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Service dogs: A student’s best friend

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Lacey Simon, a Cuesta student who brings her service dog Beck to class as a psychiatric aid.
Photo courtesy of Lacey Simon / Cuesta Student

By Rachel Barnes
Editor-in-chief

Man’s best friend can sometimes also be man’s greatest asset in times of medical emergency.

Service dogs are trained assistance dogs that help people in need, such as those with post traumatic stress disorder, diabetes, and seizure disorder. Emotional support dogs differ in that they offer comfort and affection for people who may need therapeutic companionship.

Cuesta is home to many service or emotional support dogs who can be found assisting their owners around campus.

Lacey Simon is one student who brings her service dog to school as a psychiatric aid. She can be seen on campus with her Doberman, Beck.

“She’s a psychiatric service dog, which means that she largely helps me get up in the morning, reminds me to take my medications, and then acts like a regular emotional support animal while I’m going about my normal day,” Simon said.

Mental health rates are concerningly high for college students according to a study done by the Journal of Adolescent Health. Being able to have service dogs on campus aids students to focus and achieve their academic goals.

According to the Cuesta Police Department, all dogs that aren’t registered and trained to assist those who have a disability are not allowed on campus,including other animals as well.

“A ‘service animal’ for purposes of this procedure means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability,” according to the Cuesta Public Safety Department.

Simon said that Cuesta hasn’t been a problem and in fact her professors have been accommodating and accepting of Beck’s presence.

“The other students receive a lot of joy from her being in class because Beck is so friendly with everyone. People are sometimes surprised, but I don’t mind if someone comes up to pet her,” Simon said.

With the joy that having a furry best friend around to stay safe throughout the day, also come difficulties as well as technical legal issues.

One thing many people don’t know is that if a person is to interfere or distract a service dog while they are “working” they can be charged with a misdemeanor, according to California service dog laws. The punishment can be up to six months in jail or a fine up tp $2,500.

There are also laws against discrimination in public places for people with service dogs.

“People can only ask if the animal is for a disability, and what jobs the animal performs; they cannot ask you what type of service dog he/she is,” Simon said. “I’ve had problems with this, and total strangers will ask me what kind of service dog she is, and when I refuse to answer, sometimes people just keep pressing,”

Another Cuesta student, Brianna Greenway, experiences problems at school due to emotional support dogs being allowed on campus. She said that this has put her rottweiler, Rayla, in danger and she has even had to retire an old service dog of hers due to the danger.

However, Cuesta’s police department’s guidelines do not say that service dogs are allowed on campus. Cuesta’s policies include service dogs and also miniature horses as service animals, but don’t permit emotional support animals.

Greenway has trained many service dogs for herself, her neighbors and other clients. Her dog Rayla is trained for medical alert, PTSD, and mobility for Greenway.

“I’ve been training service dogs since I was a little girl and I love it. I never thought I’d need a service dog, but I’m glad I had the skills necessary to train one for myself,” Greenway said.

Greenway’s favorite memory with one of her service dogs was when her first service dog accurately alerted to low blood sugar in the middle of the night. Sherlock, her golden-doodle, saved her life and the dog was only six months old.