By Mary-Claire Spurgin
Although service and assistance animals are consistently present on the Lewis & Clark campus, many students do not know what role these animals play for their owners or what distinguishes service animals from emotional support animals.
LC follows the Americans with Disabilities Act’s definition of a service animal as one that is “individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability.”
Service animals play a different role than assistance animals. These animals, which may be for therapy or emotional support, does not need to be trained for a task.
“An assistance animal is prescribed to a person with a disability because the animal alleviates one or more identified symptoms or effects of the person’s disability,” Dr. Kayleigh McCauley of the Student Support Services Office said.
The two differ from pets in their intended purpose.
“A pet often does provide emotional support for a pet owner, but pets are not meant to assist or alleviate symptoms or effects of a person’s disability,” McCauley said.
Currently, there are three service animals and 18 assistance animals registered within the College of Arts and Sciences. This is consistent with last year.
Because service animals are legally allowed in many more spaces than assistance animals, they are more visible on campus. However, Taylor Walters ’18, who uses gender-neutral pronouns, said that their emotional support animal plays a crucial role in making college possible for them.
“I can’t overemphasize how important animals are,” Walters said. “Emotional support animals can mediate suicide attempts; my cat knows when I’m having a panic attack. I wouldn’t be at college without my cat.”
However, the campus is not always welcoming to these animals. Walters and their cat have been denied entry into certain spaces.
“(This exclusion) can be a very confrontational, ugly experience for a lot of people,” Walters said.
Kadyn Frawley ’21, who is currently in the process of getting a service dog, adds that many assistance animals are not allowed into public spaces because of concerns such as hygiene or allergies.
“These rules put physical health before mental health,” Frawley said. “They try to make it the best for all people, which makes sense, but there is a lot of ignorance about very large communities.”
Frawley has also encountered difficulties in finding campus housing with enough space for her, her dog and her medical equipment.
“There shouldn’t be all these hurdles that you have to jump through to prove the needs of having another living being that is required for you,” Frawley said. “There are a lot of things with accessibility where they act as though it’s this huge, huge thing that you’re requesting of them.”
Even resources meant to address these problems can end up exacerbating them. One student who wishes to remain anonymous said that they went to Student Support Services because there was nowhere on campus to let their service dog off-leash, and was dismissed by an employee.
“This one person told me, ‘Well, maybe you shouldn’t have a dog,’” the student said.
Leah Paez ’19, who has a service dog, emphasizes that some attention from professors and classmates is unwelcome.
“When adults just straight-up stare at you and the dog, it’s a little uncomfortable,” Paez said. “I’m like, it’s a dog, it’s not a Pikachu.”
Walters added that it’s important to note that these animals are working. Walters has a vest for their cat telling others not to pet him, but it is often ignored.
“People tend to get excited and cross the boundaries of what is permitted,” Walters said.
Paez said that she wishes people were more thoughtful in their interactions with her.
“Don’t ask what the animals are for,” Paez said. “It’s like asking your medical history.”
“It’s like asking an adult how old they are,” Frawley said. “I can give you an answer, but it’s abrasive, and it’s unnecessary information.”