I just read the New York Daily News article about a former Gay Games athlete pushing the issue of having what he alleges is a therapy dog on a nude beach. I recognize that a nude beach is a much different context from an institute of higher education, but thought it offered a good springboard for discussion.
In my last position, I was involved in a discussion with the head of Risk Management regarding the difference between service animals and therapy animals. Our college developed a specific policy regarding service animals, making sure to delineate the allowances for them versus therapy dogs.
I might add that I travel with a Seeing Eye dog, so I do have some qualified understanding about this area of discussion. At least I do for the scope of service animals. I had to do some research for the therapy animal part of the discussion.
According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, “Service Animal means any guide dog, signal dog or other animal individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including but not limited to guiding individuals with impaired vision, alerting individuals with impaired hearing to intruders, providing minimal rescue or protection work, pulling a wheelchair or fetching dropped items.”
It was interesting to find that there is no single, standard certifying authority for therapy animals. There were, in fact, several groups that I found during an internet search offering certification for therapy dog training. The criteria for certification seemed to vary by the group offering it, but all of the training seemed skimpish and minimal when compared to the intensive, specifically detailed work that I know Seeing Eye dogs are put through with professional dog trainers.
I also found an informative web site which offered the follwing description of the differences between service dogs and therapy dogs. “Therapy dogs, on the other hand, perform their tasks by invitation. The owner of a therapy dog has no more "right" of access to a hospital, nursing home, or public place than any other able-bodied person with a pet. (Note that the "right" accrues to the person, in either case, not to the dog! This is a crucial distinction that many fail to make.)” “most hospitals and some nursing homes require a lot of paperwork before a therapy dog sets foot in the facility--the same facility where any person with a disability has a clear right to enter with his or her service dog.” An interesting aspect of this website is that it is hosted by a handler of a therapy dog. However, while it is being a therapy dog handler which allows the web site host to speak with authority, it is her position as a professor at the College of Charleston in South Carolina, and her offered virtual lecture on therapy dogs, which gives her some credibility on the matter.
The bottom line, and reason for this subject as a post is to pose the question, “What is your school’s policy on service animals and therapy animals?”
The matter may never get raise at your school, but if it ever does, being proactive is much better than reactive.