Unfortunately, we often hear in the press of schools refusing to allow service dogs in the classroom to work with their child partners. Either the school believes that they can provide the services that the service dog does, they’re concerned as to whether the child can fully handle the dog (including its potty breaks), or they simply don’t want a dog in the classroom.
In my case, the situation is a little different. I’m a Professor at Algoma University and my service dog accompanies me everywhere that I go, including my classroom. It takes a lot of time to train a service dog to handle a classroom situation. I often teach three hour classes. That’s a long time for a dog to hold a down stay. However, Kai (my service dog) does that on a weekly basis.
When I first started taking my service dog to class I was probably as nervous about how the students would handle the situation as much as how my dog would do. I shouldn’t have worried. My students are outstanding. They totally ignore Kai, even though many of them would love to pet him.
For his part, he curls up behind the lectern and as long as I stay within his sight he stays there for the full class unless he needs to alert me. His alerts are subtle and often not even noticed by the students. Sometimes I move out of his sight without thinking and he’ll come up to me and sit or lie down next to me until I move back near the lectern once more. Then he’ll return to his spot and wait. My classroom and my office are the only times that he’s off leash. The rest of the time I wear a cross-body leash that has him attached to me but leaves my hands free.
The only time that students even mention him after the first couple of weeks of classes is when he has his winter or summer boots on to protect his feet. I will admit that he does look cute in his boots though it’s like having a toddler watching to make sure that he always has four on and hasn’t managed to take one off. He’s good with them though as long as I get them on well he leaves them alone.
Kai is trained as a hearing dog primarily, then for mobility and mental health. Unfortunately, it wasn’t appropriate to train him as an allergy alert dog as my main allergen, citrus, is so prevalent in society and a dog’s nose so sensitive that he would be constantly alerting. Having said that, Kai has trained himself to respond to my having an allergic reaction far more quickly than I even notice that I’m having one. So, I’ve learned to listen to him and his actions and consequently saved myself from several anaphylactic reactions by being able to remove myself from the allergen quickly enough.
My colleagues are so used to my having Kai with me that if I’m ever alone, the first question is always ‘Where’s Kai?’. I’m not alone often but he does have to be clipped every six weeks to keep him looking good. Kai attends meetings with me and has a bed in my office where he can relax comfortably while I work.
Even though he’s a poodle, which are considered hypoallergenic, the University has accommodated people who are allergic to him as well as accommodating my need to have him with me. I can’t thank our Human Resources department enough for all the work they have done in this regard.
One day, we’ll probably come across another service dog team in the workplace when a student brings their service dog to class. It hasn’t happened so far but as the use of service dogs becomes more prevalent I’m sure that day isn’t long off.
For today though, I’m thankful that my employer accommodates my needs without any great debate and that I have never had to fight for accommodation in this area like so many students have.