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Sunday, December 10, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Student Sues College to Keep Her Guinea Pig

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (CN) - A college sophomore claims in court that Grand Valley State University discriminated against her by banning her medically prescribed assistance animal - a guinea pig - from her campus apartment.

Kendra Velzen, 28, says in her federal complaint that she suffers from depression and wears a pacemaker. Her guinea pig, Blanca, eases the physical and emotional distress of her medical conditions.

"The presence of an emotional support animal provides Ms. Velzen with continued emotional support and attachment (thereby reducing symptoms of depression), physiological benefits (such as decreased heart rate), and psychological benefits (such as increased Oxytocin levels, which directly impact the sense of life satisfaction)," the complaint states.

Velzen says the college allows physically impaired students to keep service dogs and nonpredatory fish in their dorm rooms.

The university granted Blanca a temporary stay, but Velzen would not agree to keep the guinea pig away from common areas, classes and cafeterias. Velzen says the college also denies other students' requests to live with emotional support animals in university housing.

Joined as a plaintiff by the Fair Housing Center of West Michigan, Velzen seeks an injunction and damages for discrimination under the Federal Fair Housing Act, the Federal Rehabilitation Act the Michigan Persons with Disabilities Act and the Michigan Persons with Disabilities Civil Rights Act.

She is represented by Stephen Dane with Relman Dane.

Grand Valley State's main campus is in Allandale, 12 miles west of Grand Rapdis, where it has a branch campus. With enrollment of about 24,600 students, it is one of the nation's 100 largest universities.

Guinea pigs, also known as cavies, were domesticated in the Andes by the Incas, and are still kept there by indigenous inhabitants, who use them for food.

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