More than cute: the impact of service animals on university students
BY Column Editor
The presence of a service animal in a classroom, meeting or dorm typically elicits the same response among students: exclamations of the animal’s cuteness, and all eyes and phone cameras trained on the adorable pet for the length of the its stay. For most of the student population, these service animals are nothing more than an adorable addition to their day. However, for many students with disabilities, they are invaluable, offering assistance with everyday tasks — as well as a sense of comfort — to their owners
Many of the animals seen frolicking the streets of campus are service animals, not emotional-support animals. As Elizabeth Reed, the Interim Director for Disability Support Services, says, service animals have been trained to help an individual with a condition that “needs some type of intervention to take place.” These animals typically assist their owners with day to day tasks, including opening and closing doors, turning on and off lights and fetching drinks for their owners.
Meanwhile, emotional-support animals are brought to campus by students that feel as though having an animal with them will improve their mental state. According to Reed, these animals have completely different regulations than service animals.
“If they have a roommate, their roommate has to agree to have the animal in the room,” Reed says. “Once they provide medical documentation [records of vaccinations and proof that the animal has been spayed or neutered], we need a letter from their medical-care provider documenting the need for an emotional-support animal. You don’t need that with a service animal.”
Additionally, while service animals accompany their owners nearly everywhere, emotional-support animals are only allowed to stay within the confines of the owner’s dorm room, except for being taken out to use the bathroom. Reed says that this usually leads to animals becoming disruptive, prompting many students to choose to take their emotional-support animals home.
However, this outcome is less likely for service animals. Due to the difficulty of tasks that service animals must perform for their owners, they go through extensive training. Canine Companions for Independence is a registered student organization (RSO) dedicated to completing one portion of the training process for service dogs. The dogs that Canine Companions receives have been specially bred through their national organization. Then, the puppies are given to “puppy raisers” on campus who are in charge of beginning the dogs’ journeys as service animals.
Jordan Hanson, the president of Canine Companions for Independence, has experience raising a puppy of her own.
“I raised Hutch III,” Hanson says. “He came to all my classes with me, he came pretty much everywhere with me. He definitely was a challenge, and he had an attitude, but we worked through it together.”
According to Hanson, puppies learn about 30 commands. These include learning their name, walking on their raiser’s side, distinguishing their right from their left and going to the bathroom on command. Once they have successfully completed the beginning portion of their training with the puppy raiser, they go back to the national organization for advanced training.
When puppies go to their advanced training, they first have a graduation ceremony, in which the puppy raiser hands their leash over to the graduating puppy.
“You get to meet that person [receiving the service dog] and see how much you changed their life,” Hanson says. “Going to the graduation really brought it full circle.”
Hanson believes that her experience raising Hutch III and being part of Canine Companions for Independence has profoundly impacted herself and others.
“It has made me so much more patient and understanding, and brought me out of my shell,” Hanson says. “Going to the meetings and being involved and seeing how much of an impact it had on these people’s lives is honestly incredible.”