Home » Assistant Animals Excels Their Role Of Companionship For Wichita State Students

Assistant Animals Excels Their Role Of Companionship For Wichita State Students!

Published on April 16, 2024 by Darren Jorgensen
Wichita State students shared their experience of having assistant animals on campus and how these furry companions help them navigate life. Aguilar, a freshman dance major, said she got a service dog before going out of state to college so someone could always be ready to help her.
Girl showing book to assistance animal
Aguilar has eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE), a mixture of vocal cord dysfunction and athlete’s heart. Growing up as a competitive dancer, she struggled with fainting, being unable to catch her breath, an unusually high heart rate, and dizziness. She said in rare cases, EoE can also lead to her having seizures. Draco, her service dog with his keen senses and training, acts as Aguilar’s guardian during dance practices. He ensures she sits when dizzy or provides compressions when she struggles to breathe, empowering her to continue her passion for dance. Aguilar said, “I tough it out a lot. I’m very well known for that, so if I’m like, ‘Oh, let me stand up. I’m fine, and he’s like, ‘No, you’re not, he makes sure I don’t get up.”
Draco accompanied Aguilar’s first time to Wichita State last fall. Since then, whenever Draco gets his service dog vest put on, the English golden retriever knows it’s time to work for his owner, whether it’s from his dog bed in Aguilar’s dance class or throughout campus. Draco could accompany Aguilar as service dogs are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which allows the handler to take their service animals to public places, including malls, restaurants, hotels, etc. According to Isabel Medina Keiser, the director of the Office of Student Accommodations and Testing, students are not required to register their service animal with OSAT. While Aguilar stressed how Draco is with her all the time and must always be prepared, she said his service dog vest helps him know when he’s “only on duty” and should focus solely on Aguilar. She added, “It’s like putting your jacket on for work or something.”
Aguilar also mentioned the biggest thing you can ask of someone with a service animal. While stating, “Just simple and easy as that, asking ‘Is he on duty?’ or ‘Is he working?’ or even the question of “May I pet your dog?” Draco is not the only animal in the residence halls. Katie Austin, the director of Housing and Residence Life, mentioned that 41 ESAs and three service dogs live in WSU housing. This number includes dogs, cats, and even a ferret. Emotional support animals provide companionship and comfort to their owners, alleviating one or more symptoms of a person’s disability. Unlike service animals, ESAs “do not need special training to perform tasks that help people with disabilities.” Service animals are almost always dogs, while emotional support animals can be any animal. Unlike service animals, ESAs are not protected under the ADA, restricting them from accompanying their handlers to the students’ living areas.
Medina Keiser said students living with an ESA in campus housing must have documentation from a professional stating the student’s diagnosis and their need for an ESA for their mental well-being. Meanwhile, Medina Keiser said that, according to Austin, the number of ESAs has increased within the last five years. OSAT notifies Housing when it approves the ESA, and then students must sign a behavioral agreement for their ESA. Austin stated, “This is a big responsibility, and it’s not something they should take lightly because it is ultimately on them to take care of that animal.” Mel Sharp, a junior majoring in applied drawing, said that taking care of her ESA helped improve her mental health, and gave her a reason to get out of bed every morning which gave a structure to her daily life and a purpose to live. Another first-year student, Misty Galloway, said she got her cat certified as an ESA to help her manage her social anxiety. Upon receiving her therapist’s letter, her apartment complex approved Angel, a white-haired cat.
Galloway said, “Whenever I’m sad or about to cry, she’s always like, Ooh, what is she doing over here? Look at me. I’m gonna be a little weirdo,” She just has this way of always knowing when I’m not feeling so great and showing up.” Nevertheless, Austin and Medina Keiser both emphasized that students interested in getting an ESA should consider the full responsibilities of caretaking for an animal, such as having plans for when students are in class or on spring break. Medina Keiser also mentioned the importance of finding other support than the animal, such as counseling. She said, “Just making sure that you’re not putting all that pressure on the emotional support animal and making sure that you’re going to give them a good home.”
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About the Author

Patricia Thompson
Darren Jorgensen
Darren M. Jorgensen has a fondness for all animals, though dogs especially, have a huge home in his heart. He enjoys quilting, making handcrafted soap and bodyworks and anything that produces practical products. Jorgensen lives with his own service dog who doubles as an Emotional Support Animal. He gets it.

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