Service Animals at UMHB

By Kailyn Strain

Service animals can be spotted anywhere in public with their handler, a person with a disability, to assist them when they need to. Many people are confused as to what a service animal is and how to interact with them. A service dog, defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA’s “Frequently Asked Questions about Service Animals and the ADA,” is as follows:

“A service animal is defined as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability.  The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability.”

A task is a specific command that the animal is trained to do to help the person with a disability. The ADA does not require service animals to be professionally trained or to need them to have any identification, and service animals must be given access no matter the establishment that is open to the public. Service animals must behave well in public, and if not, businesses are legally allowed to remove them if they are showing the following behaviors: aggression, excessive barking, no longer under control and relieving themselves in public. Businesses can only ask two questions, according to ADA and its website at

https://www.ada.gov/regs2010/service_animal_qa.html

The two questions that can be asked are under the General Rules section, where it states:

 “In situations where it is not obvious that the dog is a service animal, staff may ask only two specific questions: (1) is the dog a service animal required because of a disability? And (2) what work or task has the dog been trained to perform. Staff are not allowed to request any documentation for the dog, require that the dog demonstrate its task, or inquire about the nature of the person’s disability.”

Behavior is the one telling sign that a dog is a legitimate service dog.  Here at UMHB, we have several dogs on campus that assist their handlers on daily tasks. Cassidy Menard, a senior majoring in interdisciplinary education and her service dog Blue, have been together for almost two years. Blue is a hearing dog and is trained to assist Menard by alerting her to specific sounds. These sounds include her phone ringing, a tornado siren and a fire alarm. Blue has three different cues she gives to Menard for each different sound. In general, Menard would like the student body to know the following:

“It is safe to assume that you cannot pet service dogs,” Menard said, “but I would rather you ask me before trying to pet her. The same goes for talking to her; you are distracting her from doing her job. I know she is cute and hard to resist, but please let her do her job.”

Distracting a service dog of any kind can mean life or death for their handler. Service dogs can be trained to alert to seizures, blood sugar, blood pressure, post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD, panic attacks and much more.

Sara Gatlin, a pre-nursing major, and her PTSD service dog Hona have been a team for a little over a year. Hona is trained to do deep pressure therapy, blocking people from getting too close and alerting Gatln to an upcoming panic attack so she can safely leave to calm down. Gatlin also tries to keep Hona from distraction.

“I think we should remind the other students not to pet our dogs while they are working,” Gatlin said. “It is like bringing in crutches or having a baby. You do not mention anything unless it is to help the person.”

It may not seem like it, but service animals are considered medical equipment and not pets. The ADA and the State of Texas both recognize service animals as medical equipment. You would not walk up to a wheelchair and start petting it, which is the equivalent to petting a service animal.

Audrey Godley is a junior majoring in business and her mobility service dog Maverick. They have been together as a working team for about two years. Maverick is trained to brace and counterbalance to help Godley from falling.  Maverick can also do retrievals for dropped items and carries her groceries. Godley wants the students on campus to know the following:

 “The service dogs on campus are not here for your enjoyment. The people who have service dogs need them to be focused. Please take it seriously because the dogs are here for a reason,” Godley said.

Jacquelyn Gonzales, a senior majoring in engineering and her service dog Xeta have been together for two years. Xeta is a multi-purpose service dog, meaning she does more tasks for more than one disability. Some of Xeta’s tasks include body blocking, behavior interruption, medical alerts, guide work and retrievals. Jacquelyn wants to stress to the student body that she is not being mean when she tells people “no” to interacting with her. The tasks Xeta needs to do requires a lot of her attention, and interacting with her puts Jacquelyn’s health in danger. However, if you want to know more about Xeta, you can find that on Instagram.

“If you want, follow her Instagram @xeta_the_super_dog,” Gonzales said.

Author: Kailyn Strain

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