In high school I volunteered at a local stable that specialized in therapeutic riding lessons for children with disabilities. As an avid equestrian I remembered how horses impacted me as a child and teenager so I knew that this opportunity would be amazing for others. I can’t begin to explain the changes and confidence I saw in my students and it was then that I truly realized the benefits of therapy animals. This is likely the same feeling that 28-year-old Kendra Velzen, a college student from Michigan that recently won $40,000 in a settlement against Grand Valley State University because they barred her from taking Blanca, her therapy animal, to class with her. Now it should be mentioned that Velzen’s pet was a guinea pig, but regardless of species or size, the animal helped Kendra, acting as a source of emotional support to assist with her chronic depression.

Grand Valley did allow Velzen to keep her pet in her dorm room but refused to give her permission to take it to class or any other common areas on campus specifically those where food was served. Velzen claimed that the school was in violate of federal housing laws because they limiter her access while with her guinea pig.

Difference Between Service Animal and Therapy Animal

The debate about service animals is not new, and in fact the difference between a service animal and a therapy animal has been discussed for some time now. Executive Director of Intermountain Therapy Animals Cathy Klotz says that there is in fact a difference between the two; service animals generally have few restrictions even when it comes to common areas or places where food is served. Klotz also talked of how therapy animals typically consist of dogs and cats, and more recently miniature horses. Despite never having used guinea pigs in any of her 350 therapy animal cases, Klotz acknowledged that the small animals are perfectly capable of serving the same purpose as other animals.

In an effort to put an end to further litigation Grand Valley State University not only offered to accommodate Kendra’s request to keep her pet with her at all times but also paid an amount of $40,000 to settle the dispute.