courtesy of istockphoto.com
Service Dog Icon with Long Shadow. Courtesy of istockphoto.com

By Peter Vennerbeck

Sitting in the library studying for a quiz or test can be boring. Even working on the computer in a lab or in the writing center can become tedious, especially on a Monday. In walks a student with a dog to immediately brighten up your day and you may be tempted to run over and play with and pet the dog. Be careful, because that dog is most likely a service dog and is currently working.

Service animals are essential to the individuals who require them, the same way a wheelchair or a walker is. Service animals are not pets, they have a job to do.

“If you see a service animal, the best thing you can do is ignore them,” says Douglas Terry, the coordinator of the O’Neill Center for Student Access and Support.

Service animals are not required by law to wear anything that identifies them as a service animal, so before you pet someone’s dog, always ask permission to do so.  There are two types of service animals allowed on campus.

“One [type] is a dog, and it can really be any breed,” said Terry. “And the other is a miniature pony.”

Dogs and ponies perform much of the same tasks. The only difference is someone who would require a larger animal for stability would use a pony.

“They could have it for other reasons as well, [the] horses are pretty smart as well,” said Terry.

Miniature horses are 24-34 inches tall (measured at the shoulder) and typically weigh between 70 to 100 pounds. So, if you ever open the elevator and see a small horse, don’t be alarmed and just ignore it.

Service animals have the right to go anywhere the public is allowed. On campus that means service animals are allowed in any classroom or lab as well as the bathrooms. It is the owner’s responsibility to keep the animal under control. The only time you may ask for the animal to leave is if it is not under control by its owner. If a student or a teacher happens to have a severe allergy to dogs or horses, then the O’Neill Center would do its best to accommodate both parties since they both have the right to be on campus.

“Service animals have to be clean, they have to be well brushed,” said Terry. “[The owners] have to take really good care of their service animal.”

If a student or staff member happens to a have a phobia of dogs or horses, just remember that service animals are completely focused on their owner and go through rigorous training specific to their owners, so they don’t pay attention to much else. Emotional support animals do not have the same rights as service animals and are not allowed on campus.

“Only when the individual’s disability is not obvious, staff may ask the following two questions to determine whether an animal is a service animal: Is the animal a service animal required because of a disability? What task or service is the animal trained to perform? The law requires staff to take the individual at their word,” states the mass.gov website.

It’s easy to identify the service animal of a blind person or someone in a wheelchair, however there are many individuals that require a service animal for a disability you cannot see.

Disabilities like Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (P.T.S.D.) or epilepsy, even diabetes, are all disabilities that are not apparent to humans just by looking at someone, until said person is having an episode. Dogs however can sense the subtle changes in their owners.

“They can recognize the changes in the breath, and their aura and smell the scent of the human being changes,” said Terry. “The dog would cue that individual that they’re going to have a seizure and to get into a place that is safe.”

This is why it is so important to leave service animals alone; they are working 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.