Understanding service and assistance animals

By on August 24, 2014

Nationwide there is an increasing trend of service and assistance animals being utilized to perform tasks and jobs for those with disabilities. In turn, UAB expects the use of service and assistance dogs to increase on campus and in the surrounding communities.

Service dog waiting in "stay-down" command. Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Service dog waiting in “stay-down” command. Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

As a university that values and celebrates diversity, we can welcome these teams by developing a community-wide understanding that will allow these working animals to perform their job unhindered. There are several key facts and etiquette tips pertaining to service and assistance animals that will ensure UAB can and will be a welcoming community for all students.

To assist with this transition, the UAB Disability and Support Service (DSS) office has implemented new guidelines for service animals in an effort to support and provide understanding for all members of UAB who may be affected by the service animals. You can find these at uab.edu/dss

DSS Director Allison Solomon supplied an overview of etiquette and tips to help facilitate a respectful interaction with service and assistance animal teams that you may encounter in any public setting, from Wal-Mart to the classroom:

Service and Assistance Animal Etiquette

  • Do not ask for details about the person’s disabilities. The nature of a person’s disability is a private matter.
  • Allow a person to have their service animal accompany him/her at all times, except where animals are specifically prohibited.
  • Do not pet a service or assistance animal. It distracts them from the task at hand, and service animals can be very protective.
  • Do not feed a service or assistance animal.
  • Do not deliberately startle, tease, or taunt a service or assistance animal.
  • Do not separate or attempt to separate a person from his / her service or assistance animal.

In addition, DSS provided definitions to clarify the difference between service and assistance animals:

“A service animal is any dog trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. Service animals are generally allowed access in all facilities and programs that are open to the public. (It’s not considered an accommodation). An assistance animal is defined as any animal recommended by a professional to provide emotional support to individuals with disabilities… and may be permitted in the classroom as an approved accommodation.”

Students and staff need to understand and respect service dogs and handlers. A service dog is allowed to accompany a handler most anywhere except where dogs are specifically prohibited.

For example, a service dog can accompany a handler into most labs and medical settings, but would not be allowed into sterile ICUs.

These highly trained dogs can perform a wide array of tasks, from the seeing-eye-dog to a dog trained to function as a persistent alarm clock for a narcoleptic or hypersomniac, like the writer of this article, to a dog trained to alert when a seizure is oncoming, all the way to a dog that can smell cat dander and alert someone with a life-threatening cat allergy. The tasks that a service dog can perform are as diverse as the many breeds of the dogs that perform them.

UAB, like many institutions nationwide, expects to see students utilizing service and assistance animals on campus this fall.

“We are aware that there may be university employees or other students who are unclear about the when/where service and assistance animals are permitted. DSS wants to ensure we are informing the campus and also accommodating student needs.” Director Solomon said.

If any students or employees have concerns or questions, feel free to contact Disability Support Services at dss@uab.edu or at (205)934-4205.

Though most media has recently covered the rise of “fake” service and assistance animals, the best approach is to just think positively and assume that a team is legitimate.

Furthermore, there are common misconceptions the public may have about service dogs.

For example, many people think a service dog has to wear a vest. This is false; a service dog legally does not have to be visually identified in any way, though many handlers may opt for the vest so that the service dog is easily identifiable as a working animal.

People may think a service dog must be registered. This is also false, and asking a handler for registration for their service dog is the equivalent of asking a handicapped person for the registration card for their wheelchair.

Readers may question how to identify a service or assistance dog if it is not wearing a service vest. Simple rules of courtesy when approaching a strange dog prevail here: ask the owner permission to pet before approaching. If it is a service or assistance dog, they will tell you.

Our university prides itself on diversity. UAB students with disabilities are a part of who we are, and continuing to welcome students with disabilities as well as service and assistance animals will only further expand our diversity.

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About Haley

Haley Townsend is a hypersomniac who enjoys problem-solving, brainstorming, walking her pointer-mix Sigmund, and majoring in English with a concentration in professional writing and a minor in business. She is a senior at UAB and Copy Editor for the Kaleidoscope. Her hobbies include reading, writing, belting Lady Gaga alone in her car, and watching too much HGTV.
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