A Michigan student won a $40,000 lawsuit settlement against her school after she was told she couldn’t carry her guinea pig to class. Kendra Velzen was given permission to keep her furry pet in Grand Valley State University dorm room, but could not take it to class or in common areas.
Kendra Velzen considers her guinea pig a therapeutic animal and uses it for emotional support. According to the guinea pig lawsuit filed against the Grand Valley State University, Velzen said the pet helps with her disabilities stemming from the use of a pacemaker and chronic depression. The college opted to settle the lawsuit to avoid future litigation costs.
The Michigan university gave permission for the 28-year-old student’s guinea pig to live on campus, but would not allow the animal to go into areas where food is served or places used by the general student body. The student claimed that the school was violating federal housing laws by limiting the access she had with the guinea pig.
The $40,000 settlement awarded to Kendra Velzen brought the debate about service animals verses therapy animals into the spotlight. Intermountain Therapy Animals Executive Director Cathy Klotz said there is a very distinct difference between the two types of animals. Service animals have very few restrictions, and are permitted into common areas and places where food is served.
Therapy animals are typically dogs and cats, with the occasional miniature horse thrown in, according to Klotz. Although the Intermountain Therapy Animals executive has never used guinea pigs on any of her 350 therapy teams, she noted their lack of representation does not mean the furry critters can’t serve the same purpose.
Grand Valley State University officials are now offering to accommodate Kendra Velzen’s request to keep her guinea pig with her on campus, if she opts to live in a campus residence again next year. The Michigan college is also in the process of working with the West Michigan Fair Housing Center to include therapeutic support animals into their existing on-campus housing policy guide.
What do you think about the guinea pig lawsuit? Is allowing the non-service animal into common spaces fair to the rest of the student body, particularly ones with common animal dander allergies?
[Image Via: Shutterstock.com]