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Raising the Woof: Service Animals at Chemeketa

Stewart, a golden retriever service animal, assists his companion, Rachel Cobb, as she manuevers through the school day.

Stewart, a golden retriever service animal, assists his companion, Rachel Cobb, as she manuevers through the school day.

By Alvin Wilson Photos by Alvin Wilson

Stewart escorts his friend Rachel to and from class every day.

Rachel Cobb is a first-year education major. Stewart isn’t a student at Chemeketa.

In fact, he’s not even human.

Stewart is Rachel’s 4-year-old service dog. He is just one of many dogs who accompany their owners to classes every day.

Although you may wish that you could bring your own dog to school, Andrew Bone, Chemeketa’s Vice President, makes it clear that it’s not a good move.

In fact, college rules strictly prohibited it.

“The only way a person can bring a pet inside is if it’s an assistance animal,” he said. “A lot of people want Chemeketa to be like their home, but you get to do a lot of things at home that we can’t do here.”

Bone is a dog lover. He has a pitbull named Jinny and a border collie mix named Sterling, and he understands the desire to bring your pets to school.

“It’s good energy,” he said, “but I wouldn’t want to worry about cleaning up after them.”

The dogs that are allowed on campus are specially trained for their specific jobs.

Kelsey Rosgen, a special education major, brings her 4-year-old German shepherd, Ember, to school on a regular basis.

Rosgen has epilepsy, and Ember is her seizure alert dog. The dog is trained to detect when Rosgen is going to have a seizure.

“I did most of the training myself,” Rosgen said. “I went to a trainer once a week for two years, and we trained her together.”

According to Rosgen, Ember had to pass a public access test to become certified.

“One of the tests that Ember had to pass was she had to sit and lay for 60 seconds with a freshly cooked burger and fries in between her paws and not touch it,” Rosgen said.

“They have to be able to go into restaurants and lie under the table, go into grocery stores without sniffing around, and they have to be able to be in these places without having an accident.”

Other protocols, many of them overlooked, involve the way that students interact with service dogs on campus.

For example, Rosgen said that she often had a problem with people who pet her dog without permission.

“It’s usually the adults, not children,” she said.

The attention lavished on the dog becomes problematic because it diverts the service animal’s attention from its primary job.

“It’s a major distraction because she’s supposed to be focused 100 percent on me,” she said.

“If someone comes up and pets her, she’ll be looking for the next person to pet her instead of focusing on me. It’s not play-time; it’s work-time.”

Ember was well-socialized as a puppy, so non-service animals don’t distract her easily, Rosgen said.

Bringing animals to campus that aren’t service dogs and trained for the function is not just against college rules; it’s also a sign of disrespect.

“It doesn’t affect Ember because she’s been trained to ignore it, but it irritates me,” Rosgen said.

“It’s a respect thing. I’ve put years of training into my dog. … So when someone comes in and they have a dog that’s not well behaved, that’s clearly not a service dog. It’s frustrating because it gives service dogs a bad name.”

Cobb agrees.

Cobb also has epilepsy, and her dog Stewart is trained to alert people when she’s had a seizure.

“Stewart cost $30,000. He came from an organization in Massachusetts fully trained. He’s been trained to do this his entire life,” she said.

“I don’t think it’s exactly fair for people to bring their pets. This isn’t just for fun.”

Cobb said that people are suspicious of whether Stewart is a service dog because many people fake it.

“I’ve had someone come up and say, ‘Where did you get that vest? I heard you can get them online.’ … It’s hard to tell who has the real service animals and the fake ones,” she said.

Cobb and Rosgen both said that the college’s policy regarding animals on campus was fair and reasonable.

“The only problem at school,” Rosgen said, “is people coming up and trying to pet her.”

Bone said he doesn’t think the policy would change anytime soon.

“The policy works. Nobody seems to complain about it,” he said. “I think it’s probably good that we keep the non-service animals outside, just for the general good of the order.”

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