Service dogs need welcoming

By Dorany Pineda 

The number of Elans who use service dogs is growing, but many of them chose not to bring them to campus because of the distractions and problems that often arise.

The Americans with Disabilities Acts allows students with disabilities the right to have a service animal at their school. The animal–typically a dog or in some instances a miniature horse– has to perform an active task that is directly connected to the person’s disability.

For example, guiding a person who is blind; alerting people who are deaf; reminding the individual to take medication; alerting a person who is about to have a seizure; or protecting them while they have one, to name a few.

Emottinal support, therapy, or companion dogs, however, don’t qualify as service dogs and are hence not protected by the ADA. The student’s need for these animals in public schools must undergo a case-by-case review by the Individual Education Plan or a Section 504 team.

According to understood.org, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 “is the part of the federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against public school students with disabilities.

That includes students with learning and attention issues who meet certain criteria.” Grace Hernandez, the Disabled Student Program and Services coordinator, said that service dogs are allowed to be in classrooms and anywhere on campus as long as they’re well behaved and not disruptive.

“We are not allowed to ask the student or the individual with the disability if the dog is certified. The service dog is supposed to have a vest, and that will tell us, the public, that the dog has been trained to do a specific task,” Hernandez said. 

She added that a disabled person with a service animal is only required to answer two questions: if the dog is a service animal and what task(s) the animal is trained to perform.

The student’s disability, she said, is private information that the student is not mandated to give out. A student or staff member that is allergic to or is afraid of dogs is not a valid reason for denying access or refusing service to people with service animals, Hernandez said. In these cases, affected students may be asked to either move to a different location in the classroom or take another section of the course.

Reuben Roque, an ELAC alumw and a career guidance counselor assistant with the veteran’s program, said that the center has seen an increasing number of students that rely on service dogs, but many of them chose not to bring them to school.

“Some of our students don’t bring their dogs in just because some of the reactions that their dog gets, and they get together, from other students on campus. It’s difficult because [students] want to be able to function completely, but then [they] get some of the looks and some of the attention that is really distracting,” Roque said.

Though Roque is understanding of America’s dog-obsessed culture, he advises students never to pet a service dog without permission.

“When service dogs are vested up, they know they’re working: it’s time to help mom it’s time to help dad, and the slightest thing– like somebody petting them– will throw off the dog,” Roque said. “At that point the dog will start to think ‘It’s play time,’ and will then stop focusing on their handler. That’s why it’s difficult for some of our students, and why they then find it difficult bringing their dogs in.”

Roque, who has a service dog of his own, doesn’t usually bring her to ELAC, but when he does he brings her in on Fridays. “It’s very relaxed and very slow, so it’s a little bit easier to negotiate.”

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