Service and assistance animals at CSU provide a helping paw

Erick Plattner

Video by news producer Brynn Carman

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Every day across the Colorado State University campus, dozens of students are accompanied and assisted by their service dogs and assistance animals.

The CSU Resources for Disabled Students office maintains that there are two types of animals allowed on campus: service animals and assistance animals. The former directly performs tasks for individuals, while the latter helps to reduce the symptoms or effects of a disability.

In accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, CSU defines a service animal as, “Any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability.”

Junior equine science major, Alyssa Reinhart, walks her service dog, Amora, across campus to her afternoon classes on Wednesday. (Photo credit: Dina Alibrahim Fike)
Junior equine science major, Alyssa Reinhart, walks her service dog, Amora, across campus to her afternoon classes on Wednesday. (Photo credit: Dina Alibrahim Fike)

Only dogs are recognized as service animals on campus.

For almost three years now, CSU junior Alyssa Reinhart has received help from her service dog Amora, a chocolate lab. Nearly every day, Amora helps Reinhart traverse the campus.

“I trained her myself,” said Reinhart, an animal sciences major. “It made that bond so much stronger because it’s not like she had to listen to someone else, then all of a sudden switch over and listen to me.”

Assistance animals, occasionally referred to as emotional support animals, accommodate students with disabilities in numerous ways, according to Rosemary Kreston, the University’s director of RSD.

CSU junior Kenady Chisholm, a psychology student, began utilizing the assistance animal program last semester.

“I decided it was really something that I needed and something that I should pursue,” Chisholm said.

Alabaster, her cat, has been living with Chisholm since finals week in May. Chisholm said that the orange tabby keeps her calm and centered.

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“Having a life be dependent on you, being responsible for another life; it kind of puts things into perspective,” Chisholm said.

Assistance animals, unlike service dogs, are not allowed inside classrooms and recreational facilities. They are permitted only in the University’s housing residences.

Whether it is a cat, a rat or a reptile, Kreston states that assistance animals can include anything that helps center a person.

“These are not pets,” Kreston said. “They are assistance animals.”

According to Reinhart, it is quite common for people to want to pet Amora when she is working. Whether or not Reinhart allows others to pet her service dog often depends on the situation.

“It depends on how they approach me,” Reinhart said. “If they’re really excited and they’re going to get her excited, then no. She is working and I want her to remain calm. But if they approach in a (proper) manner and they ask, I will let them pet her … I want her to know to stay calm while she’s working and being pet.”

The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits individuals from asking persons with service or assistance animals why they require the animal.

“The only thing they are allowed to ask is, ‘is this a service dog?’” Reinhart said.

The University’s regulations require service dogs to “be identifiable to others through a visible signifier.”

“With Amora, I have a little badge and on the back it has the Americans with Disability Act,” Reinhart said.

Kreston claims that vests and harnesses work to dissuade individuals from attempting to pet or distract service dogs.

“People bring their dogs to campus,” Kreston said. “It’s better for the person with the service dog to have some indication, because otherwise people will just think it’s their pet.”

Whether they are helping students with low vision or recognizing and assisting during seizures, service and assistance animals perform their daily duties all across campus.

“A lot of professors don’t realize I have a dog until I turn in my first test,” Reinhart said. “They’re like, ‘She’s been here the whole time?’ Yup, everyday.”

Collegian Reporter Erick Plattner can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @ErickPlattner.