Letter to the Editor: GV violated housing discrimination laws in guinea pig case

I found that the editorial piece “Animal House” oversimplified the issue of a companion animal and unnecessarily defamed Ms. Velzen and others who struggle to cope with depression and other illnesses.

To begin, a lawsuit is filed when laws are broken, or when someone is harmed. In the last few years, people have been filing unreasonable tort lawsuits, seeking unreasonable damages. These suits have painted any legal action as unreasonable, as the editorial staff of the Lanthorn have unfairly judged this case. I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t say that this case doesn’t fall under tort law. I can say, however, that GVSU has violated housing discrimination law.

Under US fair housing law, a landlord must be willing to make reasonable accommodation for tenants with special needs, including those suffering from depression who need a therapeutic companion animal. This concept is the reason why GVSU has to allow service animals like dogs to live on campus for those who need them. Reasonable accommodation for a companion animal doesn’t mean a dog or cat, but it certainly includes a small pet, like a guinea pig, that is contained and will not damage anything if properly cared for. The Department of Housing and Urban Development even provides a sample letter for doctors who need to inform landlords of the tenant’s need.

Furthermore, Ms. Velzen may have been allowed the pet in the end, but three appeals is three too many for someone who wants only the benefit of existing federal law. A “thorough vetting” doesn’t mean three appeals, it means an application and subsequent investigation. A small pet doesn’t place undue burden on the Office of Housing and Residence Life. Asking to keep a guinea pig on campus isn’t like asking for a pet friendly dorm to be built, or asking the university to install a permanent cage for the animal.

The issue of allergies among other students is complicated, but not enough to deny Ms. Velzen the animal. If a student’s allergies are so severe that they would suffer from another student having a guinea pig in another room, they should probably already have facilities to cope with allergens already present in the air. I have a mild cat allergy, and I’ve been irritated by the air in campus housing without any animals at all.

All this aside, article overstepped the line when it denounced the use of a companion animal as childish. A companion animal is a kind of therapy, just like antidepressant medication. Saying that someone who needs to get rid of their therapy and just grow up is like telling an amputee not to be distraught over their lost limb and just get over it. Your insinuation that someone suffering from depression just needs to be more mature demonstrates a gross misunderstanding of the difficulty faced not only by people with depression and other mood disorders, but people with social impairments like Asperger syndrome and people with disabilities like ADHD. Disorders are complicated, and people don’t just choose to live with them.