Working Like a Dog: MSUM’s Service Animal Policy

By: Melissa Gonzalez,

MSUM’s service animal policy went through a review from Jan. 15 to Feb. 12.

Little changed about the policy itself, but within the document the name was updated to “Accessibility Resources” from “The Disability Resource Center,” to reflect the change in the department. A link to MSUM’s current website for emotional support animals (ESAs) in the housing department was added as well.

The service animal policy is instated in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that defines service animals as dogs that have been trained to perform tasks for people with disabilities.  The ADA has an exception that miniature horses can also be considered service animals. It’s important to note that state and local laws may also define service animals in broader terms than the ADA.

For students like Andrew Louwagie-Gordon, a senior majoring in physics, the policy helps make his life easier on campus.

According to the university policy, MSUM allows service animals within the university’s buildings, classrooms, residence halls, meetings, dining areas, recreational areas, activities and events on campus.

Louwagie-Gordon, 28, from Russell, Minnesota, lives with anxiety and depression. After serving in the army from 2011 to 2015, Louwagie-Gordon began working with a psychiatrist.

After the medication the psychiatrist recommended didn’t work or had too many side effects, he and his doctor discussed acquiring a service dog.

With the help of a nonprofit based out of Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, Patriot Assistance Dogs, Louwagie-Gordon met Chip near the end of April 2018.

Chip, a three-year-old mixed breed, helps Louwagie-Gordon with his anxiety and depression. Chip’s job is to interrupt Louwagie-Gordon’s thought process to avoid anxiety attacks, help with night terrors, find the nearest exit in any given location and help preserve his personal space.

After a five day training course during finals last spring, the transition for the two of them living together wasn’t easy, but Louwagie-Gordon describes the experience as well worth it.

“He’s the best bud ever,” Louwagie-Gordon said. “It’s a bond that couldn’t be replaced.”

Because of the way the ADA law works, the university cannot require documentation of a service animal, but administrators may ask two questions to see if an animal fits policy requirements.

Administrators can ask if the animal in question is required because of a disability and what tasks the service animal is trained to perform.

Even though contacting the administration isn’t required, Director of Accessibility Resources Kari Klettke strongly recommends those who have service animals partner with the administration to help communicate current situations and potential needs to necessary faculty and staff.

“If you’re planning to bring a service animal to classes, it’s helpful for instructors to know so they can plan in advance. It’s good to have a heads up,” Klettke said.

The policy for emotional support animals, however, does require communication with Accessibility Resources. Emotional support animals can range from cats, dogs and even rabbits.

According to the policy, students living on campus that request ESAs have to apply for special accommodations in a housing contract, then apply for accessibility resources, which requires students to provide acceptable documentation of their disability.

From there, students need to complete a request for an ESA, submit it to Accessibility Resources, and have a mental or medical health professional verify the need for an ESA. After that, students must fill out an agreement form.

Finally, if the request is approved, students have to schedule an appointment with a representative from Housing & Residential Life to review and sign the appropriate forms.

Joe Hazelton, Associate Director of Housing and Residential Life, reviews the expectations with students about their animals. Student’s emotional support animals are not permitted in inside public areas and are generally restricted to students’ rooms.

“We have to be aware of if people have fear or allergies to an animal,” Hazelton said.

Students who are in need of any accommodations are encouraged to visit Accessibility Resources.

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