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Lawsuit: Student Needs Guinea Pig For Support

KALAMAZOO (AP/CBS Detroit) A student is suing a Michigan university for the right to keep a guinea pig on campus for emotional support.

Kendra Velzen, who reportedly suffers from depression and a heart condition, says Grand Valley State University in western Michigan is violating federal housing rules. The 28-year-old from Grand Rapids says a guinea pig helps her cope with physical and emotional challenges.

The lawsuit says the Allendale school backed off a bit and let Velzen have a guinea pig while a complaint was pending
with the Michigan Civil Rights Department.

But her lawyer says that accommodation could change anytime. Stephen Dane says he wants the school policy declared
illegal so his client and other students can benefit from therapy animals in the dorms.

Cathy Klotz, executive director of Intermountain Therapy Animals, said there's an important difference between therapy animals -- which provide emotional support -- and service animals, which are used for essential functions like sight or alerting their companion to an oncoming seizure.

Intermountain Therapy Animals has 350 regular therapy teams and 3,000 teams registered around the world who visit hospitals, schools and homes for therapeutic purposes. Of those 3,000 teams, 98 percent are dogs, a few are cats, and there's "an occasional mini-horse," Klotz said, but none are guinea pigs.

"You can bring them in (guinea pigs) to see patients or school classrooms, but as a service animal? I've never heard of it," Klotz said. "That doesn't mean it can't happen."

Grand Valley State spokeswoman Dottie Barnes  told MLive the student has been allowed to keep the guinea pig in her dorm since last year;  adding they had not been served with the lawsuit and would not comment further.

"The university's statement that they gave permission is false," said Dane, the girl's attorney.

He added that no training is required for therapy or service animals under the Fair Housing Act, and there are no restrictions on the kind of animals allowed to serve.

"The Fair Housing Act is not limited to trained therapy animals or service animals, there are no restrictions under the Fair Housing Act as to the nature of the animal that provides support or otherwise to tenants. There is one or more court decisions that say there is no training required ... for emotional support animals," Dane said.

"There are a lot of people who just don't understand what the Fair Housing Act requires, and it's too bad."

(TM and © Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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