Service animals are an active part of Willamette’s campus, and it is important that people treat them with respect. Naturally, seeing an animal gets a person excited, but sometimes being cautious of one’s actions is necessary.
More often than not, it is easy to assume that an animal enjoys attention and wants to be pet, but this is not always the case. Being mindful of the service animals on campus is crucial to improving the wellbeing of students with disabilities.
According to Sam Nurmi (‘22), a member of Willamette’s Disability Advocacy Club, the manner of greeting a service animal is crucial. She says in reference to her dog, Newton, “People cannot just come up, because he is working.” If the area is more crowded, he is most likely working, and it can be stressful if someone comes up and tries to greet him. However, if Newton’s vest is off and they are just playing around, “they can treat him like a normal dog.”
Often, people will greet service animals without permission of the owner or the person they are assisting. Nurmi said that if people ask to pet her dog and if she says no, they should “respect it” and not “take it personally, because he’s just doing his job.”
Nurmi added: “The handlers of the dogs are people. It is nice for you to say hello to us and not just our dogs!” Often, people are distracted by the animal, but make sure to greet the handlers and ask permission before you pet their service animal.
Getting a service animal can also be a tricky process. Nurmi explained, “They’re one of the last treatments you should try, and it should not be a decision you should make on your own.”
Program service animals are also very expensive, and so Nurmi actually worked with a trainer to train Newton herself. Nurmi’s animal is fully trained by law, and is trained in medical alert and response. She also explained that Oregon has public access rights for service dogs in training, so it would be possible to train on campus, if students are seeking this as an option. Currently, Newton is working on public access, and how to perfect day-to-day actions. Training can look like a lot of “tasking,” as Nurmi called it, as they learn what exactly to do in medical emergencies.
There are a number of organizations that offer people access to service animals. For example, Katherine Locker (‘23) got her dog from Canine Companions for Independence. The program that Locker’s golden lab mix was in included a training of two years, so from birth, he was in training.
Having a service animal can be stressful for the owner, especially when students or people passing by have an urge to pet the service animal. It is important for people to be wary of the signs on service animals, which may ask people to not touch them. Locker explained that touching them is “a hindrance to the animal.” The service animal’s ultimate task is to focus on the person they’re with, and by not being mindful of the animal, this can take away from the animal’s job and focus on its handler.
The Disability Advocacy Club meets weekly on Monday in Ford 201 from 5:10 to 6 p.m.