This story first appeared in the April 2018 edition of The Hilltop.
“God knew I needed it and opened the door,” Jasmine Heberlein said, holding her emotional support hedgehog, Rajah, close.
Heberlein is one of several students on campus who have emotional support pets to help them get through the day to day.
“I just find that having a companion that is always with you, very comforting,” Heberlein said. “You know what I mean? Just taking her to class and rubbing her while I’m sitting in class has a calming effect. She is very, very affectionate, which is surprising for a hedgehog.”
There are many kinds of emotional support pets here, and they come in all shapes and sizes, including hedgehogs, cat, dogs and even the occasional spider.
“I have a tarantula as my support pet,” Breanna Stone-Adent said. “Its name is Waffles.”
Stone-Adent also explained, “any animal could be a support pet. I was honestly even thinking about getting a goose for one,” she said. “When I hold and play with my tarantula it helps bring me out of the state of anxiety. I will always have anxiety. Even if I had a cat or dog, having a support pet won’t cure that. But having a support pet helps you to not be so deep into anxiety and depression.”
Heberlein understands that a hedgehog isn’t the average pet, but she loves her oddly affectionate, unusually social little pet and believes that Rajah is an answer to prayer. She was looking for a hedgehog online because she had wanted a hedgehog since she was two years old.
“And she [Rajah] popped up– her little picture– and I was like ‘that’s the one! I want that one!” Heberlein said.
Rajah was the only baby hedgehog left and as Heberlein prayed for a way to be able to afford her, the owner offered to ship Rajah for cheaper than she had any of the others. The sum was the exact amount that Heberlein had to spend and she felt it was definitely a door opened by God.
Heberlein doesn’t feel that she’s had too many negative reactions to her hedgehog, but others, like Stone-Adent, feel misunderstood.
“My opinion on having a support animal is you have to really need one,” she said. “Like I hear people all the time on campus say, ‘I want a dog for my room. I should apply so I can get one.’ And, as a person who needs a support pet, that really hurts. People don’t see how much pain we are in and what an emotional support pet does to help us. It makes us who have needs for an animal feel as if people don’t really take us seriously.”
Heberlein feels this issue is serious all around.
“I’m a very big activist about ‘you need to actually take care of yourself; don’t just shove emotional problems under the rug,’” she said. “I did that for years and I got sick from it. So the population needs to understand that yes, there are people who deal with emotional things very easily and don’t have issues with it. But there’s also part of the population that has been diagnosed with things like depression or bipolar and they need something. And sometimes medication isn’t enough. Sometimes you need a physical companion all the time. It’s more basically being aware that people do deal with things differently.”
Ramona Hernandez has an emotional support dog and wanted to advise Corban students to remember to reach out to people and not be intimidated because they have a support animal.
“If you are curious,” Hernandez said. “just ask and make friends with the person. Just ask them, ‘Why do you have a pet?’ Because I think sometimes people might be wary of talking to someone with an emotional support animal. Don’t let that hinder you from making friends with them, because there are some really great people who have emotional support animals. And it kind of stinks, too– well it’s great to have one– but it kind of stinks to know that you need one because you’re still working through things. It can be lonely. So always know to make friends with them.”