By Henry Shorr
Service dogs on campus may be adorable, but it is important to remember that they are here for a reason, and it’s not to be petted or admired by strangers.
There is a big difference between a service animal and an emotional support animal. Service dogs have been trained to complete a specific task for the person they work for while an emotional support animal is more for comfort or to make someone feel better.
Gina McGranahan, associate director in the Resch Academic Success Center in charge of Accessibility Services, helps students and faculty with the process of navigating Youngstown State University with service animals. She wants people to know how important it is to not distract service animals while they are on duty.
“A service dog performs a task for the person. If the dog is on duty — which, when they are on campus, nine times out of 10 they are on duty — they are working,” McGranahan said. “If you go up to pet the service animal or if you try to play with it, feed it — all those kinds of things — you are making it so the dog is not working.”
Service animals need to stay focused to ensure the safety of their owner.
“If the student needs the animal — if it alerts it for something — it might not do what it’s supposed to do because you are distracting the animal from its duty. And that could cause a problem for the student,” McGranahan said.
Sally Frederick, a senior majoring in advocacy and community management, brings her service dog to school with her. Ripley, who is 5 years old, has been working with Frederick since the dog was 6 months old. Frederick said she fends off admirers of Ripley all the time when they are on campus together.
“Everyone wants to pet her. If ever I say, ‘No, please don’t pet my dog,’ it’s just because you are probably the 50th person to ask today and it does get stressful,” Frederick said.
McGranahan reinforced Frederick’s point about not touching a service animal without permission.
“They have every right to say no. That’d be just like somebody asking if they can touch you. No means no,” McGranahan said.
Frederick’s policy to follow if you see a service dog on campus — or anywhere — is to ignore them. They have a job to do.