Anna Dawkins holds Rice Cake on her couch in her room in The Village.
Anna Dawkins holds Rice Cake on her couch in her room in The Village. Photo by Elissa Kroeger

Anna Dawkins got a new roommate this year and the two of them get on better than she ever thought possible. Although her roommate keeps irregular hours, Dawkins enjoys her time studying and relaxing with her.

Unlike most students, Dawkins’s roommate is a white hamster named Rice Cake. The palm sized roommate is an emotional support animal recognized by University Housing.

Dawkinds bends over Rice Cake's cage to feed her a snack.
Anna Dawkins feeds Rice Cake snack in the evenings when the hamster wakes up. One of the animals favorite snacks are rice puff snacks found in the baby food isle. Photo by Elissa Kroeger

Going into her junior year as a psychology student, Dawkins found herself living with a new person for the first time. Living with a stranger, she experienced a loss of companionship and overall loneliness. She found herself avoiding school work, spending a lot of time in front of screens and slipping into a depression.

When researching coping mechanisms, Dawkins decided getting an emotional support animal would be the most effective. She immediately began the process to securing one for herself.

“The process was easy and user-friendly,” Dawkins said. “I found no difficulties going through UNL’s SSD office.”

After her appointment with Services for Students with Disabilities, Dawkins filled out some paperwork asking her about why she was seeking accommodation and had to have a doctor fill out a similar form about how the accommodation would help her. 

Rice Cake rests in Dawkins hands.
Rice Cake rests in Anna Dawkins hands. Photo by Elissa Kroeger

An emotional support animal is an accommodation many people use in their homes to help lessen emotional or psychological issues, said Sharon Ohmberger of Community Engagement Director of Disability Rights Nebraska.

Emotional support animals come in all forms and many have lived on campus, Rob Andrews of the Residence Life office said. As long as students follow the steps laid out by the SSD office, there is no issue with housing accommodating emotional support animals.

“You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to be happy and healthy,” Andrews said.

After completing the process, Dawkins said her grades are better and they ever have been. Living with Rice Cake has helped her establish routines and have better accountability.

“Being able to have an emotional support animal has genuinely helped me socially and academically in ways I never thought it would,” Dawkins said.