ALLENDALE, Mich. (AP) - A student is suing Grand Valley State University for the right to keep a guinea pig on campus for emotional support.
Kendra Velzen says GVSU is violating federal housing rules by denying her request. The 28-year-old from Grand Rapids says her guinea pig, named Blanca, helps her cope with physical and emotional challenges.
She's suing for four counts of discrimination and is asking for unspecified damages.
Velzen is being allowed to keep the pet in her dorm room for now, but The Fair Housing Center of West Michigan said she had to go through too much to get to this point, and it -- along with Velzen -- is moving forward with the case.
Velzen is in her second year at GVSU and lives in the Calder Residents dorms, which is "pet-free" university housing.
According to the lawsuit, filed in federal court last week, Velzen has been diagnosed with with a heart condition that requires a pace-maker and severe depression for which she takes prescribed medication.
Before moving into the dorms last August, Velzen got a letter from her medical provider outlining her conditions and the need for a "support animal" to help control emotional distress.
She applied to the the university to be able to keep the guinea pig under an exception to the housing policy allowing for the use of a service animal for a physical disability.
Her repeated requests were denied. GVSU cited the Americans With Disabilities Act as reason for the denial, saying a guinea pig is not a trained service animal.
Velzen then contacted the Fair Housing Center of West Michigan, who immediately took on her case. They claim the university is also obligated to follow the Fair Housing Act, which does allow for a support or companion animal.
"A person's need for emotional support in their home is often much different than their need for emotional support in a public area, so that's why the Fair Housing Act has a different definition of companion animal and has a more broad kind of application of what kind of animal would be considered a reasonable accommodation," said Elizabeth Vezino Stoddard of the Fair Housing Center of West Michigan.
As the suit moves forward, officials at GVSU have allowed the guinea pig to stay in the dorm room temporarily.
"The university granted permission to the student to have the guinea pig in her room and it has been with the student in campus housing since last year," said a statement from GVSU.
GVSU said it hasn't received the lawsuit yet, so it can't yet comment on the specifics of the case.
The Associated Press contributed to this report
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