A student is suing a Michigan university for the right to keep a guinea pig on campus for emotional support.
Kendra Velzen says Grand Valley State University is violating federal housing rules by denying her request. The 28-year-old from Grand Rapids says her guinea pig, named Blanca, helps her cope with physical and emotional challenges, reports WZZM.
With the help of the Fair Housing Center Of West Michigan, Kendra Velzen is suing the university because it will not give her permission to keep the pet in her on-campus student housing. “It’s not a pet,” maintains Elizabeth Vezino Stoddard of the Fair Housing Center. “It’s a companion animal.” Velzen says she suffers from chronic depression and even has a prescription from her psychologist for her emotional support animal.
Grand Valley has a ‘no pet policy’ in student housing, but under these circumstances staff at the Fair Housing Center says they are required by law to accommodate a person trying to cope with a disability. “That includes the right to a companion animal,” says Stoddard. “A companion animal is considered something that’s necessary for someone because of their disability.”
A university spokesperson says the school won’t comment on the federal lawsuit until they review it.
The student’s lawyer says the fight to keep the guinea pig has aggravated her condition. “Emotional distress, anxiety,” explains Fair Housing attorney Steven Dane. “The embarrassment of having to meet with university officials and having her needs questioned or called into doubt.”
The university spokeswoman says they are permitting the student to keep the guinea pig in her room while the case is pending with the Michigan Civil Rights Department . But attorney Dane says Grand Valley has simply not taken any action to remove the animal until charges are resolved. “This is not an isolated incident,” he says. “The Fair Housing Center is determined to get some institutional reform at Grand Valley so that students like Kendra don’t have to go through this again.”