Service animal numbers on the rise at DC

Photo by Austin Andru

Alexander Massicotte, a photography student at Durham College with his therapy dog Rugger.

Durham College says the 2018 academic year will mark the highest number of service animals ever at DC.

As recently as 2015, there were only a couple of service animals on campus. Now there are 10, says Meri-Kim Oliver, vice-president of student affairs.

A service animal policy at Durham College has been drafted by the new Accessibility Committee and is under review to comply with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

Oliver says “the policy is in approval process.”

It is the first stand alone service animal policy at DC.

Linzie Mark, 26, is in her third semester of Durham College’s practical nursing program. Mark was diagnosed with anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Mark has a border collie named Eloise to help her through the day.

Eloise is still in training and when she’s done her training, she will be able to assist in calming, night terrors to anxiety attacks.

“As much as she’s learning, I’m now able to do new things as well,” Mark said.

Service animal dogs also have a wide range of uses for people with visual and aural impairments, seizure disorder, diabetes and autism.

Mark is working with her trainer who says it is important for the dog develop a strong bond early. Currently, Eloise and Mark attend classes every day.

“I don’t think there’s been a service dog in the nursing program before,” Mark said.

“There was a lot of questions and concerns. I had a couple profs who didn’t handle it well.”

Mark said some profs had some sanitary concerns about having the dog in labs and hospitals.

However, Mark says most of the faculty have loved having the dog or just didn’t notice.

“I think there’s a lack of knowledge,” Mark said. She hopes the new policy will bring awareness. “My goal is for people to be educated.”

Mark says she sometimes gets negative responses. “I often get asked, very judgmentally, ‘when does your dog get to be a dog?’”

“Just because she’s with me doesn’t mean she’s not getting what she needs,” said Mark, who keeps food and a bottle of water in her bag for when Eloise needs water or feeding.

There are many different service animals for varying reasons. There are guide dogs for the visually impaired, diabetic alert dogs, medical response dogs, seizure alert dogs, hearing alert dogs, emotional support dogs and autism service dogs.

Helen Prinold, a puppy raiser coordinator for Autism Dogs Services says negative responses are common for people with service animals.

“I think one of the misconceptions people have is that these people are using them as a fancy pet or a crutch,” said Prinold. “It is a support that is vital for them to live a full and rounded life.”

Students should always ask before touching service animals Prinold says. Sometimes it is OK to pet them, but it all depends on the type of service animal used.

“Dog’s for the blind often cannot be petted,” said Prinold. “However dogs for autism can be petted, but always ask.”

Prinold says more accessibility for service animals will mean an improved quality of life for the students who need them.