Kendra Velzen, a 28-year-old student at Grand Valley State University in Michigan, suffers from depression and uses a pacemaker. Her pet guinea pig, Blanca, helps her cope with the stress of day-to-day life. Or, as Velzen’s lawyer put it: “The presence of an emotional support animal provides Ms. Velzen with continued emotional support and attachment (thereby reducing symptoms of depression), physiological benefits (such as decreased heart rate), and psychological benefits (such as increased Oxytocin levels, which directly impact the sense of life satisfaction).” For these reasons, the university agreed to make an exception to their “no pets” rule and allowed Velzen to keep Blanca in her dorm room. This could have been the end of a touching story about the enduring bond between a woman and her guinea pig, but unfortunately, things got complicated….
The university required Velzen to keep the guinea pig away from common areas and dining halls, but she refused, claiming that Blanca’s emotional support was akin to the support provided by other service animals, like seeing-eye dogs, which GVSU allows on campus. Velzen sued the school, and last week was awarded a $40,000 settlement–along with the right to take Blanca wherever she pleases.
“Should Kendra Velzen ever reapply for on-campus housing and make an accommodation request to live with a guinea pig or animal of similar size and nature, Grand Valley will grant said request,” the school said in a statement.