Furry friends that are here to help
The UAS Juneau campus is currently home to two service dogs and numerous emotional support animals. I am one of two students who work with a service dog and can attest that assistance animals are greatly appreciated by their owners. My service dog is a chocolate lab-husky mix named North. You will typically see us playing catch behind Banfield at 6 a.m. and 7:30 p.m., riding a green bike across campus, and tromping the halls of Egan and the Anderson buildings. Feel free to say “hi” and ask me anything you’re curious about! If I’m not in a rush, you can even meet North (he’s a big baby when he’s not busy working.)
Service animals are individually trained dogs that do work and/or perform tasks for a person with a disability. The American Disability Association defines an individual with a disability “as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.”
Service dogs are commonly used to guide people with vision, hearing, or mobility impairments. However, they can also be used for invisible disabilities like diabetes and post-traumatic stress disorder. The federally mandated document — “ADA 2010 Revised Requirements: Service Dogs’ — outlines the newest laws regarding service dogs.
Service dogs must be harnessed, leashed, or tethered at all times unless the bindings interfere with their tasks. If you see a service dog independent of its owner, follow it immediately as some service dogs are trained to get help and its owner could be experiencing a medical emergency.
When a service dog is with its owner, you should refrain from touching or talking to it so it can remain focused on its owner, because the dog is on duty. Service dogs often wear equipment such as tactical vests and “Do Not Pet” patches, though this equipment is not necessary.
Always assume any dog you see should not be touched without the owner’s consent. Each service dog and owner have their own system, so while one dog may be able to work while being petted, it could put someone else in danger if their dog is momentarily distracted. Additionally, never ask a person with a service dog what their disability is. This question is inappropriate in almost all settings.
Margie Thomson, UAS Coordinator of Counseling, Health and Disability Services, said the two service animals on campus this semester are registered at UAS Disability Services and are qualified to accompany their owners to all campus locations.
“They usually have vests on the animals and are working; thus are not available to play or interact with others without the expressed permission from the animal owner,” Thomson said. “Emotional support animals or companion animals are registered to individuals who meet the requirements of the ADA, and help to reduce the symptoms; yet do not need to be trained nor perform trained acts.”
Emotional Support Animals
Thomson said approximately 22 emotional support animals live in UAS Housing.
“The Disability Services process involves registering students who experience documented disabilities and getting documentation that backs up the need for this accommodation,” she said.
While service dogs are regulated by the American Disability Association, ESAs generally fall under the federal Fair Housing Act, enacted to prevent housing discrimination, including against individuals with disabilities who live in rental properties.
ESAs are not specifically trained, nor do they have to be. Their function, like service animals, is to mitigate a disability. ESAs are most commonly dogs or cats, however, they can be any type of animal that is not considered dangerous. There have been cases of guinea pigs to miniature horses to monkeys acting as emotional support. If animals pose a risk to people they may not be accepted as emotional support animals. According to the FHA, all one needs to verify their animal as emotional support is documentation from a health professional. The difference between emotional support animals and service dogs is their ability to work and/or perform tasks.
“Emotional support animals are not service animals,” said Frankie Medina, a canine specialist and service dog trainer.
“A service animal is trained to do a task or tasks and an emotional support animal is there to comfort you. It isn’t trained to respond if you have a panic attack,” Medina said.
There are also no laws that require emotional support animals to wear identification. The vests, identification cards, patches, and other equipment that can be purchased online are unofficial and easily bought by people who just want to smuggle their pet into a hotel room with no additional fees.
It is illegal to misrepresent an assistance animal, but that doesn’t stop people. However, with more regulations comes the possibility of decreasing accessibility for individuals who are in need of assistance animals.
Training is No Walk in the Park
“Just because you got a vest off of Amazon does not mean your pet is a service animal. You still need proper training. It [the animal] can be a service animal in-training, but it’s a long process to train your animal to differentiate between a working mindset and a playing mindset,” Medina said.
“People think that they can take their untrained dogs on airplanes, in restaurants, and into the grocery store. There are people who have a real need for service animals. People with seizures, people with PTSD- people who actually need these animals to help them,” he said.
Assistance animals make many people’s lives a lot easier by mitigating aspects of their disabilities. Be it through guide dogs, emotional support cats, or hypoglycemia-detecting dogs, assistance animals can be an important tool used to make people’s lives a lot easier.