Written by guest blogger Sara
First published October 20, 2015
Greetings! My name is Sara, and I am a full-time college student studying biology. My owner-trained service dog, Velvet, is an Australian Shepherd. There are many educational posts about service dogs and public access, but that is only a small part of their daily activities they experience with their handler. I have seen various potential handlers and current handlers wondering how being a service dog handler works while in college. This sparked my idea to do a write-up about how an average day in college while accompanied by a service dog works for me.
Let’s start off with how I prepare for Velvet’s day with me.
I have a bag filled with Velvet’s supplies. These supplies include a mat, a popup crate, a travel water bowl, boots, and a rain coat. We don’t use each of these supplies every day, but it’s good to be prepared.
I am fortunate in that I have a ten-minute break in between my back-to-back classes, and that all of my classes and laboratories are in the same building. When you are creating a class schedule, as a SD handler it is important to factor in time for your dog to be able to take a break and do their business. Especially for those on bigger campuses where you might have to go from one side of campus to the other in a mere ten-minute window.
Now on to our day!
“This was a big test, but I had worked with Velvet on impulse control around various distractions.”
Currently, my lectures can last from 50 to 90 minutes depending on the days the class is scheduled. For this, Velvet has to lay quietly and not be a disturbance to the class. I also picked out a seat where she wouldn’t be obstructing an aisle as she cannot comfortably tuck under the desks in the classrooms. This is where the mat comes in handy, so she can lay beside my desk while I’m taking notes and participating in class.
Along with sitting through calm lectures, she also has to be calm during the more exciting lectures. One time my physics professor was throwing a ball around the classroom to various students while lecturing about free-fall objects. This was a big test, but I had worked with Velvet on impulse control around various distractions. Even in “boring” lectures, you have to be prepared for anything!
During my longer breaks in between lectures, I might go to the computer lab to work on coursework. In this case, Velvet will go into a tuck underneath the desk as to not take up additional room. If I don’t have anything to work on, I will go to the coffee shop and chat with friends over a frappe. I also have to consider that Velvet has been cooped up in lectures, and could use an off-duty break. This is especially important to remember if I have a lab that day, as that can last 3-4 hours. So often, I will take her for an off-duty walk around campus to let her stretch her legs and have some fun. After all, at the end of the day, she is a dog!
This is one topic that has different responses. To take your service dog to laboratories or not? In my experience thus far, it depends. For example, I do not take Velvet to my biochemistry lab due to the chemicals we are working with. I do not want to expose her to that, or disrupt that kind of environment by bringing in a dog. But for my physics lab, as long as we aren’t working with projectiles, I bring her. She is underneath the lab table on her mat, and I let her work on her Benebone for entertainment while my lab partner and I work on the experiment.
Along with my credit hour labs, I am also doing independent research in paleobotany. Part of my research includes making acetate peels of specimens, part of which involves having to etch the fossils in a tub of hydrofluoric acid. I am in a lab coat, rubber apron, rubber gloves and a face shield, so I obviously wouldn’t bring Velvet into this environment. My research setup is in a lab side room, so when I am working on my project, I have Velvet’s popup crate set up in the main lab. The lab room she is set up in only hosts introductory level biology courses, so she is not exposed to chemicals there.
Overall, while we had to make some adjustments, we were still able to work around having a service dog in college. While it might seem daunting to have to not only adjust from “college life” to “college with a furry shadow life,” the benefits of the accommodation were worth it. My daily life has been enhanced with Velvet by my side as I go through my education.