ALLENDALE (WWJ/AP) – Grand Valley State University has reached a $40,000 settlement with a student who sued for the right to keep a guinea pig on campus for emotional support.
The Allendale school, which denies improper action, decided the settle the lawsuit to avoid litigation costs.
Kendra Velzen sued last year, saying the school was violating 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.
The lawsuit said the school initially told her she couldn’t keep the animal in her dorm room, but then backed off a bit and let Velzen have a guinea pig while a complaint was pending with the Michigan Civil Rights Department.
Velzen and the Fair Housing Center of West Michigan, which supported her efforts, agreed to dismiss the lawsuit last month. As part of the settlement, the school plans to work with the center on a policy for accommodating support animals in on-campus housing.
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.”
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