Service animals help students navigate life on campus

The University of Alaska Anchorage follows federal and municipal laws regarding service animals on campus with no additional regulations of its own — it’s up to students to follow the rules.

Tim Baker is greeted by Kiita as UAA’s Disability Support Services hosts therapy dogs during their Love on a Leash event in the lobby of
Rasmuson Hall. Photo by James Evans.

“There’s no requirement for registration, a vest or to carry an ID card for the dog. [Students] do have to comply with municipal rules about dogs, like having the dog licensed and vaccinated, but under federal law, we can’t force students to register with us if they have a service animal,” Anne Lazenby, director of Disability Support Services at UAA, said. “It’s really about being on the honor system.”

While they are not required to register their service animal with DSS, many students choose to because they often need additional accommodations, Lazenby said. This allows DSS to notify professors and faculty that the student will be bringing their animal to class.

Lazenby estimated that there are over a dozen students at UAA with service animals. Kelsy Tallant, a sophomore psychology major, has been working with her dog, who she introduces as Juno, since last July. Juno, a black lab, assists Tallant with mobility, such as targeting certain objects in a room, leading her to stairs and elevators and helping her avoid curbs while walking outside. Juno also provides companionship and boosts Tallant’s confidence, she said.

“The ability to close my eyes and let her go is amazing,” Tallant said. “With everything being white and snowy, it’s very easy to get lost with a cane, but with her, I have the confidence that even if we didn’t know where we were going, she wouldn’t walk me into a snowbank.”

The university follows the service animal guidelines put in place by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. The ADA is a civil rights law that “prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life,” according to its official website, ada.gov. These guidelines include what defines a service animal, handler’s responsibilities and rights and transportation.

A service animal is “any dog (and in certain circumstances, a miniature horse) that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual or other mental disability,” according to the ADA. Handlers are responsible for the supervision and care of their service animal, which includes being in control of their animal with a harness, leash or voice control. A person traveling with a service animal must also be granted access to transportation, such as buses and airplanes, despite any “no pets” policies, as outlined in the ADA guidelines.

UAA student Elizabeth Samson poses with therapy dog KPhoto courtesy of Lauré Macconnell.
- Advertisement -

Tallant and Lauré MacConnell, office manager and fiscal technician for DSS, noted that there is a distinct difference between service animals, therapy animals and guide dogs.

“A service [or guide] dog is trained to perform specific tasks to meet the needs of an individual with a disability — they are focused on the person they serve. Therapy dogs are pets who team with their volunteer handlers to bring joy, healing and respite to others,” MacConnell said.

Therapy dogs follow different guidelines on campus than service animals or guide dogs. The Federal Fair Housing Act allows students to have therapy animals, such as cats, rabbits or guinea pigs, in the residence halls. However, these guidelines differ from that of the rest of the campus, including the dining halls, outlined in the ADA. More information on UAA’s on-campus living assistance animal policy can be found in the Student Handbook on the UAA website.

Juno is a guide dog, a service animal trained specifically to help lead the blind. Juno went through extensive training through Guiding Eyes for the Blind, a nonprofit organization located in New York that raises guide dogs and matches them with their owners. Juno and Tallant also continue her training every day, working on obedience and general mobility.

Kelsy Tallant, a sophomore psychology major, has been working with her
guide dog, who she introduces as Juno, since last July. Photo courtesy of Kelsey Tallant.

“Juno is very well matched with me. I am a very social individual, so no wonder my dog is social too,” Tallant said.

Tallant’s experience having a guide dog on campus has been a positive one, she said.

“UAA is definitely more aware of [the need for service animals], and tries to make it as accommodating as possible,” she said. “I haven’t had any access problems, and no one has said I can’t go somewhere with her.”

Tallant stresses the need for the UAA community to be educated on service animal etiquette. This goes beyond touching — individuals should not talk to the animals or acknowledge them in any way, as it can distract them from performing their tasks.

“It’s not just no pet, it’s no contact whatsoever,” Tallant said. “People don’t realize how much eye contact, body contact and even tone of voice when people are greeting me affect her. Even just having your body toward her, dogs pick up on that. It’s so huge.”

Many of her and Juno’s interactions with students on campus are brief, Tallant said, which creates an even bigger need for educating others that even a simple glance or facial expression can distract Juno from her work.

DSS offered Love On A Leash during the Disability Awareness Week celebration last October, where over 250 students, staff, faculty and guests participated in therapeutic puppy love. Photo by James Evans.

To better familiarize the campus community with service animal, therapy animal and guide dog etiquette, DSS hosted the first-ever Love on a Leash event during their annual Disability Awareness Week last October. Therapy dog teams were invited to campus to bond with students, staff and faculty while spreading awareness of the benefits of human-animal bonds.

DSS also hosts a variety of other events throughout the school year, including bringing therapy dogs to campus during finals week to help students ease their stress. However, with concerns about COVID-19 spreading on campus, the organization is canceling this event for the health and safety of both students and the animals.

“Advocacy for both ends of the leash is always a priority and the safety of all parties is paramount. Due to current events, we will be giving our therapy dog teams a well-deserved break and reactivating teams when hand sanitizer is more readily available for visits,” MacConnell said.

For more information about service dog etiquette, visit the Service Animals, Assistance Animals & Pets section of the Student Handbook on the UAA website, or contact Disability Support Services by phone at (907) 786-4530 or stop by their office in Rasmuson Hall, Room 112.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here