Woof Forest: The Puppy Love Craze

The dog days are in full swing at Wake Forest, and that’s not referring to the weather.

Over the past few semesters, an increasing numbers of dogs have been gracing Wake Forest’s campus.  Just walking across the quad on any normal day in the middle of the week, you can spot several furry friends on a brisk walk, with tongues dangling out of their mouths, and ears flopping left and right.

“Having a puppy always makes you smile,” says Kalin McNeil, a senior on the football team.  “Like, I don’t care how mad you are, it always makes you smile.”

However, owning a dog is also a major responsibility, especially for someone taking a full-course load at a prestigious university. Some students may underestimate that responsibility before they adopt that adorable pooch on a whim.

“I feel like people fail to realize the stress that comes with having a puppy,” says McNeil.  “Especially when they’re really young.  Like, we got Deacon (his dog) really young, and he would pee [all the time].”

Many of these new dogs on campus are called emotional support animals (ESA).  As part of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Wake Forest provides a request process for students to apply for an ESA. 

First, the student must establish a need for an ESA by having a mental healthcare provider complete the request form.  Then, the animal’s information must be documented, demonstrating that it will not pose a threat to others in the community and is properly provided for.  Lastly, a review meeting with Residence Life and Housing is held to determine approval.

“What we are noticing is more students requesting ESAs for a variety of reasons,” says Stephanie Carter, Director of Residence Life.  “Our opinion doesn’t necessarily matter as it pertains to dogs or any other ESAs because governing policy, outside of Wake Forest and any other institutions of higher education, states that as long as need is shown, we cannot discriminate, for the most part, against animals being considered ESAs.”

So, why are more dogs popping up on Wake Forest’s campus now more than ever?  Opinions vary, and they aren’t all warm and cuddly.

“It started to become a trend,” says Reid Jefferson, a senior from Stratford, Conn.  “People here will get a dog, and then they make an Instagram account for the dog, whereas like five years ago, no one ever did that.”

While some students may adopt a puppy for the image, pets really can make a difference in in the everyday person’s life.   According to a 2015 Harris Stock Price poll, people who have pets tend to have lower blood pressure, heart rate, and heart disease risk, as well as better emotional well being than those who don’t.

And ESAs at Wake Forest can truly benefit many students here who need that support.

“I don’t think ESAs and the need for them are going away any time soon,” Carter said.  “College is a high-stress environment and for some student’s ESAs are the best way to manage that and successfully matriculate to graduation.

Lynsey Hill, 20, a junior from Richmond, Va., talks enthusiastically about her pup, Trevor, as he frantically marches around and in between her legs, anxiously staring down every car that passes by, guarding his master.

“He’s been a great help for me and my family since we got him,” Hill said.  “Trevor always puts a smile on my face.  I got him because my brother died a couple years ago, and coming to college kind of exacerbated the emotions I felt, sadness and everything.”

She understands that taking care of a dog is a lot of work, but Trevor has helped her tremendously and she’s looking forward to the rest of their time at Wake Forest together.

“The benefit far outweighs the cost,” Hill said.  “And my suitemates love him, so it’s really not hard finding someone who’s willing to pet sit.”