Bonds of a feather

By Bobby Grady

Staff Writer

Everyone knows the feeling of being awoken by the sound of a ringing alarm clock, but not everyone knows what it’s like to wake up at 5 a.m. to the crowing of a rooster. But Maria Lacroix’23 and her suitemates are familiar with the sound of a rooster crowing because her rooster Romeo made sure everyone was up for class on his first night at St. Michael’s.

Romeo is a Serama chicken, which is the smallest breed of chicken in the world. He has a bluish tint to him, and his red facial features stand out along with his yellow beak. These types of chickens only weigh up to 19 ounces and stand to under 10 inches tall.

He is on campus as an emotional support animal for Lacroix. Lacroix wanted a rooster as an emotional support animal, because she had been raising chickens since she was in middle school and has always really enjoyed them.

“I just decided that I wanted to have a pet rooster,” explained Lacroix. But don’t think that just because Romeo is a rooster that he can’t fulfill his role the same way a dog might. “He has a little personality just like a dog, he likes to have pets just like a dog, he likes to have a bath and he likes it when I hold him on his back and just kind of help him float,” she said.

Romeo is a loveable little rooster who likes to walk around with Lacroix, who makes sure that he is taken care of and happy. Romeo has his own rabbit cage, which Lacroix described as “good sized.” “It’s like a little condo for him,” she said.

It is no secret that chickens poop quite a bit. “I just kind of deal with it. I just have to follow him around and if I see it on the ground I pick it up. We go through a lot of tissues and toilet paper,” Lacroix explained. Despite the messes that Romeo leaves behind Lacroix’s suit mates don’t have any issue with him. “We love Romeo,” said Kai Hines ’23 who lives with Lacroix and Romeo.

College life for Romeo has not been too difficult thus far, but getting him on campus was a struggle for Lacroix. “I probably started it [getting Romeo on campus] the Fall of freshman year,” Lacroix said. Right away she knew that dorm housing wouldn’t be enough space for Romeo. After getting into a suite in the LGBTQ+ housing in Canterbury Hall, she had to move because one of her suitemates was allergic to birds, she said. It wasn’t until Lacroix moved into a suite in Cashman this semester that she was able to get Romeo on campus.

Brian Lee, assistant dean of Students and director of Housing Operations, said that in order for a student to get an emotional support animal on campus, they must reach out to the Bergeron Wellness Center.

“The first step is for the student to provide the appropriate documentation from a provider that they need the emotional support animal, ‘’ Lee explained. “Once the student is approved to have an animal, our office [housing office] will reach out to students in the immediate living area to notify them. Those students have 48 hours to raise any concerns or objections to the animal being in their living space. If there are no objections, the animal is approved and we will send the student the appropriate forms to complete, and register the animal.”

Lee also explained that there are normally between 45 and 50 animals on campus.

“It’s important for students to know that the animal will be living in a college residential setting, and to make sure they think of that while selecting their animal,” Lee said. “Also, college students have a lot going on and having the animal is an additional responsibility that they are taking on,” he explained.

Another important piece of information that he shared was that an emotional support animal cannot alter housing operations. An alteration to housing operations could be anything that changes the normal daily operations of the residence halls.

Courtney Spaulding is a clinical psychology graduate student at Saint Michael’s who combines her abilities learned through her studies in psychology and her experience with animal training and behavior to help students with any questions they might have about emotional support animals. According to Spaulding, an ESA is “any species of animal that provides comfort to one or more people, normally in a housing establishment.”

It’s important to note that an ESA is not the same as a service animal. A service animal receives extensive training over several years and an ESA does not. But just because these animals aren’t specially trained doesn’t mean that these animals are an ordinary pet.

“It requires a special type of animal to be an emotional support animal,” explained Spaulding. “For example, a dog would have to be able to recognize the handlers emotions but not internalize it and mirror it in a negative way.”

Ever since the pandemic began, the number of ESAs on campus has increased because of increased isolation resulting from COVID-19. Spaulding went on to say that animals are wonderful at providing comfort for people.

For many years, emotional support animals have assisted many people in their daily lives. Ever since the start of the pandemic, the need for emotional support animals has risen and people find emotional support in all kinds of animals. Lacroix and Romeo are just one example of how people and animals can bond to form strong relationships.