By Brittany Pierce
The monthly visits from the therapy dogs are generally highly anticipated on campus, but service dogs have not been getting the same treatment. One student has had her service dog Max on campus for three years, but she often runs into complaints.
“The teacher informed me that there was a student who did not feel comfortable with Max in class,” said Simerra Jones (’18). “The teacher handled it really well, it’s just that she was like you know ‘do you want to figure out how to handle this?’ We came to the agreement that I would move from one side of the room to the other.
“What bothered me a little bit was that because we were in a room were the desks are set up in a big square, so Max and I sat in one of the corners in a desk that’s separate. We’re in the back where basically no one else can really see us and the only interaction you could ever get with Max is when I go up the stairs and straight to that chair.”
According to Jones, the college did not force her into any arrangements. She thinks they (college officials) handled the situation well.
“There’s students coming up to me like ‘Oh someone’s trying to get Max taken away from you.’ What has he done?’” said Jones.
She expressed her confusion and anger toward the situation.
“It’s been three whole years [with him on campus without any issues],” said Jones.
“Max doesn’t like everybody; he doesn’t want to see everybody and there were so many people thinking he was going to come up to them.
“He knows when he’s working and he knows when he’s not so when he’s on harness, he’s in work mode and when he’s off harness, he’s just happy.
She explained that Max never goes further than staring.
“He’s not going to eat you and he’s not going to attack you; he never does it.”
Jones has had her service dog for three years, but she has known Max for much longer.
“I’ve known him all his life, but I’ve had him myself personally for three years. Max was always like Harry Potter is what I call it, because he was just locked in the closet underneath the stairs his whole life. So, he didn’t know how to be a dog when I got him.
“He was already quiet, he never wagged his tail, never barked, didn’t know how to do any of that so I first taught him how to do that stuff and then I taught him to do whatever it is I felt like I needed him to do, like getting him ready to sit in class and such. Then for whatever I felt like I couldn’t teach him, I sent him to school to learn,” said Jones.
“Max was actually attacked by a therapy dog on this campus and it was a little therapy dog. He did nothing and that dog came out of it all happy and nice but he (Max) came out it with bruises and scars,” said Jones.
According to Jones, that therapy dog is still allowed on campus.
“I’ve had people come up to him and touch him without my permission which causes him to back up. That’s when they think ‘he’s going to eat me because I did this.’
He knows that he’s not supposed to be touched so he’s just moving to the other side. They also ask me ‘is this a movement to show or prove how Pit bulls are not evil and stuff?’
“Little things like that are annoying especially because all we’re trying to do is live our lives and go places,” said Jones.
“It has come to a point where I don’t want that much interaction with anyone else’s dog and other people,” said Jones.
Jones believes that the campus and the community would benefit from educational forums about how to act appropriately in the presence of service dogs.
Jones also wants to emphasize the difference between service dogs and emotional support animals.
“Service dogs are trained to do a specific task, and you must have a disability that hinders you from the real world. A service dog is there to make sure that they can mitigate those [disabilities].
“If you can’t see, those are your eyes. If you can’t pick anything up, those are your hands. That’s what they do; they are trained to do a job, not just sit there and be well behaved in public.”
“Emotional support animals are meant for people with mental disabilities…if you have something like depression, or [another] mental disability, [emotional support animals] help you with that,” said Jones.
“Service dogs are allowed to go everywhere the public is allowed. They are allowed to live in any housing because they are the equivalent of like a wheelchair or a walker. They are classified as medical assistance equipment; they are not pets,” said Jones.
“Emotional support animals are your pets, it’s just that if you live in no-pet housing, you are allowed to have them because they actually help you do something so you need them there.”
Jones also mentioned how to know whether or not a service dog in public is real or fake.
“You must name a category in order for your dog to actually be a service dog. It could be multiple categories as well, like if you had a medical or mobility dog. But you can tell if they’re real or fake by if they’d name a label, or if they go ‘it just helps me with my emotional support,’”said Jones.
“Real service dog handlers know that you don’t have to describe your disability to everybody because that’s not for them to know. It’s annoying to have to keep answering everyone who asks that quesiton every three seconds because all you’re trying to do is just live your life.”
“[Max] is a wheelchair, he is a walker, he is a cane, he is medical equipment and that’s it. There’s nothing else; there’s nothing else I have to answer to you for. Just let me walk,” said Jones.