Service dogs provide unique assistance to students
Published: Tuesday, September 4, 2012
Updated: Friday, May 17, 2013 13:05
Izzie stands by Isaac Valencia, senior criminal justice major, patiently as he socializes with a friend at the Union. Before 2008 this was not a common occurrence. Valencia is visually impaired and his black Labrador, Izzie, helps him get around.
“I didn’t do a whole lot, I’d just come to class go home. I just didn’t do a whole lot,” Valencia said. “Now I’m taking the city bus to and from when we have to go to places. I’ll meet up with our buddy for a few adult beverages. Having Izzie has just opened up so many, many doors for me.”
Before, Valencia was accustomed to using a white cane to get around. With Izzie, his guide dog, Isaac has been able to open up his interaction with the world.
“It’s not very often that someone says, ‘hey that’s a nice looking cane you’ve got.’ If I were to hear that I wouldn’t know what to think,” Valencia said. “But ever since Izzie it’s like, ‘hey that’s a great looking dog’ and they always ask questions about Izzie and then that leads into something else. The people I’ve met throughout the years with her, it’s been phenomenal.”
There have been minor issues on campus with service dogs but they mostly manifest from confusion. University policy does not allow pets on campus. However, there are exceptions for Valencia and other individuals in the same situation.
The Center for Accommodations and Support has conducted training with different departments to make sure they are familiar with the policy that ties in with federal and state law, which states that a service animal has a right to be on campus.
“It’s some of the departments that work directly with students in different capacities,” said Bill Dethlefs, director of CASS. “They see a dog where they would not expect one to be and then they challenge the owner. Then they find out either from us or another authority on campus that yes, there is a legitimate right for that particular animal to be on campus.”
The regulations under the Americans with Disabilities Act changed in 2010, broadening the definition of who would be eligible to have a service animal. Certified assistance and service animals are exceptions. According to the ADA, a public accommodation shall modify policies, practices, or procedures to permit the use of a service animal by an individual with a disability.
“What we want to do is make sure everybody feels welcome here and not that somebody is going to challenge them because they’re confused that one animal is a pet and the other animal is trained under federal and state law,” Dethlefs said.
Valencia said the guide dogs came around to actually help out veterans that came back from war and had lost their sight. They started using German Sheppards.
In present times dogs have been trained for different circumstances. Some dogs are trained to sense the owner’s chemistry as blood sugar drops and alert the owner to take something to raise sugar levels.
If a person suffers from epilepsy, dogs can sense and alert the owner of an impending or ongoing brain seizure.
If a child with autism decides to run off, the dog is tethered to the child and is trained to plant their feet.
Service dogs are also used for animal therapy to provide comfort and emotional support.
Thera-Paws, an official chapter of Therapy Dogs International has been active in El Paso for more than 20 years.
“Thera-Paws provides volunteer therapy dogs and their handlers to facilities and individuals who request visits,” said Dina Whitehouse, TDI Evaluator. “The dogs visit with people to provide emotional support and aid in healing by lifting mood and lowering anxiety and blood pressure.”
Kristopher Rivera may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .