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UWRF new animal policy 'lets the dogs out'

December 14, 2022

UWRF’s new animal policy does not protect those with service animals and service animals in training. Campus can already be difficult to navigate for people with disabilities, and adding restrictions to which places people with service animals and service animals in training are allowed to traverse creates unnecessary struggle for everyone. 

According to Jennifer Larimore, the Title IX Coordinator and the writer of the policy, “[the school] had interest in putting together a policy to cover specifically service animals so that folks on campus would be clear on the role of service animals and what you could ask and composition of it took place over the summer of 2022.” 

Larimore also spoke about her collaboration with the disability resource center and residence life in the creation of the policy. Larimore received feedback from the dean of students, student success, HR, campus police, and risk management. 

I am an ADEPT intern, which means that I work every day with my service dog in training. ADEPT’s goal is to teach all of its interns about disability advocacy and the service dog industry as a whole. 

The idea to implement an animal policy on campus is beneficial. The policy should be a clear statement on the university’s expectations of the handlers of service dogs and service dogs in training, as well as the owners of emotional support animal’s (ESA’s) and pet owners. It also should protect these people and animals from any sort of harrasment or discrimination they may experience while living and learning on campus. 

The current policy does a great job at explaining what the general university community should not do to distract the animals from their work. It also does a good job of explaining to the wider River Falls community what they need to do while walking their pets around campus. Though the policy explains that the general campus community should not distract the animals, it doesn't explain what to do if that happens. What will be the consequences if someone violates the policy, whether intentionally or unintentionally?

The policy also doesn’t achieve its original goal of explaining what people can or cannot ask service animal handlers. In fact, the policy is more restrictive than informative.

I believe that there are three glaring issues with the policy as of right now. First, service dogs are not allowed to walk through the first floor of the Food Science addition in the Agricultural Science building. Second, service dogs in training are not allowed in any classroom without specific acceptance of the instructor. Lastly, students are not allowed to train an animal in university dwelling even if it has been approved by the university.

According to the ADA, “all programs of postsecondary institutions, including extracurricular activities, must be accessible to students with disabilities.”  From my understanding, the first floor of the Food Science addition has classrooms on either side of the dairy plant. 

Students with service dogs would, instead of being able to walk from one end of the hallway to the other, have to go up a flight of stairs, walk across the hallway above, go down another flight of stairs, and finally get to class. In addition, the access to the elevator is also on the first floor of the Food Science addition, so in the situation of someone with a wheelchair as well as a service animal, they would be unable to use the stairs, so would have no choice but to go through the prohibited area. As such, this decision is both discriminatory and ridiculous.  

According to Wisconsin statute 106.52, service dog and service dog in training handlers have the same rights to public spaces. The university allows service dogs to go everywhere on campus, except for the first floor of the Food Science addition. Service dogs in training and their handlers are also not allowed to be separated. Preventing service dogs in training from going into a classroom not only separates the working pair, but also removes the handlers right to occupy a place that the university has already deemed public. 

Larimore stated, “We have a bit of a disagreement about how Wisconsin law operates in this area, and I would just want students and others at the university to know, as well in terms of our service animal in training draft policy, we are consistent with what other universities are doing, in terms of saying that service animals in training are only permitted in those areas that are open to the public. So other institutions, if you look at their policy, they don’t permit them in the classrooms and they say that specifically.” Perhaps this issue is more widespread among universities than we originally thought.

Larimore also, “In that way we are, I think, more open to permitting service animals in training then a lot of other schools potentially are at least under their policy as they have it written.” As the university is known for its companion animal programs, I would hope that they would not want to hinder the hands-on learning experiences that already benefit students.

Not allowing students to train animals in a university dwelling after they have already been approved doesn’t make much sense. Correcting behaviors and practicing cues are what keeps the animal safe, as well as people and other animals in close proximity.

The policy is currently working its way through the faculty senate and student senate, where, according to Larimore, everyone is welcome to give feedback. Larimore spoke on the future of the policy, saying, “It would be nice to get some practice with it and have the chance to look at it over the summer from a very practical lens and there is not a firm implementation date at this point.”

From my experience as an ADEPT intern who works as a handler for a service dog in training, it feels very two-faced to have the university marketing itself using our program on campus tours, (specifically asking ADEPT interns to be in the Amazon show), and then turn around and limit our access to campus facilities just because we have a service dog in training. 

To me it feels like we are being used by the university for promotional and recruitment purposes, and not being supported by the university. One of ADEPT’s goals as a program is to advocate for people with disabilities, and, because of that goal we are taught about the many different laws surrounding service animals, service animals in training, and ESA’s. 

In all, the university’s idea of an animal policy is objectively a good one but the way that it is executed falls short, and is both confusing and discriminatory. Rather than following the trend of other institutions, the university should be the leaders of a system wide change, that shows everyone just how limitless we are.  

Lexi Janzer is a student at UW-River Falls.

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