Support dogs open doors to opportunity

Amoura Deering , Staff Writer

Dogs, who doesn’t love them?

They’re friendly and obedient. They bring joy to those around them, and they’re highly intelligent, which is why they’re the top choice for service animals.

“The role or function of a service or emotional support animal varies,” said Margaret Grayson, disability specialist in the Disability Resources Department on campus. “A service animal might alert someone with diabetes that it’s necessary for them to take insulin or a service animal might open doors for someone with limited physical strength. In the case of emotional support animals, there is also variation.  In some cases, the animal might sense a panic attack coming on and direct their owner to pet or stroke them.”

According to the University of Arizona, 0.9 percent of people with disabilities are partnered with service dogs. The animals significantly impact the lives of their handler each and every day, whether they pick up a dropped item or prevent an anxiety attack.

Santa Rosa is home to an organization that trains dogs and pairs them with individuals who are in need.

“Our program raises puppies to become service animals for those who are physically impaired, whether you’re bound to a wheelchair or deaf,” said Michelle Williams, director of public relations at Canine Companions for Independence.

CCI is a leader in supplying service animals to handicapped people here in the United States. The program takes care of the animal’s veterinary costs for the lifetime of the pairing.

First year student Kayla Pepper, 21, suffers from depression and severe anxiety that used to control her everyday life. She has always loved animals, especially dogs, because they bring her immense joy.

Pepper spoke with her doctor about the possibility of an emotional support dog and received an enthusiastic response. With the help of her doctor, she was paired with her certified emotional support dog, Bristol, in February 2016.

“Bristol has made a huge impact in my life. Yes, she can be tough sometimes because of her breed, part dingo, but I wouldn’t be as happy if I didn’t have her around. She knows when I’m sad and needing her.”

Service dogs are allowed at Santa Rosa Junior College, whether they’re in the library, cafeteria or classroom. When it is not obvious what service the dog provides, college officials can ask two questions: Is the service dog required because of a disability and what work or task has the dog been trained to perform, stated an official college document provided by Grayson.

Service animals change lives for many, whether you’re a handler or know someone who is. The lifelong emotional impact is priceless.