    […] federal housing rules. The 28-year-old, who has chronic depression and uses a pacemaker, said the guinea pig helped her cope with physical and emotional challenges. adsonar_placementId=1557448;adsonar_pid=2728767 […]

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