On her first day at the University of Richmond, sophomore Graiden Berger went around the city of Richmond looking for an animal shelter where she could volunteer.
Berger said she remembered getting out of the car at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), and before she even stepped foot in the building, there was a woman in the car right next to Berger, holding a blanket. When the woman saw her, she immediately came over to Berger with a kitten and asked Berger to take care of the animal she found in the street, Berger said.
Berger named the kitten Ziggy, and that is how the cat entered her life.
Berger said that she had a difficult time with her new life during her first few weeks at UR so she decided to submit an application to keep Ziggy as an emotional support animal.
“Sometimes I wake up in the morning to her just licking my nose, purring on my chest." Berger said. "It’s the best start of my day, because I’m just automatically happy. The way you wake up, I think, it's so influential to your mindset for the rest of the day.”
When asked about Ziggy’s role as an emotional support animal, Berger said although people often see these animals as an excuse to keep a pet in their room, it is the real thing.
"Animals can really improve your happiness and overall health," Berger said. "She definitely has helped me in so many ways, and I would never be able to repay her for that.”
According to Berger, Ziggy helps not only her, but everyone in the room.
“[My roommates] tell me almost every day how she improves their mind state all the time." Berger said. "She makes everyone in the room happier all the time. I think our room dynamic and all of our mental states would be a lot different if she wasn't there.”
Sophomore Charlie Sears, Berger's roommate, said she was glad that Berger had found Ziggy.
“It's very humbling to know that Graiden could [rescue] an animal, and now Ziggy lives in a very loving home with a lot of attention,” Sears said.
Sears said she was happy that Ziggy is around because the cat helped all of them in some way.
"If we're ever sad, sometimes she will come up to us and purr." Sears said. "It's very strange that Ziggy seems to know our moods, and we know her moods. We're very in tune with each other."
Junior Brier Clough also has an emotional support animal -- a cat named Tucker. Clough has had Tucker since the end of her first year at UR.
Clough said she had been having a hard time at school. Her mental health was beginning to have a negative effect on her performance, both academically and socially, so she had decided to adopt Tucker from a shelter in her hometown.
"Tucker was an office cat, actually FIV positive, which is basically like cat HIV," Clough said. "It's not super detrimental to them as long as they get the care they need, and it doesn't impact their life."
Clough still remembers the moment when she realized Tucker's impact on her, she said.
“Last semester, I had the hardest test in my life." Clough said. "I remembered walking home, it was raining outside, it was cold, I was like, 'My brain hurts, and I'm so done with today.' When I walked in [to my apartment], my cat was just sitting there looking at me. My cat is ready for a love that I have, just there to give me support. Having him around is very nice, and I know that my roommates benefit a lot from him too.”
Clough took her phone out, displaying pictures of Tucker. She added that Tucker has an Instagram account with almost four hundred followers.
Liker Berger, Clough said that her cat had helped her and had given more value to her life.
"For me to take care of him, it's a motivation for me to take care of myself, not just emotionally but health-wise and staying active," Clough said. "Having him energizes me. Seeing my cat around me is a motivation for me to get through my day, so I can get home and see him too."
Contact lifestyle writer Bingjie Liu at firstname.lastname@example.org.