Policies Updated for Animals on Campus

The Office of Disability Support Services at the University of Central Oklahoma has established new policies this semester to help the community identify service animals and emotional support animals from pets.

They will offer voluntary registration for service animals and provide them a DSS name tag. They will also work with UCO Campus Card Services to provide a special identification for students that have emotional support animals.

“It’s kind of a pilot project to see how it goes for our students,” said Sharla Weathers, director of DSS. “Hopefully it will be beneficial for our students and community.”

According to UCO’s animal policy, pets are only allowed outside the buildings. Emotional support animals can have an exception to be in housing buildings, while service animals are allowed in all buildings.

Therapy dogs have special permission to be in the buildings. Kevin the Greyt is the first and currently the only UCO therapy dog, although some others are invited to campus for services such as Stress Paws.

“I don’t look for the university to go to a no pet policy on campus and I think we’re okay with the animals that are dogs [or] cats [or] whatever we normally see walking through campus,” Weathers said. “[But], when they get into buildings it’s a little bit different story.”

Some students have a fear of animals or some may have post-traumatic stress disorder after previously being bitten, according to Weathers. She wants to take all those into consideration to assist the community.

“Instructors don’t always know what the laws are, so some call [to] ask [if] they have a dog in class and what they should do,” Weathers said. “This is only the fifth week of school, but I receive two to three phone calls every day.”

Weathers said she has observed other challenges for people with services animals. Some have gone online and bought certifications, vests or leashes that says service animals. Those are not valid and those companies could be considered scams.

“Federal laws don’t require any mandatory registration and certification for service animals,” Weathers said. “We provide a cheat sheet with two questions that [anyone] can ask the owner to identify whether it is a service animal or not.”

Service animals are dogs or miniature horses who can assist people with disabilities with several tasks, such as pulling a wheelchair, alerting and protecting, reminding the person to take medication, etc.

Weathers said some disabilities cannot be seen physically, so if they answer the questions right, people cannot do anything. Some dog owners have been told the answers for those questions, which can also cause a problem.

“Not all of them are fake though, I will say, there’s just some who have been coached,” Weathers said. “If someone has our name tag, they can show that they’ve already registered with us.”

Students who want to have emotional support animals in housing buildings need to complete the mandatory registration with DSS to get a recommendation letter. They should provide DSS documentations of significant mental health disability and vaccination proof.

“We ask them to start the process at least 60 days in advance [to the time they move in],” Weathers said. “[Besides the documentation], we also need to discuss the policy and [if] their roommates and neighbors are okay with having an animal.”

Weathers said there are around 20-30 students that have emotional support animals. DSS is working on a plan have them come to the Nigh University Center to take photo of them with their animals for the special ID. The ID is paid for by DSS and will be in addition to their student ID.

DSS offered a training last Wednesday to provide the community with information about those policies. Around 30 people attended the sessions from various departments. Weathers said she hopes those people will share the information with others in their area.

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