As emotional support animals become more prevalent, new research is hoping to clear up confusion over where they're allowed to go.
There aren't as many rules for emotional support animals as for service animals like guide dogs. Service animals require formal training to do things their owners can't and can go anywhere. Emotional support animals are allowed in housing areas, like hotels or dorms.
Social scientists want to know how places like colleges and courthouses are adapting to the rise in emotional support animals.
Phyllis Erdman and researchers at Washington State University surveyed university counseling centers. They found most schools don't have an emotional support animal policy — and some might avoid the question in the first place.
"You've heard a but it is still confusing. So if a faculty member sees an animal in the classroom, they are very reluctant to say anything because they are afraid they are going to say something wrong, they are going to ask the wrong question. And so quite often they avoid the issue," Erdman said.
Emotional support animals are showing up more in courtrooms. Courts in about three dozen states used trained court facility dogs, and early research shows they could be useful.
Dawn McQuiston conducted mock trial surveys where participants weighed in on child witnesses testifying with a facility dog. She found the animals can provide emotional support without influencing verdicts or sentencing.
"Judges have been making these rulings not based on any data, and so now that is an important step for the legal system. There is now some evidence to support the rulings that they are making," McQuiston told Newsy.
Getting a better idea of how and where support animals work could be more important than ever. If Erdman's school is any indication, the number of people with emotional support animals is growing.
"In 2011, our access center here ... had about two applications for emotional support animals. Last year they had 90," she said.