By KRISTEN TOLLAS
According to the Service and Assistance Animals, Animal Mascots and Pets policy at Drake University, a service animal is a animal who has been trained to benefit an individual with a disability. Service animals with proper documentation are allowed in any academic area as well as residence halls.
“I believe there is only one student with a service animal,” Michelle Laughlin, the Student Disability Services coordinator at Drake, said in an email.
Abby Kitto, a senior at Drake, was diagnosed with epilepsy at 18 and was later diagnosed with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia syndrome and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome in Sept. 2016. Two years ago, Kitto started training with Sadie, her cardiac and seizure alert service dog. Sadie alerts her five to 15 minutes before an episode by the scent of Kitto’s pheromones when her blood pressure drops. In addition, Sadie hands items to Kitto when her joints dislocate due to Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.
“If I didn’t have her now I wouldn’t be able to drive anymore, be able to go to class, be able to have a life,” Kitto said.
Having a service dog allowed Kitto to have independence; however, Kitto has made sacrifices to have Sadie.
“It’s not fun taking a service dog everywhere, like I’m the girl with the dog,” Kitto said. “It’s weird to be 22 and not be able to go to bars since drunk people and dogs don’t go well together.”
Although Drake has a nondiscriminatory policy about the use of service animals, some students are uneducated about the proper way to treat a service animal.
“People are generally fairly knowledgeable,” said Brian Sweeney, an adjunct accounting professor at Drake who trains service dogs. “I have more problems with people asking to come up and pet the dog or people making the stupid kissy noises trying to get the dog’s attention. It’s just bad manners.”
The Puppy Jake Foundation taught Sweeney to treat the dog like medical equipment when first teaching him how to properly train service dogs. Sweeney now shares this technique with his students at Drake.
Kitto said she has not experienced any major discrimination while attending Drake. She said she has never been denied access to buildings either.
“At Drake, people are very inquisitive, very respectful,” Kitto said. “But you do have the few people who are like what’s wrong with you, why do you have a dog? There’s definitely been a snarky response from me that’s like, ‘Oh I’m sorry, I didn’t know we were exchanging personal information – what’s your bra size?’”
Without the help of her dog, Kitto is dependent on others. Taking care of Kitto’s dog is a full-time commitment.
“Your life completely changes with a service animal,” Kitto said. “It’s for the better, but your life completely shifts.”