As twenty-year-old Cristina Vazquez gets ready for school in the morning she checks to make sure she has her keys, backpack, and dog treats. “Spero [pronounced Sparrow] loves to have a snack between classes so my homework consistently smells like bacon,” says Vazquez giggling. “I have a seizure/fainting disorder, Spero, a Blue Heeler/Lab mix, works as a seizure response dog. She warns me before a seizure is coming so that I can prepare for it.”
At Salt Lake Community College, Vazquez is just one of thirty students that use a service dog to aide them on campus.
The Americans With Disabilities Act defines service animals as “Dogs individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability. Tasks can range from calming a veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder to retrieving keys from a hook on the wall.”
Training a service dog takes time and money
The specialty training takes vast amounts of time to teach the dogs, starting from the first week they are born. Getting a dog to regularly perform specific tasks can take years of practice and patience.
Canine Assistants places dogs through a labor-intensive, 18-month program that begins with neuromuscular stimulation exercises when puppies are only 2 days old. These exercises, originally used to prepare military dogs, prepare the animals to handle potentially stressful situations.
Professional trainers also teach dogs to retrieve items for individuals with mobility issues, and a network of volunteers places them in social situations, such as working in an office or taking public transportation.
It is estimated that Canine Assistants spends about $24,500 on training as well as lifetime care for each service animal.
When dogs are ready, the organization uses extensive personality tests to identify 12 to 14 individuals from a waiting list of more than 1,600 people. During a two-week training camp, dogs interact with families and then make their selection.
How service dogs help humans
Service dogs are being used to aid those suffering from a vide variety of disabilities. In the past, they were trained primarily as Seeing Eye dogs for the blind. Now, service dogs are used to assist with paralysis, autism, epilepsy (in Vazquez’s case) and many other health and psychological problems.
A recent BuzzFeed article listed the tremendous accomplishments of service dogs and how their amazing skills provide life-saving care for those with disabilities. At the top of their list “8 Types Of Service Dogs We Should Be Grateful For”, was a seizure response dog, just like Spero.
Kaelin Tully stated, “These dogs are placed with people who have epilepsy or a seizure disorder. Their range of responsibility is wide, from alerting another person when their human is having a seizure to standing in between their human and the floor to “break the fall at the inception of the seizure.”
With a few exceptions, service dogs can accompany human partners anywhere that’s open to the public, including airports or restaurants and school.
Dogs must wear a leash or tether, unless it interferes with accomplishing a task. But the ADA does not require gear identifying them as working dogs, and business owners can only make limited inquiries when it is not obvious what service the animal provides.
Campus policy regarding service dogs
According to the Disability Resource Center (DRC), SLCC personnel are allowed ask a person two questions about their dog:
1. Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?
2. What work or task has the dog been trained to perform?
These animals are not pets. When there is a service dog on campus, they are not to be played with. These dogs are on the job. Ask the owner for permission before touching their animal.
SLCC takes pride in working with people who have disabilities to allow them a comfortable environment and have all their needs taken care of so they can receive an education. The DRC strives to provide an equal opportunity learning atmosphere.
Vazquez is grateful that she can bring Spero with her to school, “My seizures were happening all the time and it was interfering with my life. Now that I have Spero, I can go to school, drive my car, and teach a dance class. Spero and I take care of each other. I can’t imagine going through a day without her.”