While most students strut across campus with their laptops and books in hand, some Knights are guided by furry friends with cold noses and wagging tails.
Service dogs, therapy dogs and emotional-support animals, or ESAs, play life-changing roles to students who need them, but positive recognition and respect for them and their handlers don’t always come easily — etiquette issues begin to arise with having an assistance dog on campus.
Assistance-dog etiquette is more than just a suggested list of rules, and disregarding even one of these rules can endanger both the handler and dog. There are important distinctions between the three types of working or assistance animals, but the etiquette is just as important to each.
Service dogs, which are trained to perform tasks for people with disabilities, have to pass intelligence and temperament tests, as well as be trained for public access and specific tasks to aid the dog handler. ESAs do not require professional training, but are used for a variety of mental and emotional conditions. They provide therapeutic support to their owners through companionship. Therapy dogs, which typically aid handlers in their workplaces, are like service dogs in that they are tested for obedience and temperament.
Canine Companions for Independence, a non-profit organization that provides highly trained assistance dogs and ongoing support for people with disabilities, has a list of general etiquette rules on its website. The site states that no one should ever touch or feed an assistance dog without asking permission and should not make distracting noises at the dog. Additionally, etiquette includes speaking directly to the handler and not the dog.
Martha Johnson, the CCI public relations coordinator, said etiquette always applies to assistance dogs, even for puppies in training.
Kyra Clark, a sophomore journalism major, has noticed students disrespecting the assistance-dog etiquette and said she believes students would highly benefit from an etiquette flier or notice. Her service dog Tyson is a 2-and-a-half-year-old retriever and shepherd mix who accompanies her to class and around campus. Clark said she’s had students make barking noises at Tyson, trying to be funny.
“One guy actually kicked him as he walked by,” Clark said. However, due to his obedience training and testing, Tyson did not react in any visible way toward the behavior.
Nikki Gigold, a junior health sciences pre-clinical major, uses an ESA, also by the name of Tyson. Tyson is a 5-year-old boxer and pit bull mix who accompanies her to class and various events.
While students are generally respectful of the ESA vest that Tyson wears, Gigold said there are still issues with students respecting the no-petting and no-noise-distraction rules. Like Clark, Gigold said she has had students make growling sounds at her assistance dog.
Texas A&M International University provides a pamphlet to students on its Disability Services department website explaining the etiquette. Gigold and Clark said they believe students at UCF could benefit from such a pamphlet so their assistance animals aren’t deterred from their jobs.
Although UCF does not have a pamphlet, the university's website states there is a no-pets policy on campus and in its on-campus residence halls, with “occasional exceptions to that policy for service animals and ESAs when absolutely necessary for disability reasons, consistent with federal law and state statute.”
More information on assistance-dog etiquette on be found on CCI's website.
Gabrielle Versmessen is a Contributing Writer for the Central Florida Future.