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Westminster student faces misconceptions surrounding service animals


Westminster loves dogs, but there is some confusion about the difference between service animals, emotional support animals and pets.

Service animals are allowed to be anywhere the public is and are not required to wear identification, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act

This is not common knowledge to most, making it more difficult for those with service animals to get around when they are stopped to explain themselves. 

“She’s the reason that I can be here and that I can be successful in college because she gives me the freedom that I wouldn’t have otherwise,” said Quinn Winter, a first-year undeclared major about their service dog Sarabi. 

Lucy Wilks holds their service dog Bailey on their shoulders on The Green outside of their apartment building. Bailey has been in training for four months and knows how to do most of her tasks but is not yet perfect, Wilks said.
(Lewis Figun Westbrook)

Lucy Wilks, a sophomore undeclared major, said that due to lack of knowledge on campus, it takes them twice as long to get to class since getting their service dog.

People will often stop Wilks to take photos, pet and play with their service dog, Bailey. These distractions stop Bailey from doing her job.

“She’s probably one of the best or most well-behaved dogs I know,” said Ellen Young, a junior neuroscience major who lives in the same apartment as Wilks and Bailey.

The Forum spoke to Lucy Wilks about their service dog and the misconceptions students may have. Answers have been lightly edited for conciseness and clarity. 

Q. Can you tell me about Bailey?

Bailey is a psychiatric service dog primarily for PTSD. So most of her task work involves alerting me to like someone coming up behind me or looking around corners. She also does like tactile stimulation to calm me down and alerts to rises in my heart rate when I’m becoming anxious.

Q. How did you learn that a service dog would be helpful for you?

I have always loved animals. And I grew up with everything but a dog because my mom didn’t really want a dog when we were little. So I had you know cats, chickens, everything else, and when I was in high school, I did therapy with horses and it was life-changing for me. So that’s when I, looking back on that, […] realized that an animal could really be impactful for me.

Q. What is your biggest obstacle on Westminster’s campus regarding having a service animal?

My primary obstacles here at Westminster would be people not knowing how to interact with service dogs and people thinking that service dogs and [emotional support animals] are the same thing. For example, a lot of people try and pet and talk to and play with Bailey while she’s working and that’s super super distracting and she can’t do her job. Another issue is, until recently, a lot of people in Shaw were kind of misinformed until they put up the signs about what you can ask a person with a service dog. I’ve had a lot of people question like, ‘Why isn’t she vested?’ Service dogs under law do not have to be vested when they’re working and it’s super hot out during the summer so she doesn’t always work in a vest.

Q. What is the difference between an emotional support animal and a psychiatric service dog?

So an ESA has no formal training and their entire job is to provide emotional support and comfort to their owner inside the home. They have no public access rights. You can’t just bring them places because they don’t have formal training that allows them to be in those places […] A psychiatric service animal becomes more of an option for you if you are disabled. You don’t have to be disabled to have an emotional support animal, you just have to have some sort of psychiatric or mental illness. But you need to have a disability in order to have a service dog. So you can have anxiety, or you can have anxiety that’s disabling. An example of that would be somebody with anxiety, like a panic anxiety disorder that has a panic attack every once in awhile and feels pretty anxious all the time could feel pretty supported by an emotional support animal. Somebody with a service dog for their anxiety is somebody who’s anxiety is so inhibiting in their life that they cannot leave their house without their service animal because they feel so unsafe.

Q. What does the future look like for Bailey?

If she doesn’t succeed as a service dog, she will absolutely be a therapy dog because she’s really good at task work. She just struggles with distraction which is why therapy will be a good route. 

Q. Is there anything else you want people to know?

Just reiterating that it’s a real pain for me to walk across campus when every single person stops me.

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Lewis Figun Westbrook
Lewis Figun Westbrook is a transfer student majoring in communication and minoring in psychology. In their free time they enjoy reading, writing and most importantly binging Netflix. They hope to one day write queer YA novels and be a graphic designer.

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