Assistance animals and service dogs offer support for residential students

Katya Farinsky '19 takes her dog Lanie for a walk. Lanie wears her vest while providing service for Farinsky. MADELEINE BENTLEY/PIONEER LOG

By EMMA GRILLO/// Features Editor

The Lewis & Clark community is no stranger to animals. Community members bring their pets to campus to play and walk, and during finals there is the infamous puppy hour, where students can relieve stress by romping with little fuzz balls before they resign back to the library.

However, this semester students may have noticed an influx in animals that do not leave campus at the end of the day. Instead, these animals retire to their homes in dorm-rooms, where they spend their days and nights performing integral tasks for their handlers, students who require their service.

On the LC campus, there are currently two types of registered animals that exist to perform a service for their handlers. One is an assistance animal, often colloquially referred to as an “emotional support animal.” The other is a service animal, such as a dog or miniature horse. These two categories denote vastly different tasks that the animals are meant to perform, as well as vastly different regulations to which the animals and their handlers must comply.

The most commonly registered animals on campus are assistance animals. According to Student Support Services, there are currently about 12 assistance animals living in campus housing. An assistance animal can be any animal that is up on its shots, free of fleas, and can safely live in campus housing. On the LC campus, they range from dogs and cats to, in the case of Mariah Ash ’18, a ferret.

“Ferrets in particular are kind of eccentric,” Ash said, looking down at Captain Cicero, her registered assistance animal. “Some people have no clue what he is.”

Captain Cicero was on a leash the first time we met, which he must remain on whenever he leaves Ash’s dorm room in Holmes. This is one of the regulations that assistance animals must comply with: they are meant to live in the room of their handler and only leave for exercise. This means they cannot go into classrooms or dining facilities.

“This has been a problem for me,” Hera Dewan ’19 said about her assistance cat Thomas Jefferson (TJ). “I spend long hours at work or in class away from him and I feel like I need him more than I am allowed to have him. But I am also grateful to have him at all.”

To get an assistance animal registered, the student must fill out paperwork from the school as well as present a letter from a therapist explaining why an assistance animal is integral for the student’s well-being.

“It was probably in all, like a two month process from start to end,” Ash said about getting Captain Cicero registered. “I was definitely in the middle range there just because I did already have a therapist who I have been seeing for a long time off campus.”

Dewan too cited the lengthy process, noting that she had to wait to get health care in Oregon before she could even find a therapist to begin talking about an assistance animal.

Both Ash and Dewan found their assistance animals after they had learned about the option of having an assistance animal on campus, but for Brooke Alexander ’18, her assistance dog Bungee and her were life-long friends before he was an assistance animal.

“I’ve had Bungee since I was nine…. Bungee has provided a lifetime of love and support for me but he has only technically been an emotional support animal since January of this year,” Alexander said.

The other type of registered animals on campus, service dogs, are much more rare than assistance animals. According to Student Support Services, there are currently only two service dogs on the LC campuses, with both of the graduate schools included. Katya Farinsky ’19 is the handler of Lanie, one of the two service dogs on the LC campus.

“When she’s working, she has a very high standard to hold to,” Farinsky said. “She has a bunch of different tasks she’ll help me with, from medical alert to making a physical space barrier around me.”

A service dog, under the ADA regulations, is “any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.” Before bringing Lanie to campus, Farinksy fastidiously read legislature on the federal, state and local level.

“It’s really important to know what rights I have,” Farinsky said.

Although Lanie normally wears a vest when she is working, service dogs do not have to be identified by anything. If people are curious about a service animal’s presence, they are only allowed to ask the handler if the animal a service animal, and if the animal is currently performing a service. If both answers are yes, the service dog may accompany their handler almost anywhere save burn units and certain restricted military locations.

For Farinsky, a member of the Women’s Rowing team, this means that Lanie accompanies her to practice and regattas as well.

“My coach, when I first told him, it was immediately ‘great, how can we make this work,’” Farinsky said. “I am forever grateful for Sam [Taylor, head Women’s Rowing coach] for that.”

Farinsky lives in a quad in Spruce Hall with two other roommates. Lanie moved in with her this semester.

“Everyone’s adjusted really well,” Farinsky said.

In the classroom Farinsky is aware of the extra attention that Lanie attracts.

“I’ll try and make a space gap of a seat on each side just to give us a little bit of protection,” Farinsky said about the classroom. “There’s the occasional hand that tries to reach out and pet her, but I mean word gets around, it’s a small school.”

Having a service dog has given Farinsky freedom on campus that she did not previously have. In the Bon, Farinsky used to eat at the round tables in the corner with her back against the wall and spend her mealtimes on high alert. “Now [Lanie] does that for me,” Farinsky said. “It’s nice, it’s like having my life back.”

While assistance animals and service dogs perform very different services for their handlers, it is clear that they are incredibly important to the students who benefit from them.

“He’s just a joy to have around,” Ash said of Captain Cicero.

Farinsky agrees. “It’s really amazing what [Lanie’s] done for me,” Farinsky said.

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