Can I keep a turtle in my dorm room as a service animal to accommodate my anxiety disorder?

Date Updated

A turtle or other animal that simply provides a companion for stress relief and relaxation does not meet the definition of a service animal and therefore the institution may not allow it in campus housing. 

According to the U.S. Department of Justice "service animals are defined as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. Examples of such work or tasks include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf, pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting a person who is having a seizure, reminding a person with mental illness to take prescribed medications, calming a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack, or performing other duties. Service animals are working animals, not pets. The work or task a dog has been trained to provide must be directly related to the person’s disability. Dogs whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA."

In addition to the provisions about service dogs, the Department’s revised ADA regulations have a separate provision about "miniature horses that have been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. (Miniature horses generally range in height from 24 inches to 34 inches measured to the shoulders and generally weigh between 70 and 100 pounds.) Entities covered by the ADA must modify their policies to permit miniature horses where reasonable. The regulations set out four assessment factors to assist entities in determining whether miniature horses can be accommodated in their facility. The assessment factors are (1) whether the miniature horse is housebroken; (2) whether the miniature horse is under the owner’s control; (3) whether the facility can accommodate the miniature horse’s type, size, and weight; and (4) whether the miniature horse’s presence will not compromise legitimate safety requirements necessary for safe operation of the facility."

The ADA requires that service animals be permitted in public places, including residence halls. It is always a good idea to inform your institution that you have a service animal and let them know how this might impact your housing needs.

For more information about service animals and therapy animals consult the Service Animal Registry of America and the Pet Partners.

You may also be interested in reading the DO-IT Knowledge Base article Is allowing the use of service animals and therapy pets in campus housing considered a reasonable accommodation?