Service dogs are animals that provide service to their owners. They are trained through hard work, dedication and patience for one purpose only: to help their handlers in everyday life. As more service animals are welcomed on campus, two service dog handlers wish students, faculty and staff could learn more about their companions.
Senior English major Ness Calloway and senior studio art major Lizzy Sinning are two students with service dogs on campus.
Calloway’s service dog, Ozzie, is a 2-year-old male Labrador and Great Dane mix. Sinning’s service dog, Lily, is a 10-year-old female yellow Labrador and Rhodesian ridgeback mix.
There are different types of service dogs, including mobile dogs, medical alert dogs, and psychiatric alert dogs. Ozzie is a psychiatric alert and mobility service dog and Lily is a psychiatric alert service dog.
“A service dog is a dog that’s been trained to do a specific job, usually multiple tasks,” Calloway said. “So, for example, if you’re blind, your dog is trained to guide you to places, to stop you from running into the middle of the street.”
“They are as different as ESAs,” Sinning said. “ESA is an emotional support animal. ESAs do not need to undergo any training. A service animal is there to provide work, not just comfort.
Sinning and Calloway’s service dogs were not specifically bred to be service dogs. Lily was rescued from a Craiglist ad when she was 5 weeks old.
“He was a rescue taken from his mother too soon,” Sinning said. “Someone on Craigslist bought two dogs for her boyfriend to choose from, and if he couldn’t sell, he was going to put the other one down.”
Sinning and Calloway saved Ozzie from living on the streets in the trash can like a puppy.
Ozzie and Lily started basic obedience training right away, but they couldn’t start service dog training until they were older.
“Learning both obedience and service dog training at the same time is really complicated,” Calloway said.
Ozzie started working as a service dog when he was 1 year old and Lily started working as a service dog when she was about 4 years old.
Calloway said he took care of Ozzie’s needs the first year he wasn’t in service dog training.
“He was showing signs that he wanted to help,” Calloway said. “He’s shown to be very attuned to my anxiety and depression and other things, which is a really good sign for service dogs, if they’re trained to do that, if they’re already prone to psychiatric need.”
Sinning said Lily learned his service dog training quickly.
“I was happy that, having been with him for a long time, he already understood everything,” Sinning said. “So it was to reinforce what he was already doing.”
Calloway and their specialized trainer worked with Ozzie and familiarized him with the tasks he would perform.
“We tried to get him used to the smell of an anxiety attack because dogs can sense a chemical change,” Calloway said. “Then, after that, we worked on the tasks that he had to do so that he would alert me if there was an attack.”
According to Calloway and Sinning, service dogs are held to a higher standard than house dogs.
“You don’t have to go through a trainer, but it’s recommended,” Sinning said. “They have to be able to behave well in society and do the work that is needed.”
“They don’t really get to move very often. They have to behave themselves, and that’s why they’re allowed in public places like grocery stores, schools,” Calloway said. “There are very few places where service dogs are not allowed.”
It allows Ozzie Calloway to get a better education.
“One of the main things that Ozzie has allowed me to do here at school is that I now have an equal education, which means I now have all the facilities I need to get a better education,” Calloway said. “I could have had a panic attack before I was allowed to bring it on campus and it would have caused me to really not pay attention to things. I would skip most of my classes. I wouldn’t care about my job.”
Callway said Ozzie makes it easy for them to do simple things like work at the Recreation, Fitness and Wellness Center, going to class and getting their homework done on time.
“Having him here really helps,” Calloway said. “If it wasn’t for him, I probably would have dropped out because it was so stressful.”
Sinning said the biggest thing Lily did for him was keeping him safe.
“I know I’m going to be safe in any environment I’m in,” Sinning said. “When I have a bad experience and am attacked, I know he will be there to protect me and others.”
Overall, Sinning said his time on campus has been great, but his freshman year has not been great.
“The first year I was on campus, there was a lot of negativity on campus from the staff,” Sinning said. “People insulted and shouted at me. He said he was a “fake service dog”. I let the professors touch him without permission.”
Sinning said he saw those problems stop after he left campus. His time on campus has improved since his freshman year.
Calloway said his experiences with Ozzie on campus were very complicated.
“The school itself makes it very difficult to understand the rules about service dogs,” Calloway said. “For people who want service dogs or need service dogs, it’s very difficult to actually get them onto campus seamlessly.”
“My classes, my professors and my work were very comfortable,” Calloway said. “But the problems I face are my disability and mistreatment of my dog.”
Calloway said students and faculty on campus began contacting Ozzie and distracting him without their consent. They said they were worried about having to deal with people communicating with Ozzie without their permission.
“Technically, under federal law, Ozzie is the equivalent of a wheelchair or crutches,” Calloway said. “Would you go up and stroke the wheelchair? No, you wouldn’t. It’s strange.”
Calloway and Sinning said they want people on campus to educate themselves about service dogs and understand why they may not be able to connect with them.
“I want people to be more aware of their interactions with service dogs,” Calloway said. “The best advice I can give someone is not to over look a service dog. Do not shout at the dog. You can approach the handler to a certain point and say, ‘Hey, your dogs are great.'”
Calloway’s service dog, Ozzie, rolls on the lawn next to the University Center Fountain on September 1. When Ozzie is off work, he acts like any other dog, loving to chew on his wheel toy and watch TV. (Photo by Crystal Killian)
Sinning said the best way to find out about a particular service dog is to ask its handler distracting their dogs.
“The only way to educate yourself is to ask,” Sinning said. “I mean, Google is free, but if you really want to know, just ask.”
Sinning said he plans to let Lily retire in March.
“Most dogs usually retire at about 7 years old, but after talking to my vet, we decided to let him work until he says he’s done so he can still perform his duties,” Sinning said.
Sinning is currently training a new service dog to replace Lily. Sinning’s new service dog is Freya, a 7-month-old Bernese Mountain Dog. He told Lily that once Freya was fully trained, she would retire and live out the rest of her life as a house dog.