The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990. Allowing service animals to be recognized as legitimate service helpers meant to aid those who need physical or emotional support.
Although there are not many students on campus who have service animals, the University of Northern Colorado supports the right of individuals with disabilities to enjoy full access to their programs and services. This allows service animals to be present in classrooms, but only if they are with their handler.
Service animals are animals who are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for individuals with a disability. This includes physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual or other mental disabilities. Knowing the difference between a service animal and a pet can be difficult in Colorado. State law doesn’t require the animal to be wearing a vest, listed on a registry or have paperwork declaring the animal as a service animal.
Kathryn Dobson, a senior studying French education at UNC, believes that Colorado should require all service animals to wear a vest.
“I think if they’re registered and needed for the person, service animals need to be required to wear their vests while on campus,” she said. “Usually, it’s pretty obvious that it’s a service animal because of the vest. But I think the handlers should be transparent and tell people about their animals.”
Dobson said she believes that service animals are a great addition to the community but is wary of how easy the process is to obtain one. She believes that the idea of service animals is abused because people can say any animal is their service animal without registering them.
Sharing a class with a service animal that doesn’t wear a vest can be challenging for students.
Dallas Parsons, a junior studying studio art in ceramics, is another student who shares a fully enrolled class with a non-vested service dog.
“If the class is crowded, usually handlers will sit at the end of the row with the dog beside them so it’s away from the other people’s personal spaces and can be attentive to its owner,” Parsons said. “This is an important practice because having a service animal in the classroom is essentially like having another person, and they deserve and require their own personal space in addition to the rest of the students.”
Parsons recently had an altercation with the unvested service dog that is in their class. It resulted in the dog biting their leg and causing them to not attend class for the next week. The incident was reported to the Title IX office, where an investigation is in the process.
Although the incident left Parsons feeling anxious and unsettled, they still have faith in the service animal community.
Parsons said they believe that service animals are an amazing resource on campus that students should take advantage of if they find themselves needing constant assistance that only a service animal can provide.
If someone needs assistance from a service animal, they need to contact the Title IX office, located in the University Center.